America is predominantly a nation of small businesses and startups, which are seen by many as a source of resilience and flexibility in our economic system. Private ownership of property and enterprise, by giving a person a stake and a base, can be seen as one of the underpinnings of our at times raucous democracy. Entrepreneurship is not for all, but the rewards and satisfaction continue to draw millions annually.

The small business owner is often only expert in the area of their application, but is immersed in a number of concerns, a heady if sometimes overwhelming experience. The area of marketing and promotion is one of those important areas that gets all too often ignored, which unfortunately can have a big impact on the long-term viability of the business.

This is where Jan Riley comes in. She is a great example of a small business that in turn helps other small businesses to succeed through effective marketing.

Her company, Janley Consulting is based in Cascade, MD. We encountered her through her active presence on Twitter. We spoke with her recently.
Jan Riley

 Jan, I notice from your bio that you are from the same part of the country as my Dad, the Maryland panhandle. I recall driving those rolling hills on the way to Hagerstown, to visit family. Lovely country. Tell me, is that Mack Truck plant still there? And Dual Highway? 

A: The western Maryland panhandle is gorgeous. Farms and mountains make it a wonderful little place to live. The Mack Truck plant was acquired by Volvo Powertrain but still there. I do believe they're gone through several layoffs in recent months. Yes, Dual Highway is still there...lots of auto dealers, restaurants and banks on that strip.
Q: The Tortuga on Dual Highway outside Hagerstown was the first time in my life that I ever had lobster; I still remember that. (Wish I could always remember where I put my keys, but never mind).

Jan, your web site states" "Janley Consulting provides creative and innovative solutions to the age-old marketing problems of today’s businesses." When offering your solutions, you must get a sense of "what's out there". Jan, what are some of the persistent marketing problems that businesses face?

A: LOL. I haven't driven in 5 days because of these snow storms, so I'm not sure where my keys are either. 

One of the major problems I see with small businesses is trying to balance their entire marketing, to understand the market, use the best advertising, be effective and efficient with their budget. They're busy managing their company and trying to figure out marketing at the same time. So many simply use the shotgun approach to marketing rather than using a sniper rifle. Consistency and cost-effective are two key points I see businesses not utilizing.

Many businesses don't have or follow a business plan, let alone have a marketing plan. Honestly, they should plan their year, budget accordingly and scope out what they're doing each month. Their advertising dollars would stretch farther and it would make dealing with sales reps easier too.

Another major dilemma I see is businesses trying to figure out what to do with social media. Trying to understand it and how to best use it. Digital marketing is much more focused and allows for measurable analytics to a greater detail than other media. Many small businesses are still trying to grasp what these networks are, let alone how to use them. SM is a great way to reach and connect with a target market.
Q: I could not agree with you more when you say that small businesses are generally focused on their core competencies or areas of advantage, and important functions such as marketing get short shrift. In the case of entrepreneurs who go on to success, they are often those with a vision of a product or service, or just a cold-blooded recognition of a gap that needs filling in the local business environment. They don't have a business plan, as you have said and I have also seen. In any event, they have not only have no expertise in marketing, sales, public relations, promotion or other areas, they have no clue.

You have said "Digital marketing is much more focused and allows for measurable analytics to a greater detail than other media". Can you expound a bit on that? That sounds interesting.

If you advertise on the radio or TV, it's very difficult to track the actual results. Much of the air media is just branding, getting your name out there. So people know your business exists and what you do.

When you have fans on a Facebook page or followers on Twitter who link to your website or blog, you have analytics available to measure that. You don't have that ability with traditional media. Not to mention using focused AdWords and SEO websites. Being able to validate the expense of marketing by tracking ROI is something a business owner should always do but especially now in a bear market. Digital media provides ways to do that more so than traditional media.
Q: Jan, what do you enjoy about being active in Social Media sites like Twitter?

A: I'm a social butterfly. Anyone who knows me, knows that very well. I'm an extrovert and generally enjoy people, helping people. I've said before that I wouldn't want to do business with someone with whom I wouldn't want to be friends. Social Media provides the opportunity to connect with people from around the country, around the globe, to get to know each other and help others. Celebrate the joys and commiserate over sorrows.

People generally like doing business with people they know...people they like. Jeffrey Gitomer has written lots of books explaining why. It's great that you can touch base with people and stay in touch with them on a regular basis so easily.

Q: Jan, what do you think differentiates you in the market?

A: What makes me unique? Wow. I'd love to have my associates and clients answer this.

I'd say several things contribute to differentiating me:
  1. Positivity. My slogan originally started as Creative Thinking. Positive Results. I have an underlying faith that things will work out. I see the glass as half full. Sometimes that means working my tail off to ensure good things happen...most of the time...but I want to see my clients succeed, if they succeed, so do I.
2. Creativity. Thinking outside the box. Ha! I've been outside the box for so long, I am quite sure I wouldn't know how to survive inside it anymore. I'm a renegade. Trying different things and learning that there's more than one way to skin a cat to use an old-school phrase is important to the survival of any company.
3. Communication. There's an art to good communication. Listening is more than hearing. I prefer to meet with clients in person for at least the initial consultation (yes, makes for remote consulting to be difficult) because you gather so much more information in a face-to-face meeting. What people hear is the body language, the tone, the pitch of the words...and then the actual words. Tone and posture means more than the words use.
By focusing on truly listening to the person, you learn more about what he really wants to do, is trying to do, what he needs.

When you can hear what he's not saying, you know you've become a good consultant.

Q: Jan, they say that Americans are less inclined to seek wisdom from their elders than other cultures, such as many in Asia. I think there's some merit to the charge; at least that was the received wisdom for a while there, but SCORE, the organization you are active in, SCORE serves that function, right? How many consulting engagements does a chapter get in a year?

A: It varies depending on the location of the chapter and its size. I would estimate 15 per month locally. I personally found many mentors in various organizations for myself. I've learned to find people who have strengths I wish to have and befriend them. Slowly but surely some of that expertise, that wisdom will rub off. Also, many people you admire and think highly of will gladly take the time to help you reach your simply must take the initiative to ask them for their help, their advice.

Q: Jan you have worked with NASA and currently have at least one proposal in process with them. When I looked at doing government contracting, I found that I usually "couldn't get there from here" as usually you had to cite three or more prior engagements of the very same type of contract that you were pursuing. It seemed pretty rigid, with barriers to entry that favored big players. I understand the need to ensure quality, but couldn't performance bonds serve that purpose? What have you found are the challenges for small companies who want to play in the government space?

A: Much of government contracting can be found in Jeff Gitomer's Little Black Book of Networking. It's all about whom you know. Trying to get established as a contractor in the federal world is a large undertaking for any startup. Completing forms, finding out about RFPs relevant to your business, being registered with each and every database you must be a part of, staying on top of your game are just some of the challenges of working with the government.

It's similar to graduating with a degree and learning the potential employer wants you to have a degree & experience. The graduate is thinking, "I just graduated. I haven't had time to get experience yet. Give me the job so I can GET the experience."

Government wants you to have experience working with the government before they contract you to do work. It's an obvious Catch 22 situation. But, there is a solution. There are many prime contractors and federal contracting consultants in any industry that are willing to work with startups and small businesses to help them navigate the waters of government contracting. Many military bases have a business development office, which is a great place to start learning about how to break into this sometimes elite circle.