Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


6 Lighting Tips for Your Small Business

1-29 Lighting for Biz smallSelecting lighting for your store can be complicated. However, good lighting is one of the most important aspects of highlighting your product and making it pop. An in-depth guide to selecting lighting for your store is beyond the scope of this article, but here are 7 quick tips gathered from retail lighting professionals that should prove very helpful along the way.

 

1. Buy LED Bulbs By the Batch

LED bulbs have come along way in the last several years. Their energy-efficiency, long-life, and consistently improving color quality are leading more and more business owners to switch to LED’s. Despite all this progress, there can still be variations in color temperature and tone between batches of LED’s, even if they are technically the same product.

 

Because of these small variations, it is important to buy all your LED bulbs at once, by the batch. This ensures a consistent color temperature and tone from bulb-to-bulb and therefore throughout your store.

 

2. Do Not Burn Your Customers

According to Fit Small Business, “it is very important to make sure that the heat from your lights will not make customers uncomfortable.” Be aware of this and select your bulbs accordingly. Incandescent bulbs are the warmest, LED’s are the coolest, and florescent bulbs are somewhere in-between.

 

3. Be Sensitive to Color Temperature and CRI (Color Rendering Index Rating)

Each individual bulb has a natural tone to the light it produces. This is known as a bulb’s color temperature and is measured in kelvins. Lower-end kelvin ratings (1-2700) generally mean a warmer and softer light. Mid-range ratings (4000-4500) produce truer colors and a more natural light. High kelvin ratings (5000 and above) mimic a day-white light and are generally used in areas that need really focused and bright task lighting.

 

The CRI (Color Rendering Index Rating) is basically a measurement concerning light and true product color. The higher an index rating a bulb has, the truer your item color will be under that light.

 

4. Factor In Replacement and Energy Cost

Everybody factors in upfront bulb cost when they purchase bulbs. However, there are other cost considerations as well.

 

You need to include energy cost (cost of electrical usage/yr) and replacement cost ([annual hours of use divided by hours of bulb life] x cost per bulb) in your calculations as well. This will give you a more accurate picture of what you can expect to spend on lighting per year with each bulb type.

 

5. Use Dimmer Switches

Dimmer switches allow you to control the light level of your bulbs. This does several things:

 

  1. It allows you to adjust your lighting needs to fit your store atmosphere – If you have areas of your store that need different lighting needs, dimmer switches are an easy solution that does not require custom tailoring each bulb to each store space.

  2. It can save quite a bit on energy costs – If you are working in the store after-hours, you probably do not need the same level of light as a customer would. So, you can just turn down the dimmer switches and save electricity while still providing enough light to stock inventory or whatever you need to do.

  3.  

If you do decide to go with dimmer switches, just make sure the bulbs you get are dimmable as well. A small detail but one that can be immensely frustrating if forgotten.

 

6. Spend Your Money On Accent and Task Lighting

As great as it would be to have endless resources to spend on store lighting, this is generally not the case for the average business owner. But this raises the question, where should costs be cut?

 

Although the real answer is going to be store specific, it is generally agreed that you want to spend your money on Accent and Task lighting. Accent lighting highlights your product, which is why your store exists in the first place, to sell product. Your task lighting ensures that your employees have enough light to keep the store running and perform necessary tasks.

 

If you are going to cut costs, cut out a decorative chandelier or get some cheaper general lighting. Although important, it is much easier to cut corners in these two categories without too significant a loss in overall store lighting quality. However, if you skimp on your accent and task lighting, your customers will know it.


Build A Customer-Focused Corporate Culture–By Making A (Very Tough) Decision

1-29 Building blocks smallIf your aim is to build a truly customer-focused culture in your organization, here are two difficult steps to take that will make it happen. These two steps that will change your world–if you really want it changed.

1. Decide.  For example:  “We provide only the highest level of service to our customers, our associates, and our vendors.”  That’s a cultural decision.

2. Get to work figuring out what your decision will mean organizationally and behaviorally.  Because it is going to affect everything. Everything. Including:

  • The way you hire–select– your customer-facing employees. You'll need to stop hiring on a hunch, or just for technical skills, or haphazardly.  Instead you'll need to get scientific about finding the right employees to do the right kind of job for your customers: that "highest level of service" that you've just committed to.
  • Support: You'll need to give those employees great support: in terms of onboarding, training, inspiration, reinforcement, coaching, and setting appropriate standards for service functions.
  • Empowerment: You’ll need to empower those employees to make their own decisions to help your customers (including, sometimes, the decision to deviate from the standards you set down in my previous bullet point!
  • Personnel policies and employee treatment: You’re going to have to revise any inhumane and punitive personnel policies that currently serve to demoralize these important people.
  • Building and maintaining the workers' toolbox: You’ll need to  provide your employees with a proper, and properly maintained toolbox – literally (if they’re carpenters, machinists, or janitors) or figuratively (if they’re not) – that they need to do their best work
  • Broadening your benchmarks: You’ll need to look beyond your own industry for service quality benchmarks.  Your decision to provide the “highest level of service” should mean the highest level anywhere, not just the highest among tire manufacturers or whatever your specific niche. Benchmark those high standards, and strive to reach them.
  • You’ll need to–and you'll need to involve every one of your employees in–looking at your processes, systems, and behaviors as if from a customer viewpoint (this is not easy at all, and once you do it, I promise you you will need to change even more.  And it’ll be worth it.

5 Strategies to Bootstrapping Your Business

1-28 Funding Options SmallAs you prepare to become your own boss, you need to get your finances in order. You’ll need enough money to cover 6-12 months of business and personal finances before you even launch your business. That being said, you have a few options to consider in terms of where that money comes from.

1. Savings

If you’re lucky enough to have a well-padded savings account, kudos to you. This should be your first option for funding your business. Note: don’t jeopardize your own future by taking the money out. If you have a savings account to cover “rainy day” home repairs, the last thing you want to do is take that money out, and then find you need a new roof!

Consider leaving your money in your savings or money market account, and just taking what you need. That way, your money continues to earn interest.

Benefits: Using your savings account keeps you from having to take out a business loan, which many entrepreneurs are reticent to do. If you have less than stellar credit, you can purchase a Certificate of Deposit and use it as collateral for a loan while earning interest.

2. Bank Loan

The Small Business Association (SBA) is set up to help businesses get the money they need to start a business. There are banks that cater to small businesses just like yours that can help you find a great rate. Start with your own bank, or look for one that does small business lending.  Look for alternative lenders as well, such as Women’s Business Loans. Note: banks don’t lend to startups, so you’ll need to be in business two years prior to applying for a traditional bank loan.

Benefits: The SBA provides a guarantee for business loans, which means applicants with challenged credit score still have an opportunity to get funding.

3. Your Retirement Fund

You can borrow against your 401(k) to start a business. With this option, you essentially use your own money to fund your company, then pay yourself back. Just make sure you pay it back! Sometimes there can be penalties for borrowing funds, so you want to make sure you are aware of them before you take this option.

Benefits: 401(k) financing actually has lower risk than an SBA loan. If things go badly, you still have to pay for the loss, but the 401(k) provides before-tax money, reducing the effective cost. Plus, there are no credit implications and your house is not on the line as collateral.

4. Home Equity Line of Credit

If you own your home, borrow no more than 80% of your home’s value through a home equity line of credit to avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance.  You’ll increase your chances of getting approved for one if you have great credit and good payment history. Make sure to pay attention to what current interest rates are before deciding on this strategy. And remember: you’re putting your house on the line, so if your business fails, you risk losing it if you can’t pay the loan.

Benefits: Funds are easy to access once you’ve been approved. The interest is tax-deductible, since it’s mortgage interest.

5. Friends and Family

Having a friend or family member who’s willing to invest in your business idea is a real boon. Some may want to be involved in the business in exchange for the investment, while others may hand you a check and say “pay me whenever.” Either way, make sure you’re clear on payment terms (and offer interest) and how willing you are to have someone involved in helping you make the business decisions.

Benefits: If you have a family member who can afford to loose the money they invest in your business, this means they could be more patient with letting you build your business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Creating How-To Content for Customer Service (and More)

1-27 how-to for customers smallIs how-to content part of your small business’s content marketing strategy? If you aren’t creating content that shows customers how to do something, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to provide customer service in a format that customers increasingly want.

Suppose you own a company that sells kits to remove the “haze” that develops on the headlight lenses of cars over time, decreasing visibility. If you sell your kits wholesale to retailers, you want to make sure customers are satisfied with the product—otherwise, they might return it and retailers will stop carrying it. But a product like this can be tricky to use. The answer? How-to content that expands on the directions packaged with the product.

You can—and should—create how-to content in a variety of formats. Some people learn better by reading, others by looking at photos and others by watching a video that talks them through it, so offering options covers all your bases. In the example above, you could write blogs about how to use the product, make one blog photo-based showing each step with captions below, and finally create a video showing the product in use with a voice-over giving directions.

Once you’ve got your how-to content, share it in a variety of places. Of course, your business website is the number-one place to host it. Include it as part of your customer service page. Also put videos on your YouTube channel and share links to the content on social media.

Expand on your basic how-to content by:

  • Creating new content to deal with common problems or questions customers have with your product.
  • Developing content that shares creative ideas for using the product. For example, can the headlight kit also be used for other purposes?
  • Upsell additional products. If there’s a complementary add-on that goes with the headlight kit, include it at the end of the headlight-kit content.
  • Take it to a general audience. You might create a video about car care in general (like how to maintain a car’s like-new look, or get a car ready for a car show) and include your product as part of the process.

As a bonus, how-to content not only answers customer service questions, but also serves to drive traffic to your website and build your business’s reputation. Using keywords that potential customers are likely to search for, such as car care, car repair, etc., will help attract online searchers to your content and spread awareness of your business.

Done right, how-to content keeps existing customers happy and attracts new ones, too. 


Mondays with Mike: What They Told You About Sales Is Wrong!

1-26 sales trips eye contact smallWhat’s been written about sales tactics could stretch from here to the moon and back.  There are seminars, webinars, and even one-on-one coaches who promise to give you the low-down on surefire tips to close a deal.  What’s wrong with the accepted truths about sales?  Many of them are wrong!  When you look at evidence, we discover that sometimes these techniques can backfire and actually hurt your chances for making the sale.  Here are some tips to watch out for:

  1. Make eye contact.  The goal of this tactic is to create a connection between you and your prospective client.  While you do want to connect, too much eye contact is frequently interpreted as aggression and can actually make a client uncomfortable and less likely to buy what you’re selling.  Intermittent eye contact is much more comfortable and still helps you create a connection.
  2. Quote a range of prices.  Say you’re working to land a new client for your cleaning service.  You tell the client it’ll cost between $100 and $200 monthly for your services.  You think that by giving a range you can settle in the middle and satisfy both parties, but here’s the trouble:  your client hears $100, and you’re hoping for $200.  If you settle at $150, then your client feels ripped off, and you’re disappointed.  A much better strategy is to quote a specific price, preferably one with wiggle room.  If you quote $170, knowing you’re willing to negotiate downward, then when you settle at $150, your client feels like he got a bargain, and you’re precisely where you wanted to be.  A specific price with room for expected negotiation is more likely to give you a win-win outcome.
  3. Assume the sale.  In the old days, we were taught to make your pitch assuming success.  The trouble is that consumers are wise to this not-so-subtle attempt at manipulation, and engaging in it can make you seem a little sleazy.  Telegraphing your attempts to toy with clients’ emotions is a fail, in part because it makes customers feel like you think they’re suckers – easily manipulated and not very smart.  Respect your customers enough to let them make their own decisions.
  4. Give them no way out.  High pressure sales can work, at least in the short term, but it’s not a recipe for long term success.  Consider this:  there’s an entire legal niche for attorneys who specialize in handling cases for clients who have buyers remorse after being pressured into purchasing a time share.  The tactic of shutting a client in a room and holding them there until they sign has major negative ramifications.  If your customers feel like they’re in control, they’re going to walk away thrilled to have given you their business, rather than walking away feeling like they’ve been ripped off.

The best sales people are psychologists, in a way.  They understand what consumers want, and they find a way to deliver it.  Assuming the goal isn’t just a one-time sale, building business deals that treat your clients like partners will result in consumer loyalty and future sales, as well as referrals based on great experiences.  Don’t let tired truisms guide your sales pitches.  Take the time to use tactics that are proven effective.


Fourteen Ways To Improve Your Customer Service–Starting Today

1-23-15 first impression smallHere are fourteen new ways to look at your business/ questions to ask yourself/ approaches to consider that will help you improve the customer service and customer experience that you offer.

  1. Are you easy to use? You won’t know until you try.  Try your own website without your company-provided auto-log in.  Is it easy?  Or a pain? Come in the front door and see if the door swings open easily, or whacks you on the shoulder.  And so forth.
  2. First impressions matter. Walk up to, and into, your establishment with the eye of a customer. A customer perception is his reality, and a first impression is important because it tends to linger in a customer’s memory. Ditto if that fist interaction is on the phone, via chat, or via mobile.
  3. Impressions before the first impression matter.  Of course, there is no “before the first impression.” But the first impression is very likely happening before you realize it: how you’re portrayed online, how your grounds look well before the front door.  Disney even obsesses over the route to their parks for this reason.
  4. Last impressions matter. It’s so easy when you’ve “completed” an interaction with or project for a customer, to rush on to the next one with the next customer.  Doing so can erase all the goodwill you created.  The “goodbye” is an important stage, one of the most important, because (like a first impression) it tends to linger in a customer’s memory.
  5. Do you offer self-service options for your customers?  Many customers want them today: unless you’re open 24/7 or at least all conceivable business hours in all time zones in which you have customers, you need such options. And even if you are open ‘round the clock, many times customers today just want to handle it, or at least be able to check up on it, themselves.
  6. Do your self-service options include escape hatches? For when the self-service isn’t working or the customer isn’t in the mood–there should be an easy way out, to reach a human.  Make it obvious, like hitting “O” on the phone.
  7. Do your customers have to ask you to answer questions for which the answer should be obvious?  Customers don’t like to be burdened to contact you for items that could easily be provided for them on a self service basis.  Do your FAQ’s actually include the questions that customers want the answers to?  Or were they written six years ago by your web developer?  Do they get an auto-confirmation when they order or do they need to call to ensure their order wasn’t lost in the ether?  And so on.
  8. Timeliness: Are you considerate of your customer’s time?  This is a big, big, big one.  A perfect product or service delivered late is a defect.
  9. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting”–this is info of great value, not an interruption of your day. What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude. Also: Don’t batch your surveys and then review them at the end of the month—scan them right away to see who needs to hear from you now.  
  10. Benchmark outside your industry. If you sell furniture, don’t just benchmark other players in the furniture industry to figure out how fast, easy to use, nice your company should be.  Your customers’ expectations for manners, timeliness, quality… come as much from Starbucks, Apple, and other great consumer brands as they do from the others in your particular field.
  11. Language matters. It is extremely easy to say the right thing, but to say it wrong.   Actively work on the language that is used in customer interactions 
  12. Standards matter. For example, a doorman at a great hotel is rarely blindsided by a guest trying to enter while the doorman’s back is turned. How can that be? Standards. In this case, the standard is usually that ‘‘doormen work in teams.’’ They simply face each other and subtly tip each other off if someone is coming from behind. They quite literally have each other’s back, leading to a consistently comfortable, welcoming, hospitable experience.
  13. Empowerment matters.  You can’t write a standard for every eventuality. Your employees need empowerment–autonomy–to deviate from it if the case, the customer, requires a different approach.
  14. Fight actively–every single day, every single shift–against getting in a rut.  The principle of hedonic adaptation means that your hundredth day on the job, naturally will not be as intense–as exciting, stressful, and so forth– as the first day.  This is good to some extent, but it means that you have to actively strive to remember that this same day is the first interaction your customer has had with your company, and you need to keep your attitude fresh to match theirs.

Why No One Wants to Be Your Mentor

Small business owners frequently cite that having a mentor is one of their top keys to success. So why don’t you have one? It’s because you have misconceptions about what a mentor looks like and how they can help.

Here is why people don’t want to be your mentor:

  1. They don’t know you. You won’t find mentors by reaching out to strangers since they don’t know you and won’t invest time in helping. Instead, look around at the inspiring people you are already interact. Your mentor needs to be someone who believes you are worthy of helping. Ask who in your network already fits that profile.
  2. You ask for mentorship. “Will you be my mentor?” Sheryl Sandberg explains that, “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious.  The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.” When looking for a mentor, author Ryan Holiday says don’t even use the word. A mentor is a label that can only be applied to someone over time, and by the time that label can be applied, it is already very clear what that person’s role is. Just like any other relationship, it has to grow and transform into what you both want it to be. Let them develop slowly over a period of time.
  3. You take without giving. The “mentor-mentee” relationship needs to be a mutual exchange. While at first it may seem like you have nothing to bring to the table, this is not the case. Give your time by finding articles, links, or news that can benefit your mentors. Make connections for them to your network. Tweet their posts, comment on their blogs, and share their updates. Ask how you can be of service to them.
  4. You are a drag to mentor. Take a closer look at yourself. Are you somebody you yourself would like to mentor? Are you eager to listen, learn and committed to implementing the advice you receive? People don’t want to mentor those who are sensitive to criticism and stuck in their ways. Arguing with all feedback is a major red flag to a potential mentor that you aren’t worth their time. Excuses are also a barrier.

Be great at what you do. Work hard and be dependable. Go out and become that person that others would love to support and nurture in business.

1-22 Business mentor small


Is Your Passion Enough to Start a Business?

1-21 passion into business smallPassion is an overused term in business. You keep hearing “do what you love,” but you need to be thinking about whether your passion is truly sufficient enough to start a successful business. To create a business you must provide a product or service people are willing to pay for. Maybe you love knitting baby booties, and want to make millions doing so. I’m sad to tell you: unless you employ about 10,000 other baby-bootie knitters, you will likely never reach that financial goal.

It’s important that you assess whether your passion has a profit center before you start that business. By making sure you can actually make money you’ll ensure that your business will be able to weather an economic crisis and other bumps in the road. You also need to be able to scale that profit center beyond what your own two hands can create.

Assess Your Passions

Start by looking at what you’re passionate about. Your list will likely include things you can quickly mark off your “possible business” list, like “watching WWE fights or The Food Network.” You simply aren’t going to be able to build a business around that!

Maybe you’re an avid bike rider who’s passionate about taking kids on long cross-country bike treks. Or you love animals and have a knack for training them. Maybe you are good at helping friend pull together a killer look or update their wardrobe. These are passions you can build a business around.

But go beyond those obvious passions, like what you enjoy doing in your spare time, and look at the abstract. You might enjoy working with small teams, or planning events. You might love closing a sale, or have an eye for home design. Some of these passions may be worth considering starting a business around, while others may simply be useful as you develop your business.

Consider Your Goals

Going back to that baby bootie example. If you’re content knitting 25 hours a week and making enough cash to take a vacation, leaving you ample time to spend with your kids, this could be a sustainable business model. You have to look at your resources (at this point, that’s just you, the knitter) and determine whether you can accomplish what you want with them.

Maybe you’ve got money squirreled away, and could hire your knitting club to triple your production of booties. Now you’re talking! You could create a virtual network of knitters (say that 5 times fast) and grow your business from there.

Passion is a great place to start in becoming your own boss, but it’s not the only factor to consider. You also need to be able to make enough money to hit your goal, while maintaining the type of lifestyle you desire. Profit is how we keep score in business, so just make sure you are honest with yourself about whether or not your business concept can actual make money.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Ignoring Your Returning Customers?

1-20-15 customer rewards smallHave you ever had this experience: You see an ad or offer for some amazing deal for a company of which you’re a longtime customer—something big, like “50% off a year’s membership.” Wow, you want to take advantage of that! But you can’t because there’s only one catch: The offer is for new customers only. “Hmph,” you think. “What am I, chopped liver?”

Many small businesses make the mistake of ignoring their biggest source of income: recurring customers. OK, maybe not “ignoring” them completely, but giving them the short end of the stick when it comes to attention, special offers and prime treatment.

It’s natural that getting new customers should be a key part of your business strategy. After all, every company needs new business in the pipeline to survive and grow. But the bulk of your time and attention should go to your existing customers. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

  • They’re already loyal customers.
  • It costs less to keep them satisfied (and buying) than it does to replace them.
  • Keep them happy and they’ll tell friends about your business.

What can you do to provide better treatment for your returning customers? Here are some ideas:

  • Hold special sales or events just for loyal customers.
  • Offer them early access to new merchandise or services.
  • Give them the chance to lock in current prices for the coming year or when they renew.
  • Use automation tools such as a CRM system to track details about your customers so you can personalize your customer service, offers and interactions. You can even greet them appropriately when they call your business!
  • Use technology that creates a record of customer service interactions so that when recurring customers contact you with problems, you can quickly access their histories.
  • Investigate loyalty programs for small businesses. There are many affordable options that integrate with your marketing, enabling more targeted outreach to returning customers.

It’s OK to create special offers and deals for new customers only—just be sure you provide equivalent or better rewards for customers who have shown their loyalty to your business. 




 
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