“How do I get the word out?” is the last question you should ask.

“How can I reach more customers?”
“How can I get the word out?”
“How can I tell a different story?”

If you don’t have [enough] sales, it must be a promotional problem, right? “If only more people knew about what I have to offer, I would be doing alright.”

Could it be that, instead of an outreach problem, you have an inner reach problem? That what you’ve created isn’t the full extent of what you have to offer?

Could it be that it’s the product that needs changing and not the promotional plan?

While you’re looking to place the burden on the right tactic or promotional channel, the people who are taking notice aren’t buying either. Sure, it could be the price, the copy, the positioning, the reach. And yes, a bigger list and greater market reach certainly help. But could it be the product? It’s likely to be one of the last things you consider.

Recently, Mark Silver wrote about an experience with two different local businesses. He very much values working with small, independent, local businesses. But in both scenarios it appeared that the bigger box store option was going to win out. While a certain set of values was pushing him to settle for what the local businesses had to offer, another set of his values (quality & fit) pushed him to go with the more efficacious offer.

Similarly, Danielle Maveal, from Etsy, asked Megan and I after our talk on pricing, “When do you stop thinking about price and position and start talking about the product?”

In other words, what happens when it’s the product that’s the problem?

This question is especially important in terms of purpose- & values-driven businesses. It’s also incredibly awkward to talk about because if I tell you that the product is the problem, you may hear “you are the problem.”

You raise the handmade, local, or independent flag but does that mean you deserve special consideration? No. While those categories are exceptionally important to me, quality, fit, and value will always be more important.

I will buy a product and spend what I need to to get what I want, what truly works for me.

Mark says:

Your business can be a winner if it has both: you’re effective AND you strongly reflect the most-cared about values of your clients.

“Handmade,” “local,” and “independent” are important value add-ons. They reinforce my buying decision and make me feel good about the money I’m spending. But they won’t change my mind.

As an advocate for conscious consumption, I don’t want consumers to make a buying decision based on the label any more than I do based on a low price.

So before you ask “how to get the word out,” make sure you have clear answers to these questions:

1.) Is my product or service specially designed for the consumer I am aiming to reach? Microbusinesses are better positioned & equipped for making design or experience decisions for their specialty customers. If you don’t know your customer well enough to make those decisions, you need to spend serious time getting to know them.

2.) Is what I’m offering that different from what can be purchased elsewhere? Do serious market research. Know what is on the market and know how you stack up in terms of your customers needs. No excuses.

3.) What precise need does my product or service fill? Every product or service fills a need (though not every need is universal). Don’t pretend yours doesn’t. Know it & name it.

4.) Does my product or service exceed the [quality, convenience, ease of use, etc…] of what’s currently available? Understand how your product or service is innovative within its market. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel but you should have a handle on what’s fresh about what you’re offering.

It’s hard to get the word out about something unremarkable. It’s near impossible to market something that doesn’t have a clear selling point. The real key to thriving as a local, independent, or artisan business is to not be a reasonable facsimile of the big guys.

The key is to use your agility, attention to detail, and intimate relationship to the customer to create something truly great for the people you serve.

No strategy for “getting the word out” will work until you do.