Make the Most of Your Time as an On-Line Chat Guest

Here's a marketing opportunity that too few people use--and if they do use it, very few extract the maximum marketing mileage: being the guest in a live on-line chat.

In some ways, chatting is similar to a radio call in--except that new questions pour in right in the middle of your answer, You write two lines and send it, then write the next two lines. In the meantime, another message may crop up and interrupt you. Some moderators will control this, but others let it all hang out.

To get the most benefit: First of all, publicize your appearance ahead of time. Don't just rely on the host group, but try to extend your reach. Thus, make sure you give yourself enough lead time to get the publicity out. Find out what publicity the host will do, but do your own as well.

Second, make a transcript of your session, so that when you're done, the whole thing is on your hard drive. Ask the moderator how to do this.

During the session, be as helpful as possible with the questions you're asked--but just as in a problem-solving article, leave them hungry enough for more that they can turn to you for more resources. Don't hit people over the head with your offers, but make them clear.

Jot down the e-mail addresses of everyone visiting--not just the ones who participate. In America Online chat rooms, this information will be in the "hi" and "Bye" lists--but only the ones talking show up in the log. As soon as the session's over, send them all some follow-up.

And, of course, make use of the prestige you get as a featured guest. Mention it in your bios and backgrounders.

How do you get to be a chat guest? Either come out and ask (with your credentials and list of possible topics), or participate in newsgroups and mailing lists in such a way that people come to you. I've done it both ways. I approached America Online's Business Strategies Forum. Inc. Online and other chats came to me.

Here's an actual transcript (typos and all) of my Inc. Magazine on- line chat (held Thursday, April 26, 1996), as well as the follow-up message I sent (excluding the "22 free/low cost ways to market" freebie, which is available elsewhere on this site).

4/25/96 8:29:47 PM Opening "Shel-Inc. Chat Log 4/25/96" for recording.

ShelHoro : Okay, that's done. Ready to start when you are.
IncCagiano : WEll, cvm, he's all yours. Why don't you tell him about your biz.
Cvmclean : I have a janitorial service company in Okla. City. Do not have a large ad in the yellow page
IncCagiano : Susan, welcome back.
Susan CKD : Thanks, how's it goin?
IncCagiano : Mel, what's up?
Cvmclean : but network with several organizations, belong to the Chamber, and will set up a booth at a
MelLoc : Hi, everyone.... I'm back
Cvmclean : local trade show in Oct.
IncCagiano : Our guest tonite is Shel Hororowitz, author of"marketing without Megabucks."
IncCagiano : oops...Horowitz.
MelLoc : Hi Shel.... Indulge our silly questions, please....
ShelHoro : You're quick, Chris. I didn't even have to correct you. Mel, that's why I'm here.
IncCagiano : Timmy, wlecome to Inc.Live.
MelLoc : Chris is a quick guy....
ShelHoro : Cvm, you don't necessarilly need large Yellow Pgs ads--$100/month brings me lots of business.
IncCagiano : shucks, mel...
ShelHoro : That covers four phone books, several placements in one of them--but the largest ad is 1 inch.
MelLoc : Shel - Are there any businesses that wouldn't benefit fron the yellow pages?
ShelHoro : Sure... Those who have all they could handle from word of mouth, those who fill a more seasonal need
ShelHoro : such as snowplowing (newspaper service directories are a better bet for them), t6hose whose clientele
MelLoc : How do you feel about publicity as a marketing tool for bootstrappers?
Timmy LI : I have been contacted by sprint about getting a 888 no, any thoughts
ShelHoro : are not geographically based at all. They'd still get calls, but it might not be their best value.
IncCagiano : Kind of biz, Timmy?
Timmy LI : insurance
ShelHoro : Mel, it's the best thing since sliced bread. Example: I sent out a press release on the
ShelHoro : translation of my book into Korean and Chinese. The local regional paper, serving a metro area of
Timmy LI :sprint wants a $200 committment
ShelHoro : about 300,000, turned thast into a 30-inch story w/ photo--and just enough errors that I was able to
ShelHoro :get extra mileage with a letter to the editor.
ShelHoro : Timmy, toll-free numbers are great, but I don't think you should lock into any kind of minimum.
IncCagiano : Sure, Many "smaller" papers are always looking for stuff to cover.
ShelHoro : Remember that numbers are portable--you can take them to another carrier. If you can't use that as
ShelHoro : a negotiating point to get out of the minimum, get your number from a more responsive carrier.
MelLoc : You can always get deals from the long distance carriers - just ask them....
ShelHoro : Inc, it's not just smaller papers. My wife once had a press release picked up by the NY Daily News.
IncCagiano : Get out. About what?
ShelHoro : It was just a few lines on page 40-something and her phone rang for days.
ShelHoro : About an energy conservation program for poor people that she used to run.
IncCagiano : Power of the press.
ShelHoro :I built my bgusiness on it.
IncCagiano : Will that change any with electronic media?
Timmy LI : shell, what sort of business are you in?
ShelHoro : Now I do press releases and other publicity for other businesses as well as my own.
MelLoc : It's a great business booster when business gets slow...
ShelHoro : Timmy, I run a retail writing and marketing service, emphasizing low-cost, targeted solutions
ShelHoro : where a business can experience market penetration with little or no outlay. Sure beats paying for ads
ShelHoro : Inc, I think electronic media are one more venue. We went from print only to radio, TV, cable, Web.
ShelHoro : But print is still with us--and will be as long as people can read--at least until you can com-
MelLoc :What about marketing specialists - Would they be worth the money for a small biz?
IncCagiano : But other than puttin up a WEb site. How do you get people to copme to it?
ShelHoro : fortably read on the subway from the screen of your hanbdheld computer. And the newer media are just
ShelHoro : more places to get exposure; they complement, rather than compete w/, traditional publicity.
ShelHoro : Mel, it depends. For instance, I can write a straightforward press release, in most cases, for
Susan CKD : I get leads from my association. Do you help write direct mail letters? And, is that a good idea?
ShelHoro : about $50. If that release gets picked up by 5 papers instead of one, do you think it's worth
ShelHoro : the investment? I do! But if a publicist asks for a retainer of $1000 per month, most small businesses
ShelHoro : could do better on their own.
ShelHoro : Inc, coiuld you clarify? How to get people to come to whqat?
MelLoc : I think women have it easier in the marketing help catagory.....
ShelHoro :Susan, yes and yes! One of the great things about online marketing is youhave the intimacy of direct m
IncCagiano : The Web site. If you build it will they come. And how?
ShelHoro : mail with virtually none of the overhead. But you have to be aware of protocol, not ruffle feathers.
ShelHoro : You publicize a Web site by: listing in search engines, putting it in your e-mail sig, sending out
Susan CKD : Since my business is strictly local, I wasn't referring to online mktg., but direct mail.
ShelHoro : press releases, mentioning it during speeches and interviews, using it in all ads and publicity...
ShelHoro : Yes. If you've got the right list, direct mail is powerful. Even with responses around 1%, it should
MelLoc : I only say that because women are more likely to help other women biz owners for reduced fee
MelLoc : or free
Cvmclean :If your trade area is basically a local market, would it benefit using the web?
ShelHoro : be worthwhile. But there are methods of reducing cost and boosting response. I spend two whole
ShelHoro : chapters on this in Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring.
ShelHoro : Mel, that's true--but it's not just women. Any organizational, ethnic, or subculture affiliation
ShelHoro : can be used as a marketing ":pull." Consider college alums--a very powerful constituency.
MelLoc : Shel - Have you ever bartered for advertising and if so, what worked best for you....
ShelHoro : I barter for anything I can. At the moment, a number of my articles are circulatiog--with
ShelHoro :full contact info--on various ad sheets that others are paying for. I got over 40 responses from Greg
ShelHoro : Landry's e-mail classified sheet, by doing up a profile of my business and offering to send a
MelLoc : Finally.... A bartering cohort.....
ShelHoro : handout on 22 free/low-cost ways to do marketing. Of course, it plugs my book.
MelLoc : Shel - I realize you are an author - is that your primary business????
ShelHoro : I have a $3000 rug on my floor that I've paid off about half of so far--in the form of press
ShelHoro : releases, fliers, and a newsletter. I'd never buy it for cash!
MelLoc : I buy very little for cash myself.....
IncCagiano : I got a $5 throw I got when I worked at Crate & Barrel
ShelHoro : Mel, my primary business is consulting and writing marketing materials for small businesses, non-
ShelHoro :profits, and individuals (i.e., résumés). I also spend a great deal of time marketing my two books:
ShelHoro : the one on low-cost marketing I've already discussed, and my new one on low-cost fun. It's
ShelHoro : called The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook.
MelLoc : you are two steps ahead of me - I've been living that title.....
ShelHoro : Yeah, it's amazing what's out there for the taking. But a lot of people don't know how cheaply one
MelLoc : How do you get into publishing ??? To get someone to look at your work?
ShelHoro : can travel, dine, see music, etc. And almost nobody knows all the tricks--I didn't either, but I
ShelHoro : spent a couple of months researching them. It was really a fun book to write.
MelLoc : Ted Kaczinski has been doin it for years...... : )
ShelHoro : Mel, some of it is luck. I wrote a knock-em-dead proposal that my agent sold to simon & Schuster
MelLoc : I'd love to get some of my work published someday.....
ShelHoro : almost immediately, but my timing was good. She got a similar proposal about two months later, and
IncCagiano : Whatya write Mel?
ShelHoro : told the poor unfortunate that the market was saturated! And then my next four proposals were
ShelHoro : turned down, so I self-published Hedonist.
MelLoc : All kinds of stuff from business articles to Generation X issues.....
ShelHoro : Mel, start with articles for community newspapers and make that a stepping-stone. Combine it with
ShelHoro : your love of pleasure and build a portfolio on culture or sports reviews, for instance.....
MelLoc : Back to marketing... sorry to sidetrack....
IncCagiano : Hey, it's all marketing anyway...
IncCagiano :So, any suggestions for our local businesses?
MelLoc : What do you think are the three most cost- effective, best response methods for the
MelLoc : cash-challenged????
ShelHoro : Indeed, freelance writers understand marketing better than practically anyone--it's a tough road!
ShelHoro : I can't generalize about local business. But if the market is local, networking and community service
IncCagiano : Thank God I'm a staff writer.
ShelHoro : should definitely play a part.
MelLoc : I'm a good writer - just haven't figured out how to get it published yet....
ShelHoro : Mel: fliers; e-mail discussion groups (with a really eye-catching sig); self-organized direct-mail co-
ShelHoro : ops
MelLoc : Do you really think fliers are that good????
ShelHoro : Mel, write for free for a couple of months. Then take the clips to low-paying markets. Then
ShelHoro : push higher. I've written for $7.50 an article. Now a contract has to be in the mid three-figures in
MelLoc : "Low-paying markets"???? Please explain...
ShelHoro : order to be worthwhile--and I'm a fast writer! As a result, I do very little magazine work anymore--
ShelHoro : not worth the hassles for the low return. But I have 600 clips in my portfolio so I can concentrate
ShelHoro : on my over-the-counter work and my books.
MelLoc : Would you need an agent to do that?
IncCagiano : Hey! What's wrong with magazien work! :)
ShelHoro : Mel, before I was in the Yellow Pages, virtually ALL my business came from fliers. But of course
Susan CKD : What do you think about brochures for service businesses to differentiate your co. from others?
MelLoc : I have the utmost respect for the prowess of your pen, Inc...... : )
ShelHoro : it not only has to be the right flier, but where the right people see it.
ShelHoro : Susan, brochures can be a greatg--and inexpensive--sales tool. But often the reader has
Cvmclean : How did you dispurse your flyers..
ShelHoro : to wade through so much crap! It's a heavily mis-used tool I believe in a clear, simple, direct
ShelHoro : approach. And it doesn't need glitzy graphics, four-color photography, coated stock and a $20,000
ShelHoro : pricetag. Most of the brochures I write are six or eight panels (each panel being 1/3 of an 8-1/2x
Susan CKD : So, how do you define crap in a brochure? I'd love to know.
ShelHoro : 11 page. Maybe a little longer.
ShelHoro : Define crap? I guess you'll have to read the book for that. Basically anything that's off the track of
Cvmclean : Shel, how did you dispurse your flyers.....
Susan CKD : Maybe you mean writing I I I instead of you, you you?
ShelHoro : enticing the reader with benefits, or alarming the reader with fears, that accrue from using (or
ShelHoro : not using) the product or service. III is definitely part of the problem. the reader doesn't
ShelHoro : care about how great you are--just what you can do for him/her.
Susan CKD : But isn't a little bit of fear ok?
ShelHoro : Cvm, with a stapler. I live near a major university with zillions of bulletin boards--and when I
ShelHoro : started my business, in 1981, my major service was typing term papers (thank goodness those days are
ShelHoro : gone! It forced me to use my brain as well as my fingers and make my living as a writer, because
ShelHoro : PCs have made typing services virtually obsolete.)
ShelHoro : Susan, oh yes. Fear is a great motivator. Jeffrey Lant writes very eloquently about how to exploit
ShelHoro : it.
Cvmclean : OK, how would a janitorial service send out flyers, thru the mail or during cold calling
ShelHoro : Cvm, hmmm. Who needs janitorial services? Small business. Maybe you could approach your local
ShelHoro : or regional small business journal and find out how much it would cost to have your flier inserted.
ShelHoro : Start with a test market of, say, 10,000 fliers. If it brings enough new business, next issue send it
ShelHoro : to the whole list. Or try this: my local chamber of commerce will send a member's flier out to their
Cvmclean : I've tried advertising in a local business paper, no response during 6 months of ads.
IncCagiano : Ouch, cvm.
ShelHoro : whole list, enclosed with the newsletter. It's ridiculously cheap:L $75 for almost 2000 prospects.
ShelHoro : Check with yours.
Susan CKD : I have, and I got good leads right away. Maybe it depends on the type of business.
ShelHoro : Cvm, some questions: 1. How noticeable were your ads?
Cvmclean : Now, I have a flyer inserted in a local theater program, lots of money people go to and had
MelLoc : Sorry - I got knocked offline
Cvmclean : several responses the first play.
ShelHoro : How enticing were they? What was the "sizzle" you were selling? (for instance, a sparkling office AND
ShelHoro : the free time they wouldn't get if they did it on their own.
Cvmclean : Well, an ad agency set up the ad....probably the problem was they used my picture,
ShelHoro : And how much more exposure would you have gotten if a flier fell out of the paper, rather than having
ShelHoro : to hope someone sees your ad.
ShelHoro : Yeah, your clients don't need YOUR picture! They need before and after pictures of a messy office
ShelHoro : turned beautiful!
ShelHoro : That's the sizzle!
Susan CKD : In this age of information and more cautious buyers, do people buy the sizzle as much as before?
ShelHoro : Yes--but they want the facts too. Sizzle isn't enough, tofuy isn't enough (I'm a vegetarian--no
IncCagiano : People always buy a benefit when they want it, don't they?
ShelHoro : steak for me ) You need both.
Cvmclean : I don't expect immediate response, I want name recognination. I want people to remember
ShelHoro : People buy weays of making their lives easier, more satisfying, more productive, etc.
Cvmclean : me when they had a terrible experience with their service...
MelLoc : That's the battle - making them remember your name....
ShelHoro : Cvm, I really and truly believe that EVERY marketing attempt should include the option of a
ShelHoro : direct response. If you do name recognition ads, they should STILL include your phone number or some
ShelHoro : other way to get in touch immediately, if the client wants.
Cvmclean : Believe me, my phone number, pager, and answering service numbers are listed...
ShelHoro : If you're after name recognition--consider sponsoring events.
ShelHoro : Or do what I did and run for public office (not for the faint of heart, but it made me a household
Cvmclean : What about trade shows thru the chamber of commerce???
ShelHoro : word locally--and definitely helped my business.) Still, there are more effeective marketing methods
ShelHoro : in terms of time and energy. But it's also fun to have a built-in soapbox for one's ideas.
EATPICKY : such as ? shel
ShelHoro : Do as many trade shows as possible. But do them inteligently! I see so many people waste effort by
ShelHoro : deliberately going after tire kickers--such foolishness! They have aq drawing for some valuable
ShelHoro : prize that has nothing to do with their offer!
ShelHoro : Eatpicky, I was referring to running for office. I agtressively went after publicity during my three
MelLoc : Alot of radio stations offer co-sponsorship for their publicity drives... And most welcome
MelLoc : small biz support
Cvmclean : So, if I offer a prize, it should be maid service for a week, of free carpet cleaning??
ShelHoro : political campaigns, and received about 40 articles in the t3o local papers each time. Virtually all o
ShelHoro : of thenm mentioned what I do for a living.
ShelHoro : Cvm, you got it! Mel, co-sponsorship is another great one. Night clubs would dry up and die
ShelHoro : without it. I donate my books for charity fundraising, including local listener-sponsored
IncCagiano : Maid service!! Who wouldn't want that!
ShelHoro : radio and tv.
IncCagiano : I'm sitting on a pile of laundry as we speak...
Cvmclean : Maybe I should open a branch in Boston...
ShelHoro : Too bad you're in boston! You could mail it to Cvm in Oklahoma!
Susan CKD : My husband is folding it as I speak.
ShelHoro : I'm here writing to you instead of tucking my kids in. My wife got that job tonight.
Susan CKD :Likewise.
ShelHoro : Nine minutes left, folks. Anyone want to sstart a quick new tangent?
Cvmclean : What about newsletters. I'm not a writer so are there any companies that write newsletters
Cvmclean : for specific industries?
Susan CKD : But, this is one of the best chats I've had here.
EATPICKY : newsletters work for me, my clients call when it has been awhile inbetween
ShelHoro : Oh yes. My own is one of them. There are also canned newsletters available in many fields, but
MelLoc : Most desk-top publishing biz can do newsletters... I did them for a long time CMV
ShelHoro : I personally don't think much of them--not targeted or individualized enough.
MelLoc : I think newsletters are great for existing customers and for word-of-mouth referrals
ShelHoro : Thanks, Susan! Mel, I do think good writing is important in a newsletter--or any marketing--and
MelLoc : Repeat business, too
Cvmclean : Well, were all bootstrappers here working on a limited budget, so always looking for the
Cvmclean : most for the least buck..
ShelHoro : I'm not convinced that DTP firms typically have that. I'm a writer with some DTP skills, but if
ShelHoro : someone wants a visually cojplex project, I farm out the design. None of us can be expert in
ShelHoro : EVERYTHING.
EATPICKY : i do everything myselft, brochures, newsletters, forms, etc
IncCagiano : cept mel...
ShelHoro : I took over a sideline business from my dad. The first thing I did was computerize the mailing list,
MelLoc : Funny, hunny
ShelHoro : and the second thing was start writing a newsletter. It was a mail-based business anyway,
ShelHoro : so there was no significant overhead--and a great deal of benefit to me and the clients.
Susan CKD : How do we keep our name in front of other related but diff. businesses that we want referrals from?
ShelHoro : No, Mel, I'm serious! He was doing 1200-piece mailings with a typewriter! Jeez!
EATPICKY : good one susan
Susan CKD : I. E., I design and sell kitchens and baths; I want referrals from architects and remodelers.
ShelHoro : Susan, work out mutual aid agrements. There's a transcriptionist that sends me tons of résumé and
ShelHoro : a few marketing clients. I send her every tape transcription referral I can. Susan, what
ShelHoro : advantages do you offer them that other kitchen and bath people don't have? In other words, what's
ShelHoro : your Unique Selling Proposition (standard marketing lingo)
Susan CKD : I work from a design studio (home office). I'm mobile, no allegiance to mfrs. like other stores,
Susan CKD : Impartiality is what I'm about, independence; architects like tha philosophy.
ShelHoro : Okay, then--here';s your hoimework. turn those features into benefits and write some sizzling
ShelHoro : copy to make your point. If that feels too hard, talk to me and we can do it for you.
Susan CKD : I love to write. But, I believe people have specialties, and that's not mine, so leave your #.
ShelHoro : Wow! I'm impressed that several of you have been here for the whole hour. Thanks for listening and
ShelHoro : asking!
Cvmclean : Where do we find your book?
ShelHoro : My e-mail is ShelHoro, my Web site should be up and running within
Susan CKD : Am I write IncC that this was a great hour?
ShelHoro : about two weeks.
ShelHoro : Cvm, I'll e-mail the info to everyone who stopped by. I bought it back from Simon & Schuster, so
IncCagiano : I was just sending Shel an instant message to that effect, Susan.
ShelHoro : it's basically available only from me.
Susan CKD : I thought you were gone because your wife made you do the laundry.
IncCagiano : Boston Brownstone. No in-building laundry.
Susan CKD : I love the way I wrote "write" instead of right. Maybe I better not attempt to write.
EATPICKY : i'd have been here sooner if i could have logged on, are transcripts provided for these sessions?
ShelHoro : Bye, everybody!
4/25/96 9:31:20 PM Closing Log file.

Now the follow-up:
Subject: Thanks... ..for stopping by at my conference Thursday night. Here's a freebie on more ways to market cheaply (see below). Feel free to get in touch.

Shel Horowitz, author of Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring and The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook, is Webmaster of Frugal Fun and editor of Down to Business. He is available for marketing and informational writing projects.


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