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Vital Tips On Small Business Success

Amanda Brinkman, Small Business Revolution

With Amanda Brinkman, Chief Brand and Communications Officer of Deluxe Corp, Executive Producer & Star of the Hulu show Small Business Revolution

Amanda Brinkman is the Chief Brand and Communications Officer of Deluxe Corp.  She created, executive produced, and stars in the Hulu show, Small Business Revolution, Main Street series.  Steve speaks with Amanda to learn more about how she has fostered small business success throughout America.

Focus On Small Business Success

Amanda decided to focus on small mom-and-pop businesses around the country because they are the heart and soul of America’s real entrepreneurial story in towns and cities across America.  These mostly self-funded small businesses want to make ends meet, contribute to local economies, and thrive through incremental growth.  Mainstream small businesses are quite different from the venture capital-funded startups of Silicon Valley that want to change the world.

Deluxe Corp.

Most of us know Amanda’s company, Deluxe Corp., because of the checkbooks they’ve been printing for over 100 years.  But the Internet helped the company expand into new avenues, providing operational and marketing services to small businesses across the U.S.  Her show, Small Business Revolution, showcases the importance of marketing for small business success.

Small Business Revolution

Amanda co-hosts the show with Ty Pennington.  Ty is famously known for hosting Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  Each episode of Extreme Makeover helped build a new home for a deserving family.  With Small Business Revolution, Ty is excited to be helping small businesses succeed, season by season.

The show’s premise is that a strong small-business community can help an entire town thrive.  In a recent episode, Amanda’s team worked with Morrison’s Irish Pub to show its owners how marketing can help them invest wisely and increase profitability.

Each season, the show’s crew visits ten communities, hosts rallies on the importance of supporting small business success, and lets the public vote for their favorite community.  The winning community receives $500,000 from Deluxe, and Amanda’s team helps with small business transformation in that town.

Obstacle #1 To Small Business Success – Poor Marketing

In the Irish pub’s case, the first mistake they made was cutting the marketing budget when finances got tight.  On Small Business Revolution, Amanda told them that “when you think you can’t afford marketing, that’s often the time when you can’t afford to not do marketing.”

Many of the town’s residents, for instance, loved the pub’s atmosphere but were unaware that it served lunch.  So lunch times were lean times for them.  Marketing their lunch specials online provided a huge boost to their business and fostered small business success.

The show helps small businesses devise marketing strategies to boost success.

Obstacle #2 To Small Business Success – Improper Asset Utilization

The show also looks at a company’s assets and whether they are optimally used.  One small business owner lamented the cyclicality of his business and how he struggled to break even.  Amanda realized that he was pricing his offerings too low, thereby cannibalizing his own profits.  She notes that small business owners generally have a harder time justifying price increases because they are so personally vested in the communities they serve.

Obstacle #3 To Small Business Success – Seasonality

Amanda notes that a lot of small businesses can suffer from seasonality based on the kind of business or industry they’re in.  With the Irish pub, the team at Small Business Revolution recommended that the pub get air-conditioning to deal with hot summer months and develop a summer menu with lighter fare, lunch specials, and summer drink specials.  In addition, they recommended developing a faster menu with less prep time and quick service to cater to consumer’s one-hour lunchtime constraint.  Then, the company marketed the pub’s new offerings to customers.

Knowing Numbers Is Vital To Small Business Success

Through the show, Amanda realized that many small businesses did not really know the granularity behind their numbers and could not do the math all the way.  The Irish pub’s three women owners, for instance, did not know if they had enough space and capacity to generate enough of a profit to support three shareholders!

Consistently, many small businesses do not know how to use marketing and do not understand their numbers in adequate detail.  Both of these functions can be easily outsourced so that small business owners can focus on their unique strengths in growing the business.

Branding And Marketing

Steve steps in to emphasize the importance of sustained marketing, year after year, to build up a company’s brand.  Coca-Cola, for example, sells sugar water with a caramel color.  Yet, it’s been phenomenally successful at branding its product.

Similarly, but on a much lower scale, Small Business Revolution helps entrepreneurs with branding.  They help these  businesses develop a brand palette which includes a recognizable font, imagery, and a logo.  This includes customized, non-stock photos, such as of business owners delivering/serving products to real customers, to highlight authenticity.

The second thing they do is help businesses build sophisticated websites.  Typically, websites are built using WordPress so business owners can go in and easily update the site with new information.  Amanda stresses the importance of keeping your website updated with new information, the right content, and the right keywords so it gets recognized by search engines.

In today’s smartphone age, websites must be responsive to different screen sizes, including mobile devices.

Claim Your Website With Search Engines

Next, Amanda’s team makes sure business owners “claim” their businesses on sites such as Google.  This is something all businesses can do for free.  It’s not enough to have Google find your business website.  It’s important that you claim that site as yours.

If you don’t claim the business, Google makes assumptions about the kind of business you are based on your site content.  By claiming your business, you tell them exactly what your business does and can respond to reviews, put in correct business timings, check the address, control photos, etc.

For instance, the Irish pub was listed as a bar in search engines. Patrons weren’t aware that they were open for lunch, and so they lost lunch-time traffic.  All that changed for the better once they claimed the site.

If you are a small business owner, tune in to Small Business Revolution for tips on driving small business success.

Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital.  Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions.  Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.  The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.

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Steve Pomeranz: Amanda Brinkman is the Chief Brand and Communications Officer of Deluxe Corp. She created, executive produces, and stars in the Hulu show, Small Business Revolution, Main Street series. Now, I watched the show and I can tell you, I was immediately impressed with the way they went about helping small businesses. So I asked Amanda to join me today to tell us what they’re doing and how they are actually working to help small businesses thrive. Hey, Amanda, thanks for joining us and welcome to the show.

Amanda Brinkman: Thank you, great to be here.

Steve Pomeranz: So, first of all, why did you decide to concentrate on these very small mom-and-pop businesses around the country?

Amanda Brinkman: Because when you really look at what the majority of small businesses look like across the country, they look like the small businesses that we feature in the show. I think it’s easy with all the different shows out there that really feature those entrepreneurs that are trying to come up with that next app or that next big idea that’s going to scale nationally and going to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Those are far and few between when you really think about what entrepreneurship looks like on a day-to-day basis. The majority of small businesses in our country, growth to them looks like hiring another employee or being able to put braces on their kid’s teeth, or sponsor the little league team and contribute to their community. And so we really wanted to showcase those kinds of small businesses because we really feel like they’re the hardworking entrepreneurs that are making this country inspiring and unique.

Steve Pomeranz: Now, I know of your company Deluxe Corp because I see it on my checks from time to time and from my bank accounts.

[LAUGH] But you guys have got to be doing a lot of other things, what is Deluxe actually doing as a business now, mostly?

Amanda Brinkman: Well, our legacy is based in the check-printing space. We have been in business since 1915, so over 100 years, and we did invent much of how the world still moves money. But over the years, we’ve evolved right alongside our customers. And years ago, we noticed that with the advent of the Internet, that really leveled the playing field for small businesses. You can show up big online, but very few small businesses start their business because they can’t wait to build their website or figure out what the heck SEO is or to manage their social media.

And those marketing tools are what really helped them grow their business. And so, we started to build out marketing services for small businesses. We were already helping so many small businesses, millions of them across the country, operate their business, and so now we now can help them market their business as well. And so, we love helping businesses on both sides of it. And so, for us, the Small Business Revolution is a really great way for us to show what a big difference marketing can make in the lives of small businesses.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so you were in the space to begin with. It’s not a coincidence, it’s not something you decide to do, just to go out and help. This is where your corporate strength is. So let’s talk about what you’re doing on the show. Now, I see that this season you have corralled Ty Pennington to appear. I hadn’t seen his name in a long time, but, of course, I recognized him once I saw him on the video. Remind us of who he is and what he’s bringing to the show.

Amanda Brinkman: So Ty Pennington is really very synonymous with the makeover reality show genre. So back at the beginning, he got his start on Trading Spaces, which was one of the first home improvement, home renovation shows out there.

Now there’s obviously dozens. And then he really got his claim to fame hosting Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, where each episode they would help a different homeowner and the community come together to help build a new home for a deserving family. And so, when we approached him about being the co-host with me for season three, he was really excited about the project. In his own words, he’s used to making over one house at a time, but this show is truly making over an entire town each season.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so you just spend $500,000 and you choose a town in the country, in this case, it was Alton, Illinois. And that money goes to help the small businesses in their town. Now, in this particular episode that I saw, the store was owned by a company and operated by three women, operating their business in the downtown Alton, Illinois area. Now, is the show focusing on women or is it just this one episode and you’re just focusing on the town?

Amanda Brinkman: Yes, each season is really focused on the town and proving out that if you have a strong, small business corp, that an entire town can thrive. The particular episode you saw about Morrison’s Irish Pub is run by three women, three total lady bosses, and we were excited to help them round out their business. They had a passion for running a pub but were falling down on the marketing side, needed some help not only understanding their numbers but understand them in a more granular way.

To understand what their numbers were telling them so they could make better decisions in the future about not only how to spend their money, but where to invest. And so, each season, really, the way we get to the winning town is we ask people to nominate their favorite small town. And then we narrowed down those nominations. Over the course of the past three seasons, we’ve had over 30,000 towns nominated.

Steve Pomeranz: Right.

Amanda Brinkman: Each season we go out and visit 10 of those communities and get to know them better, host rallies with the communities about how important it is to support small businesses within their community. And then from those visits, we narrow it down to five. And then it’s put up to public vote, and then the winner receives the half a million-dollar investment from Deluxe, and we film the transformation. And to your point, we invest those dollars not only in the Main Street aesthetically, but in six key small businesses that we think are vital to that town’s success.

Steve Pomeranz: I’m speaking with Amanda Brinkman. She’s Chief Brand and Communications Officer for Deluxe Corp, and we’re talking about the show that appears on Hulu, Small Business Revolution: Main Street series.

So let’s get into the granular aspect of this thing. So there’s this corner Irish pub, and it looked really kind of cute on the inside, and it was clean and run by these three wonderful women. But as you started to dig a little bit deeper, you realized that there were a number of aspects that they just didn’t understand, and they weren’t really covering. They understood how to serve drinks and how to make customers happy, but there is so much more to operating a business. So what challenges specifically were they facing?

Amanda Brinkman: Well, the first one was they made one of the mistakes that we see so many small businesses make, and that’s when money gets tight, they cut their marketing budget. And it’s very tempting to do because it feels like a cream-on-the-top type of an investment. But we often told businesses that when you think you can’t afford marketing, that’s often the times when you can’t afford not to do marketing. So here they’re offering this incredible menu, the ambience is phenomenal, the service, their passion, they are so good at running their business or providing that service part of their business. But people didn’t know about them.

So many of the customers, even within Alton, didn’t know that they served lunch, for example, which is one of their really slow times. And so, marketing was really going to be a huge boost to their business, especially, because Alton, as many small towns are, is close to a large metropolitan area where they could be potentially drawing customers. But they have to be winning some search wars in order to do that, they have to be findable online to be able to do that. And because they hadn’t done some of the key marketing things that you can do to make sure that you’re findable online, they were missing a lot of that, that search volume or that search traffic that could have been driving people to the restaurants.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.

Amanda Brinkman: So one of the first things that we helped them with was to really get a good marketing strategy in place so they could bring in new customers.

Steve Pomeranz: It’s taking a look at what their assets are or the value they have, but they’re just not exploiting these assets properly.

I was talking to a small business owner the other day, and he was talking about how business was just so, so cyclical. And he’d have a good couple of months and then he’d have a bad couple of months, and he was struggling to break even. I talked to him about marketing and he just went on this whole rant about how bad Yelp was and Google and all of this stuff.

But he didn’t really have any clue about who he’s competing against and what he has to do to differentiate. So I noticed that when you guys sat down with them, you looked at some of their problems. One of their problems was they were pricing their drinks too low or undervaluing themselves, and their expenses were too high. Did you see that a lot in a lot of these businesses?

Amanda Brinkman: Absolutely, and it’s funny, small businesses often feel guilty about raising their prices. And I don’t think big companies have that same personal tie to things like pricing. It’s part of what makes small business owners so engaging, it’s the fact that they feel like it’s such a personal decision to raise prices. But, yeah, they were selling a pint of Guinness for $4. You can’t seem to get it $4 anywhere.

And so, we really encouraged them to raise some of their prices, to not be afraid of that, that their customer base was so loyal. And again, based on the marketing we were planning on doing to bring people in, it wasn’t going to be the prices that were going to turn people away, but it was the pricing and not really understanding what those prices were doing to the pressure on their margins that was causing them to not be profitable.

Steve Pomeranz: I’m speaking with Amanda Brinkman, the show is Small Business Revolution: Main Street series.

We’ll be back in a short moment.

Steve Pomeranz: We’re back, I’m speaking with Amanda Brinkman. She is the Chief Brand and Communications Officer of Deluxe Corp, and she has created and she produces and stars in the Hulu Show. They’re in their third season, it’s called Small Business Revolution: Main Street series. And I know a lot of my listeners have owned small businesses or own them now, and this is good information because this show really hits the nail on the head.

Amanda, so we were talking about what their biggest weaknesses were, low pricing, they weren’t pricing their product high enough and their expenses were too high. Here’s another thing they were suffering from, which I think a lot of people also experienced, and that is slow summer traffic. What did you do to help them?

Amanda Brinkman: Well, yeah, you’re right. A lot of small businesses can suffer from seasonality based on the kind of business or the industry that they’re in. They’re an Irish pub, and a lot of their food is kind of that heavier, more warm cozy month cuisine. And at the time that we started working with them, they didn’t have air conditioning, and it can be quite hot in southern Illinois, as in many parts of the country during those hot summer months.

So we really needed to make sure that we were not only boosting their marketing during those months, but thinking through things like either having a summer menu, having some lighter share, also having a faster menu. Having a specific menu for your lunch hour can lead to better efficiencies in your kitchen.

You can get people in and out a little bit faster if you’re not serving the full menu during those hours, and give people that option. And so, we did that as well as, again, marketing to kind of remind people that there were new summer cocktails, there were new lunch specials. And then one of the things that we were able to do for them was buy them an air conditioner. And I have to say, it’s not one of the sexier things to buy a business, but it really was something that they needed.

Steve Pomeranz: But I bet you they were excited.

Amanda Brinkman: There were days they used to have to shut because it was too hot.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I mean down at Florida here, we can’t live without that, but I imagine you don’t really think that too much when you are in the northern states. But the summers get so hot, people want a relief from that, and they couldn’t add tables outside on the sidewalks either, I noticed. So they had limited amount of, they had to kind of stick with their floor plan.

Amanda Brinkman: Yeah, and that actually led to a lot of the things we did with working with them on the numbers. They, as many businesses, didn’t understand their numbers at a granular enough level where they could even do the math all the way to figure out even if they were at capacity during all of their open hours, even if they were running the same amount of revenue through the business, even during what was previously a slow month. Could that sustain three people full time and the income they want to derive from the business?

And that’s why knowing your numbers and knowing what the numbers are telling you is so vital. Because maybe then, we would have maybe helped them make different decisions, like the space is never going to be enough of a capacity to provide the kind of revenue that you need from the business. And then you are looking at different decisions, like do we move versus how do we bring in people. So, one of the other things we really worked with them on is getting to know those numbers at, again, a more intimate level.

Steve Pomeranz: I’m surprised that they didn’t have a CPA or somebody doing the bookkeeping that could have gone into QuickBooks and just kind of put the numbers in and issued some reports. They were really that lacking in understanding the financial aspects of the business. Did you find that a little surprising?

Amanda Brinkman: Yeah, but we see it with so many businesses. I mean all these businesses that we work with on a daily basis at Deluxe, as well as the businesses that we work with on the show, the two things they struggle with the most are not knowing how to use marketing to grow their business and then not knowing their numbers at a granular enough level. And those are the two things that are easiest to outsource, actually. To find a marketing partner that can help you who has expertise in this area as well as someone on the financial side to help you with those things. Because if you look at any other kind of business model, we don’t expect CEOs of large companies to wear all of the hats, right?

They have experts to help them with HR and marketing and finance, and so small business owners need to think of it the same way. And it can feel like it’s a luxury to spend money on partners for those things. But you have to think of your time as a valuable resource as your cash. Because as a business owner, there are specific things that you are uniquely qualified to do and that you can uniquely do to grow your business. And you need to focus your time on those, and then outsource the other pieces, and you’re going to grow faster and have a better handle on your business by doing that. It feels like a risk, but it’s the best way to grow your business.

Steve Pomeranz: Well, let’s talk about branding and marketing here.
I mean the one thing that I’ve discovered over my many years in business is that marketing has to be a war of attrition; it has to be something that you do and you do and you do. And you don’t really necessarily see tangible results, like I spend $1, I get $1.50.

But over time you build up this brand and a sense of who you are in the community and that, and you’ve got to keep doing it. Bottom line is, Coca-Cola sells a sugar water with a caramel color, right? It’s not sending a rocket to the moon, but it’s through their marketing that they’ve been able to create the sense of who they really are, or who they want their customers to feel like they themselves are. So what did you do for them, specifically, in the social media and something that would kind of translate to my listeners right now?

Amanda Brinkman: So we did a couple of things. The first thing was we helped them find a more own-able font. So the typeface that you use for your logo and your logo itself, and that we call your brand palette.

So the colors you use, the kinds of font and imagery you use, is so vital to communicating the sophistication of your business. So you could open a business tomorrow and with the right branding look and feel, you can feel like a very, again, sophisticated business. And they were kind of using a pretty standard font that looked like every other Irish pub out there.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I think it was the Irish pub font, right?

Amanda Brinkman: Yes, it was a very classic one.

Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]

Amanda Brinkman: So we helped them stand out by creating a more customized look, that still communicated Irish as soon as you looked at it, but had a unique, it’s something that was own-able for Morrison’s.

So once we kind of had the brand figured out, we invested in real photography for them. That’s another thing we always advise businesses on. A consumer can tell subconsciously and as they are looking at it, they can tell when it’s just kind of stock photography that you might see on someone else’s website.

So we took real photos of the real owners delivering real food to real customers, and you can see that authenticity. And we want to bring real photography of the place to life on their website and then social media. The second thing we did for them is really built out a sophisticated website.

And we built it on a WordPress platform, so it’s very easy for them to update because it’s one thing to have a great website, but it’s just as important to continue to keep it updated. And we did a couple of things that were really important on the website. The number one reason you want a website is you want to be findable online. When people are looking for your kind of business, if you have the right kind of keyword, and the right kind of content on your site, and the right tags, you’ll pop up when people are searching for your category. And three-quarters of consumers search for restaurants on their mobile device, and their site wasn’t.

Steve Pomeranz: How about Irish pub near me? [LAUGH]

Amanda Brinkman: Yeah, exactly. And so we had to make sure that their website was what we call responsibly designed. And so, that means that the website responds to the kind of device that the consumer is looking at your website on. And so little things like how we designed the menu, so it was a better user experience for someone looking on the phone versus on a desktop, was really important. And then the third thing we helped them do, and this is free to all businesses, and one of the top things we see small businesses not knowing to do is to claim their Google listing.

So allow him to Google or search for your business, it might pop up and you think, okay, good, Google has found me, check. But if you look closer at that listing, if you haven’t claimed it as the business owner, Google is making assumptions about what kind of a business you are. And so, they’re guessing on your hours, they’re guessing on the description of your business. You can’t respond as a business owner to reviews that might be left there, and you’re not able to control the photos that are up there. And so, it’s free to do, you have to claim the listing as the business owner, and then you’re able to put the right hours up there.

Make sure your address is 100% correct, add photos that you want to make sure are being seen of your place of business, as well as claim and modify how your business is listed. So, in the case of Morrison’s, they listed as a bar. And one of their biggest problems was they didn’t have lunchtime traffic to the restaurant. And so, they weren’t listed in category-wise as a restaurant, so they were losing all of that search traffic around Irish pub near me, or restaurant, lunch restaurant. So we changed. You can choose up to three ways your business is listed, and we just changed those to be more appropriate for how people would be searching for the things Morrison’s wants, to make sure people are coming in for it.

Steve Pomeranz: Well, unfortunately, we are out of time, but I’ll tell you what I really think here. What I like about this show is that you are really attempting to empower and educate the owners to help to advance their business sustainability. You’re not just coming in and going, well, I like your concept, I’m going to buy your store.

And there are other shows like that and they’re fine, but this one is actually different, this is very, very granular. And I could learn from it, and I think all business owners can learn from it. My guest, Amanda Brickman, Chief Brand and Communications Officer for Deluxe Corp. The show on Hulu is Small Business Revolution: Main Street series.

And remember to visit our website, stevepomeranz.com, to join the conversation. Listen, read all of our segments, and sign up for our weekly update, and while you’re there, for important topics we’ve covered, you can sign up to get them straight into your inbox. That’s stevepomeranz.com. Amanda, thank you so much for joining me.

Amanda Brinkman: Thank you for having me.