I love working with manufacturing companies. Is love too strong a word? I don’t think so. I do love them. I love walking into a manufacturing plant and feeling the immediate visceral experience.
Welding steel
Machinery hisses and whooshes and moves and makes noise. Workers, serious and intent, young and old, stand at these machines welding, guiding, inserting, building, and moving parts along the line.

Raw material sits near the large docking bays, labeled and ready to be turned into parts, components, machinery or other goods. At the other end of the plant, finished pieces sit waiting to be shipped.

Sunlight filtering through windows catches the dust motes, rock music plays, and summer or winter, fans blast cool air. Manufacturing – despite what the experts tell you – is the lifeblood of America. I love it. All of it.

I especially love hearing the stories behind these firms.

“My grandfather started the company, then my father took it over, and now my siblings and I run it.”

“My brothers and I started the company after moving to the U.S. 25 years ago.”

“I took over for my father after I was wounded in Viet Nam.”

“My husband and I realized a gap in the marketplace, so we started our company to solve it.”

The owners and their employees of these firms work hard – you have to these days if you’re going to compete with overseas companies where costs are lower. They’re competitive, savvy and don’t miss a trick for saving money, improving processes and quality, and knowing their customers.

They treat their employees like family and will go without pay for weeks if it means they don’t have to lay off people. The owners of these firms create new markets, new products, and new ways of doing things. They solve complex challenges under tight deadlines and constraints.

It’s these stories that lay the foundation for a successful Website that helps get leads, yet, too often, they’re not told.

Your key message – or what I call your “story” – is what sets your company apart from its competitors. Your message tells prospects and customers why they should do business with you.

Too often, these stories aren’t told. Instead, the Website suffers from what I call the “Three B’s”: Boring, Bland and Blah.

The story of my flowered dress

Many of the small business owners I work with are pretty technical and very smart. For a very long time, my Website and messaging reflected this fact. I used the corporate sounding “we” to refer to my company (even though “we” was really just “me”). I wanted to look and sound “professional” – and let’s face it, “bigger” than I was. In my photos, I wore a jacket and scarf and later, a black sweater. Safe. Professional. Boring.

In 2012, I decided it was time for a makeover and set about developing a Website that followed all the advice I give to my clients (the Website you see now). I changed everything – from the design and logo to the copy and services I offer.

More important, I did something really scary: I had photos of myself taken in – gasp – a dress! Why? I wanted to show who I really am: bright, creative, and passionate about what I do. I pay attention to detail. I get results for clients. And I’m friendly and funny too.

The photos came out great but boy, what a lot of anxiety they induced. Suddenly, I heard the very same excuses in my head that my clients give me about why they can’t put original photos or talk about themselves on their own Websites.

“We don’t want to appear ‘small.’”

“We don’t want to get too personal,” etc. etc.

After a few anxious days, I went ahead with the photos – and once my Website went live, I waited for people to call and tell me they could no longer do business with me because it was clearly apparent I didn’t know what I was doing being that I was in a dress. (Seriously.)

Here’s what really happened: People began calling me because they could tell, from my Website, that I was “approachable,” “trustworthy,” and “easy to work with.” (These are the exact words people say to me.)

Prospects now say, “I LOVE your Website. Obviously you know what you’re doing. We want a site like yours.” Wow!

I’m not saying you should put on a dress to increase business, but what I am saying is that creating a Website that plays up why your company is different – and why that difference will help your prospects and customers get results – is a very, very good thing.

In other words, you want to break out of boring, blah and bland messaging.

You want to show what distinguishes you from your competitors. You want to highlight your strengths, who you’ve done business with, and the challenges you’ve solved.

In short, you want to show why your company is amazing and awesome.

Yes, I know. You make widgets. What you do is B-o-r-i-n-g with a capital B.

But, trust me. I’ve worked with hundreds of small businesses. I have yet to find a boring company. What I usually find is simply a boring Website.

Focus on what makes you different

To learn more about your company and its position in the marketplace, begin by studying your industry, your competitors and the companies that you do business with.

To learn more about your industry, gather collateral from trade shows and scan trade publications (you can learn quite a bit reading the ads).

  • What issues are hot right now and how are they being resolved?
  • How is your company addressing these issues?
  • Have you lowered your carbon footprint, decreased production times or have sourced local materials while still maintaining prices and profitability?

Pick three of your competitors and carefully analyze their Websites.

  • What products and services do they offer?
  • How do they “position” themselves?
  • Be objective: Why would you want to do business with them?
  • What makes them different from your company?

Make a list of five of your best vendors and then list why you continue to do business with them. What makes them different?

  • What do you like about them and why?
  • What is their specialty? What about their weaknesses?

The point of this exercise is to help you learn more about your company and how best to position it and communicate your unique message.

The benefit of being a small business owner

When I recommend that a small business use its “About” page to tell prospects who stands behind the company, I get a lot of push back.

“We don’t want to appear small,” is usually the excuse I hear.

But here’s the deal: you are small and you can use this attribute to your advantage in a really big way.

Because you’re small, you know your customers really well – in fact, I bet you’ve had lunch or dinner with them or have played golf together. I bet you know spouses’ and/or children’s names and where they last went on vacation. You may read the same books and attend the same industry functions. These are people you trust – and they trust you (otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing business).

When your customers have a problem with a product or service your company has delivered, they know they can get you on the phone and that you’ll take care of it – pronto.

I know because one, I ran the front office of a small business for seven years, and two, I watch my existing customers do this today.

In fact, I was in a meeting with a client one day when an urgent call came through. A “worm” was eating through the caller’s computer databases and their IT person couldn’t stop it. Right there, my client called in his best guy from vacation and within 15 minutes had the situation under control.

That’s how it works: you take care of your customers because if you don’t, you’re out of business. And, for your customers, that’s the benefit of knowing the owner of the business – which would be you.

Contrast this to doing business with a multinational or global company. Unless the company empowers its customer service people to help solve your problems, you just do not get the same level of care and attention. And your urgent problem usually doesn’t become someone else’s urgent problem – you’re just one of many.

So, celebrate your smallness by letting prospects know who you are.

Put your photo – and your team’s photo – on your Website.

Give more than just the standard “bio” facts. Give the history of your company. Explain how or why you started the business.

List the boards you sit on, your hobbies or your passions – whether it’s sitting on your church or temple board, working with youth or riding your Harley.

Give details that help prospects get to know you – and trust you — before they pick up the phone.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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