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Petunia, the Marketing Maven

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Last week I met Petunia at a local business. Petunia greeted me at the door, she had posted her service recommendations in the reception area, and she brought me a welcoming gift. Her personal Facebook page was promoted, as well, and she asked visitors to ‘friend’ her. Petunia is a black French bulldog and she’s a marketing maven.

While it’s evident that Petunia’s owner loves her deeply, it also became clear that Petunia is a marketing tool. She endears visitors and clients and encourages them to visit again and again. I am fairly certain that the next time I see a French bulldog I will think of Petunia and ‘her’ business. There is not much traditional advertising that can accomplish that level of brand recognition on a similarly sized budget.

I’ve talked about signature talks in a previous blog; now I want you to expand that to other signature items. When your ideal customer sees/hears/experiences/thinks about an event (or an adorable French bulldog like Petunia), you want them to immediately associate it with you. Here are some ideas:

•A children’s monthly book group sponsored by an independent book store

•An annual  “Iron Chef” contest sponsored by an organic grocery store

•An animal hospital who hosts an annual “Pet/Owner Look-Alike Contest”

If you previously thought you needed to sponsor a Nascar auto to garner strong brand recognition, think of other events or objects (or even live animals like Petunia) that are not only in line with your company’s vision but also strengthens your brand recognition and loyalty. Brand recognition is easier than you think to achieve; it just takes some creativity and perhaps a little fur.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Business Lessons from St. Lucia Final Thoughts; Knowing Your Customer

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My St. Lucia vacation feels like a distant memory. A typical business owner, I’ve thrown myself back into my business completely and the sun and sand seems far away. The only daily reminders are my son’s freckles and my daughter’s brown skin.

Yet the St. Lucian people and their messages linger in my thoughts, so I thought I would wrap up my Business Lessons from St. Lucia with some final memories:

1. The St. Lucian business owners know who their ideal customers are and are quick to offer a sale. For the most part, I was also struck with how skilled they are in knowing when to stop asking for the sale. They know their customers’ buying style and how to recognize a tire-kicker from a strong lead. If you’re a small business owner, ask for the sale and know when to stop asking. Understand your sales cycle.

2. On our last full day, the kids went tubing in the turquoise Caribbean Ocean. While we watched and listened to them skim across the water surface, we talked to the business proprietor about his business. He said business was improving over the past few months, that 2008 and 2009 were especially hard; he also said, “all you really need is enough to pay your mortgage, right?”

Which brings me to the biggest lesson of all: we spent more on our children’s pleasure on this day of tubing and horseback riding than many St. Lucian families will spend in a year, or perhaps a lifetime, on sheer leisure. Despite the headaches and heartaches our businesses can give us, they also give us our livelihood and it can be a pretty nice one at that. Give thanks, give it your best, and give back.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Business Lessons from St. Lucia: Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

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Hurricane Tomas whipped through St. Lucia in October, 2010, killing 14 people and washing out roads, homes, and vegetation. Banana plantations were flattened and tourism came to a standstill, much as it did when the economy headed south in 2009.

Yet Zebby, our rain forest zip line guide, put a solution simply: “You just can’t put all your eggs in one basket.” My brother asked her what she meant by that, and she told us how the number of banana farms fell from 10,000 in the early 1990s to 1,800 in 2005 because of a change in trade regulations. When we visited Charles at the La Dauphine Estate, an old cocoa plantation, he told us how even though much of their cocoa production was washed out from the wet season the plantation’s other products – bananas,  coconuts, citrus fruits, flowers, and nutmeg – carried them through. Charles explained that much of the island’s farms are” intercropped”, meaning that more than one crop is grown on a plot. La Dauphine Estate is known for their extremely high quality cocoa (exported to a British owned luxury chocolate manufacturer called Hotel Chocolat), yet they have a well-suited supporting product line.

Having multiple income streams derived from more than one product, or intercropping, is smart business. Entrepreneurs typically can come up with multiple avenues to pursue; the trick is making it easy by leveraging your strengths (for Charles, it is the St. Lucia climate and soil) and not getting too far off the beaten track – your core strength. To best develop multiple income streams:

1.) Know your core strengths;

2.) Consider products and/or services you already offer and find a way to leverage them. Can you combine them into packages? Can you deliver your product or service in a different venue? For example, one client has created a large volume wholesale line for products previously only sold retail.

So whether you like Zebby’s advice – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” or Charles’ – “the key is intercropping” – multiple income streams protect your business when the weather turns.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Business Lessons from St. Lucia: The Power of Gratitude

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After a draining day driving the rain forest roads, we were determined to stay close to our resort; besides, our vacation was winding down and we wanted to spend more time in the sun and less time in the car. We took stock of what we all still wanted to do and the kids won with tubing and horseback riding. We called to arrange the riding but when we told the stable that the kids didn’t have the “required” gear of long pants and closed-toe shoes, they told us “no problem; they can come anyway.” Uh-oh.

Pulling up to the stable, we were reminded “don’t worry; this is island time”…again. The staff was moving leisurely, but on closer look the stables were clean and the horses looked well cared for. The paperwork was tiresomely slow to complete, flies were buzzing around, and us parents were really wondering if we had made a bad choice. Eventually, the kids were introduced to their guide and loaded on to their mounts. We cautiously watched our children being led away by a stranger in a third world country, onto a wooded trail; there they go, I thought.

But then the stable owner walked over to us, shook our hands – grasping our hand with both of his weathered hands, looked us directly in the eye and said, “Thank you for choosing us.” In the seconds it took him to say those words he eliminated any doubt, and anxiety we had. We went from wondering “what have we done?” to complete trust and confidence. His gratitude created an investment by us in his business; we wanted him to succeed.

Saying “thank you”, when it’s genuine, is powerful. Reflect on who you are thankful for in connection with your business – customers, partners, suppliers, trusted advisers and family – and let them know. You’ll both be glad that you did.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Business Lessons from St. Lucia: The Bicycling Stalker

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Once again, I felt relief as we arrived safely in a seaside village, thankful for roads unlike those we had just come from, roads with sharp corners high in the rain forest. Uniformed school children greeted us into the village, along with a one-lane bridge under repair – no doubt washed out from the hurricane and mud slide. We were on our way to a well-known tourist spot, the mineral baths and botanical garden.

The streets were busy with road crew, women watching toddlers, stray dogs, and idle men. It felt a bit like we’d entered a Mario Karts video course – we drove a funny little car and there were obstacles everywhere. A man on a bicycle started waving his arms in front of us, and then rode along side of us, still waving his arms. My husband, thinking we were doing something wrong, started to roll down his window which caused my daughter and me to say, “No-o-o-o-o! Just drive! Drive!” The bicyclist followed us as we wound our way through the streets and I mean “FOLLOWED us”, as in stalking. He knew what was within his grasp – a perfect customer for whatever he was peddling. He was a persistent son-of-a-gun, following us even when we got lost. He was just trying to make a living like the rest of us, and he was a master at identifying his ideal customer. Which led me to think: can I recognize my ideal clients as well as he can? Consider these questions:

  • What kind of car does your ideal customer drive?
  • What was the last book they read?
  • What kind of music do they listen to and how/when do they listen to it?
  • What do they do in their spare time?

Understanding your ideal customers makes it easier to market to them, allows you to provide better service to them, and like the bicycle stalker, allows you to recognize them when they roll through your village.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach





Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.