Slam Dunks for Credibility Visibility

crediblityYour credibility is very important to prospective customers. Many times your actual expertise is irrelevant and your success rests on your ability to prove your credibility. Your customers must believe you have the ability to provide the desired product or service.


Assuming you do have skills or product required to do the job, the following will give you a credibility refresher.

The thesaurus uses words like” belief, credence, credit, assurance, faith, trust, truth, confidence, presumption, dependence and reliance” to define credibility. A customer considering your product or service is taking a risk and therefore must believe you can satisfy their needs before they will move forward or have an appreciation of the value your price offers.

The Basics of Visible Credibility

Physical demonstrations of credibility include maintaining an image which is credible means that your physical office/store space must be reflective of success in your chosen occupation. Tatty and worn furniture or carpet, a dated equipment, decor, dirty windows or bathrooms and an unswept entry do not inspire confidence when your prospect arrives at your business premises.

Equally, your vehicle – if you take clients in your car and your and your staff’s dress, grooming and manner are also instrumental in building credibilty in your ability to deliver. More subtle, but equally important is the display of your qualifications, diplomas, degrees and certifications in your reception or office. There is no doubt that press and magazine clippings with articles and pictures of you shown in a positive light are extremely impressive. We are well aware of  the inherit credibility given someone or something if it is in print.

Credibility Built Offline Feeds Credibility Online

With the internet has come the need to broaden your credibility footprint in cyberspace. Today, a small business without a website is not considered a really serious business. A website that looks professional, reflects your business brand effectively and stands out among your competitors is a matter of basic business survival today and can be acheived without huge expense.

The clippings you get from the magazines and newspapers can be rendered as pdf’s on your website, you can write up stories on conference you attended to keep your skills current, your own public speaking, charity and other activities. You can write or video a blog and publish it via your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube profile.You can set up groups, webinars, discussions and guest blog for other bloggers.  You can produce and send an email newsletter to your clients and prospective clients. You can write a hard or soft copy book and sell it or give it away to qualified prospects/clients online or offline. There are a myriad of  platforms in which to build your online credibility and translate you offline credibility activities to the online world.

Check out my video on How to Maximise Your PR Pings here.


The Quality of Service is Not Strained – On Cruises

I went on my first cruise in January – 10 days in the South Pacific. It was a most interesting experience. Not the least of which was the people-watching value.

Quite coincidentally my Y gen son decided to take a 10 day South Pacific cruise with friends on a different cruise line. While extracting any details about the cruise was impossible for the first three days, on the fourth day, in the five minute drive to drop him at work, he commented on some things that had impressed him about the staff. I wanted to draw life lessons out for him on the spot, but alas he had to go before I got the chance. (Methinks there is method to his madness). So I get the chance to tell you in my blog instead.

If the title of the blog sounds somewhat familiar then you may have studied Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice at school. The actual quote was, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…”

My son’s first observations were about the characteristics of the dining room maître’d. He said he felt special having a person dressed in a suit clearing tables and enquiring if everything was alright with the food. There were plenty of vest-wearing staff to clear tables, but the matire’d did it with dignity and grace. The way the maître’d carried himself was also noticed – smiling, chin in, chest out. “He reeked of professionalism,” was how my son described it.

He went on to explain that their dinner table head and assistant waiter’s were very experienced and had travelled the world on ships. They were always willing to have a joke and were not just like smiling robots. They did not seem like waiters, but more like friends. These are the examples he gave:
• One night the assistant waiter brought a guitar to their table and asked if anyone could sing. They volunteered one of their female friends and another waiter joined her with written lyrics and they all sang together with the guitar.
• The wait staff regularly asked how they were feeling. One night one of the girls said she was feeling sick, upon which the assistant waiter disappeared and reappeared with a green apple presented on a plate, neatly sliced through almost to the bottom so it stayed together in segments. He explained that green apples were good for sea sickness.
• The wait staff told us jokes and gave us brain teasers to solve between courses.
When my son first boarded and went to his stateroom, the room steward introduced himself, asked everyone their name and then asked if they all had their luggage. All did except my son. The steward went immediately to the luggage area and collected his luggage so he could unpack and get settled with the others.
I asked him in what other ways he was surprised and delighted by the service onboard. He said:
• “Everyone was so personal. The Cruise Director and his staff were self-depreciating, placed themselves at the same level as the guests by making fun of each other, which set us at ease and made us laugh. They wandered around onboard always smiling and very visible.
• It was happy to read in their posted profiles that the Executive Chef was world class. He had worked on the QE2 and some of the biggest ships in the world. He had been head-hunted as one the best.”
What can one learn from this experience about serving patrons?
• You can express your professionalism and pride in your role on the outside through uniform, posture, smiling, modelling the behaviours you expect of your staff.
• A personable, friendly attitude goes a long way
• Be truly human and show genuine care and concern , Caring is not just lip service, it is demonstrating you care
• Be engaging, warm and have an easy humour – don’t be stuffy or superior
• You can minimise a patron’s potential displeasure in delays by engaging them in conversation
• Anticipating a patron’s needs and going the extra mile is always noticed and appreciated – even if nothing is said at the time
• Be visible and available to help as much as possible. Don’t disappear when things aren’t going as planned.
• Smile often. This is the single most powerful non-verbal cue that you are genuinely pleased to be of service

None of these service gestures came across as forced or insincere. They were spontaneous, genuine and made my son’s cruise experience enjoyable on a whole other level.

The quality of service is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…”

Direct Mail Postcard – So Retro, So Trendy, So Purple Cow!

For the first couple of years in business, we used a full colour, full bleed photo business card with black print reverse. I needed to make the business card work harder for the money I was spending on it and felt I could not get across all that I needed to say about our business on a tiny card. I wanted it to be a glossy DL promotional brochure but simply did not have the money for such a piece.

I decided to upgrade to a custom colour postcard which was not that much more expense. The postcard has so much going for it. It has greater visual impact than a business card; I could fit so much more on it; it would not be lost or thrown away as readily. As the photos were attractive and unusual, it was more likely to get attached to the fridge at home as a ‘wish list’ reminder.

My first postcard had one full bleed photo of six rocking horses, the final form of the postcard was still full bleed, but with five photos and told the whole story of our business to my satisfaction. I used them for a quick response for telephone enquiries, especially for older customers who were not computer literate and still had a need to see and hold something from you before they felt comfortable enough about your product to act.

I never went anywhere without the postcards. I carried about twenty-five in my handbag and the in the dashboard of the van.  I gave them to people who were reading the promotional sticker on the side of the van in shopping centre car parks and streets all over Australia. I passed them out the window of the van to a mum crossing an intersection with three children under five in tow while I was waiting for the lights to change.

The additional benefits of the postcard are that no envelope is required; the address is handwritten which is a more personal touch; it promotes your product as it goes through the postal service; and if we were in the US it would be several cents cheaper to post than a normal letter. Some people would ask, “Can I keep this?” when I handed it to them. They didn’t expect even a colour postcard for free!

Some people would argue that a better size and layout advertising piece for our business would be a portrait design DL card or DL folded brochure that sits in neatly in a DL perspex or rotating wire brochure holder. Our postcard sits sideways in those holders and is shorter than the DL pieces in a brochure stand. This is another advantage of the postcard – it sticks out from the crowd – a ‘purple cow’ if you will.

And guess what? Now direct mail is making a comeback! Just think how cool it is to get something in the post now that everything from, bank statements, invoices, utility bills, school fees, child care fees, loyalty card statements are all online. Getting a postcard in the mail is so retro, its positively trendy.

A Winning Image Harmonises With Your Customer’s World

AerialViewRockingHorseLodgeXmas2007Creating the right image to build credibility in your market is important because people will form an impression from the first meeting.  What you wear, your grooming, your vehicle, your place of work, your marketing materials and affiliations – the trappings of image, need to work for you and not against you. While you want to present success you do not want to do it to excess. If it is found out that certain things in your image arsenal were put in place simply to impress, you destroy your credibility.

What is important for a positive impression and what do you want to convey about your business? In our business the majority of customers came to our home. We used to live on a five acre block in a small 55 year old red brick spec home with the workshop in detached shedding near to the house. We were on a main road directly beside traffic lights with awkward access. The sheds were functional and the grounds tidy, but we didn’t look like Australia’s largest makers and restorers of rocking horses.

While I knew I presented a winning image of our business over the telephone and on the internet, at times I could see trepidation and disappointment in the faces, particularly of the well-to-do customers, who came drop off their restorations or pick up their finished rocking horses. I put this down to the property not matching up to their image expectations which had been effectively created through other channels.

By a little real estate serendipity  we were able to change our place of work to an impressive, 10 year old home with large colourbond shed on 10 acres with 300 metres of road frontage on a busy arterial with easy access. When people arrived at this new place of work  the image created both over the phone and on the internet as Australia’s largest makers, restorers and teachers of rocking horses matched the reality they found.

While you may not be in a position to change your place of work as we did, you need to know it has the potential to make a world of difference to your image, credibility and may in some circumstances bring in more business and publicity.

We had more attention from ad agency photographers, prop masters, TV, magazines and press in 18 months at our new location than the five years at our previous location. I did market our previous location, but it could never have received the sustained interest that this one has.

There is another subtlety in our image that I was keen to cultivate to prospective customers and class students. While I wanted to convey a successful image, I also want to convey that our classes and rocking horses were good value for money and we were down to earth, practical, approachable and not precious about what we did. These values are important to most people but especially baby boomers considering taking a three day class and spending potentially thousands of dollars with you.

I did not produce a fancy, full colour brochure to promote our classes, tours or accessories range. I printed on demand a black and white version from my laser printer on different coloured paper stock. The showroom was tidy and functional but I didn’t obsess about the dust, as it was part of the charm that we were “a working rocking horse makers”. My work is was sometimes dirty and messy and I did not fuss about my workshop clothes – racing in to change when customers arrived. We had a well maintained white Mercedes commercial van as our only vehicle which denoted quality and practicality without being excessive.

I put “image resources” into my phone manner, website, colour postcard, the class booking pack, keeping the property & vehicle well maintained and providing high quality meals and refreshments to classes and groups.

The best way to ascertain what kind of image you should cultivate is to observe your current customers and how they dress, what standard of car they drive, what accessories they sport, what hobbies they have and what clubs or groups they are members of. Build an image that harmonises with their’s without overdoing it. Your goal is to eliminate any possible negative barriers to doing business with them.

Differentiation by Specialisation – What You Need to Know

There are a number of reasons for considering specialisation: the world and life is becoming more complex; it is difficult to be all things to all people ; on balance, a specialist will make more money than a generalist on an per job or hourly basis; the perceived value of your services is heightened; keeping abreast of developments in an area of speciality is easier than over a broad general area; you will develop mastery and expertise you may not have otherwise and in time can charge a premium for your services  which a customer will feel offers him more value for money than a similar service from a generalist.

Be cautious of choosing a specialty that is too narrow. It would have been so much easier to simply be “the best value made to order timber heirloom rocking horse makers in Australia”, but it is not always possible to make a living doing just one thing as the work may be  too seasonal. Rocking horse makers traditionally do sixty percent of their turnover in the last three months of the year and struggle for the other nine months. Restoration work helped smooth out seasonality, but classes effectively eliminated all seasonality issues for us.

In the early to mid “naughties”, our business could have become victim to the cyclical swings created by housing booms with their subsequent interest rate rises and ensuing petrol price rises. These major economic changes decimated discretionary incomes among new yuppie parents who were 50% of our customer base. Fortunately, we relocated to a property which opened the door to being able to offer classes. The classes attracted dominantly baby boomer grandparents whose discretionary income is minimally affected by these factors.

The fact is that the rocking horse market is very small.  If we had taken the track of geographical specialisation in New South Wales alone, we would have starved. Happily our early foray into web marketing in 1998 effectively positioned us for national and international customers for all aspects of the business.

After you have examined the make up of your customers ask yourself, what work do I spend the most time doing? Is this work profitable and how profitable is it compared to other work? What work do I enjoy most doing?

We spent a large amount of time doing restoration work. It was the least profitable aspect of the business – but for a rocking horse specialist, if you make, they expect you to restore as well. A significant part of reputation and word or mouth came from restoration work. How could we remain the specialists in rocking horses if we could and would subcontract out the restoration work?

There were two possible solutions. One was to continue to offer a restoration service. We would still receive, evaluate, price and get paid for the restoration. With the customers knowledge we would  subcontract out the work, pay the contractor, keep a spotters or handling fee and have the horse at our place to be collected by the customer– all while maintaining quality control.

The other solution was to restore only valuable old English rocking horses (5-10) per year and provide a restoration advisory service for Australian rocking horses. We could still provide restoration kits and accessories, but produce an instructional DVD which would include common repairs, preparation, painting and fit out instruction from go to whoa.

We chose the first option which allowed us to spend more time doing the more enjoyable and profitable aspects of: teaching rocking horse making; providing mail order kits, accessories, plans, books and DVD’s and made to order and commissions of rocking horses at a higher price point.

Differentiate, Deliver, Over-Deliver, Keep on Delivering

The Unique Selling Proposition USP

This old marketing gem asks you to answer the question, “Why should a customer do business with me instead of my competitors?”

There are two major benefits in developing a USP. First, it clearly differentiates your business in the eyes of your current and potential customers or clients. Second, it focuses your and/or team on delivering the promise of the USP, helping to improve your internal performance.

The USP may be used repetitively in your marketing literature to build the customer’s or client’s identification of your company with your product or service. So many products have generic selling features that often the only way they feel they can differentiate themselves is on price.

The Extra Value Position EVP

You can differentiate your product by your Extra Value Position. The EVP is the service relationship that wraps around your physical product. In my previous rocking horse making/class business we placed a lot of emphasis on service and relationship factors such as providing telephone support when folk got stuck somewhere in the process of making or restoring their own horse. We strove to make sure that we provided a friendly, relaxed and fun atmosphere in the classes and that they are happy with their final results.

We exceeded the customer’s expectation with every contact. Our professional, friendly and helpful phone manner was a constant, even if it meant referring them to another supplier.

We provided additional information on accommodation, restaurants, tourist attractions, maps etc in the booking pack. They didn’t expect this, but the information provided took the fear of the unknown out of travelling to an area they are not familiar with and plants the seed that a few days extra stay in the area either side of their class might be fun.

On graduating from their class, we provided a graduation photo, framed diploma, silkscreen apron, embroidered cap and a goodies bag – all of which were completely unexpected. Some folk handed the cap and apron back after the graduation photo thinking they were just for the photo – the “something for nothing” takes them completely by surprise. Rewards (unexpected or otherwise), plus great service will build loyalty.

The students have expressed that they expected (and would have been happy with) sandwiches on an outdoor setting for the lunches. We exceed the expectation by having a three course catered lunch in the house, sitting up to a nicely set table with all the trimmings. While it seems a simple thing, inviting our students into our home to eat with us said to them “I consider you a friend and value your company”. It exceeded their expectation and built a relationship.

Ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty will give you a competitive edge. We ensured customer satisfaction in our classes by taking care to read their emotional state at the morning/afternoon teas and resolving any concerns they have at that time. We also conducted a satisfaction survey at the end of each class so they can express anonymously their feedback on the experience. The satisfaction survey lets us measure and compare their expectations against the actual experience and correct as necessary.

To survive in business today, you not only need to differentiate, but you need to deliver, over deliver and keep on delivering. With social media, news travels fast and bad news travels faster than ever – so you must keep on delivering on your brand promise everyday – long after the initial purchase.

The Harder You Work the Luckier You Get?

It was not possible to make a living just selling finished rocking horses, the market simply wasn’t and isn’t big enough. If you make, people expect you to be able to restore and a large part of a rocking horse maker’s reputation is built on restorations.

People get a kick out of being able to meet the man who made or restored their horse and in many cases they asked to have the grandchild or child’s photo taken with the maker.

The work hours in the beginning were 10 hours a day 7 days a week in the off season and 16 hours a day in the lead up to Christmas.  A decade later it was still 10 hours a day 7 days a week and 16 hours a day in the lead up to Christmas.

The horses were made with hand power tools and a carving disk, not a large and expensive copy carving machine. This means three things: no two horses are exactly the same, there is not a great deal of competition given the physical stresses and long hours and there was always a limited production capacity.

Before our partnership the business made about 100 horses per year and several dozen restorations. Per year, together we made about 200 horses, did 75 restorations and made another 50 as we taught students at our catered 3-Day Power-Carved Rocking Horse Making Classes. We also sold plans, accessories, carving aids and kits by mail order.

While this diversity of activity helped with the seasonality of the business it also suited the gentle shift created by the baby boomer’s access to money and leisure time. They were into classes, DIY, cultural exploration and education . My working life at the time was made so much more pleasurable sharing it with appreciative, like-minded individuals such as those.


The Birth of A Shoestring Marketer

In setting to work to generate as much free publicity as possible for the rocking horse business, I focused on the unusual nature of the occupation and skill-set required.  I began by pitching local press and relevant magazines. A rash of local newspaper articles ensued, plus profiles in Australian Country Collections, Rick Rutherford’s Country, The Land, Sydney’s Child, Australian Country Style, Australian Woodworker, Australiasian Toymaker and Retirement Living.

Once I had some success and a taste of free exposure, I got brave and began pitching suitable TV shows. Appearances on “Our House”, “Totally Wild”, “Burke’s Backyard”,  “The Morning Shift”,  “Sydney Weekender” and “Huey’s Cooking Adventures” came in fairly quick succession. There is very much a snowball effect in media. Once one journalist/producer judges you ‘worthy’ to do a story on, you show that story to the next one and they tend to follow. It’s works like a ‘media testimonial.’

When we restored the Westmead Children’s Hospital 126 year old rocking horse for free, this brought a new round of articles in the Telegraph, Parramatta Advertiser and others.

The story of our treechange, senior’s tours, the property itself, the small business angle and particularly the classes as the ultimate hobby holiday for baby boomers added to the variety of attractive angles for the media. How many angles has your product got?

Being bound to the workshop most every day meant my partner listened to a lot of radio.  He would call into to talk back shows and the Saturday morning “Woodies” show when the topic was relevant to what he did. It was surprising how many people told us they heard him on the radio at some unusual hour. All this as a result of a spontaneous share on talk back radio.

The seniors and special interest group tours were great public relations for the business and consumed much less time than say having 20 individual visits. Over a two hour tour groups of 15-50 persons could visit the workshop and learn about old horses and construction techniques of new horses, visit the B&B, pram collection and hobby farm and enjoy an old fashioned morning tea for $15 per person.

We developed an annual open day to be held at our property in October. It had lots of stall holders from the region with the theme “Handmade Homegrown”. This capitalised on pre-Christmas rocking horse ordering habits, impulse buying and provided another opportunity to promote class bookings for the following year.

The year we had Huey cooking at Rocking Horse Lodge we had 105 people on our waitlist for classes for the coming year and got 7 subsequent TV appearances from the filming that was done!

In a later blog I will talk about the pitching process for press, magazines and TV.



Roadworks, Shows & Websites

Being positioned on a main road with road works in front of the property most of the time did two things:

It allowed us to benefit from passing traffic to promote our website on signage at the traffic lights and created the imperative of developing a good website which grew from providing about 2% of business in the first year, to about 70%  ten years later.

It forced us to invest time and energy into regional shows, heritage fairs, historic house open days, Woodworker magazine open days, community expos and the weekly Sunday Markets in Windsor for a time to improve exposure.

We outgrew the smaller shows and moved on to doing the Royal Easter Show for three years. The Royal priced itself out of the market for artisans and we moved to doing the Timber and Working with Wood shows. The secret of the timber shows was to always be demonstrating and spruiking. The noise, dust and spectacle drew people to our stand like a magnet.

To supplement our sellable items at shows, we released our rocking horse plans and developed other plans for horsey products which ranged in price from $15 to $35 for the more complex plans.

We used a large 7” carving disk of our own design on a large grinder and around this time had some 4” ones made so we could use a smaller lighter 4” grinder. This disk became a big seller at the Royal and Timber Shows. We had them made in batches of 20 at a time and gradually increased the order sizes over the years. The the biggest boost to sales being when the classes started and every student fell in love with them.

We released a DVD “Horsin’ Around with Power Carving”. I had a friend from previous life who was a camera/production man and he came out and filmed all day – 6am till 9pm. We made the horse in real time and he compressed it into a 90 minute instructional DVD. He knew we could not pay him, but was happy to take a large horse in exchange.

When we eventually got time to make his horse, we found we had enough money to pay him the money instead. That was some 18 months later! The DVD was great, as we expended the energy and money once and it has continued to be a great seller at $35.

Shoestring Marketing – The 7 P’s

Shoestring Marketing is the common name for a style of marketing which could also be described as: “More-Brains-than-Bucks” Marketing; “More-Sweat-than-Silver” Marketing; “More-Chutzpah*-than-Cash” Marketing or “More-Drive-than-Dosh” Marketing. You get the idea.

My form of Shoestring Marketing developed from the pressure point of having no cash for marketing and advertising to grow the business. I knew that unless I made our business very successful, I would never be able to reach my goals.

My goals were and are probably much like your own – to give the children the best education we could afford, live in a nice house in a rural region, eliminate commuting and working long hours for someone else; to pass our working lives doing what we love and our winter years in pleasurable pursuits such as travel & culture, enjoying good food, a few decadences and meeting interesting people. In short – the “good life” or as it’s now called a “treechange lifestyle”

I had big dreams and no way to realise them unless I did something radical. The appeal of Shoestring Marketing for the treechanger is that it is based on smart and low cost marketing so that you can realise your goals and sustain the lifestyle that you crave.

*Chutzpah – Yiddish word meaning “cheeky”, “bold” or “audacious. “Ch” sound pronounced “H” rolling and guttural, deep from the throat.

Prerequisites to being a Great Shoestring Marketer

There are seven prerequisites to being a great shoestring marketer and conveniently, they all start with “P”. The following definitions of the seven ”P’s” relate specifically the characteristics of successful shoestring marketers:

Poverty Mentality – means you proactively avoid spending on the traditional marketing avenues – that is: paid for advertising in the press, radio, TV, magazines, commercial trade shows, lavish printed materials, $50,000 websites etc.



Poise – means self-assurance, self-possession, self-confidence, self-belief, self-reliance, aplomb. Marketing your business is your responsibility. No one else will do it for you. You will need all the “poise” you can muster to move forward and take the inevitable knocks and disappointments – and the aplomb to handle the successes and the self-belief to handle the disappointments appropriately.

Passion – My personal favourite of the seven ‘P’s  means fervor, excitement, enthusiasm and zeal. I can’t teach you this one, you either feel this way about your business and your dreams or you don’t. If you don’t, change your business or find a new dream you can be passionate about.


Professionalism – means to be dedicated, committed, savvy on how to approach customers, suppliers and media in a way they respond to, expert on every aspect of your business, thorough in your approach and follow up and emotionally appropriate when dealing with them all.


Persistence –  means to be determined, dogged, diligent and just a teensy bit pushy but in a nice way..




A Powerful Pitch – This means you’ve done your homework and you know the hot buttons and appeal of your business to your target market  and can put the correct spin on it to interest different media on the different angles.



Persuasiveness – expressive and articulate in getting your ideas across. The natural result of the successful application of the above six “P’s”  is that you will in fact be very persuasive.