Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


7 Lies About Starting a Business You Shouldn’t Believe

4-1 Lies about starting a biz smallWhen it comes to becoming your own boss, there are often some misconceptions floating around. Let’s banish a few of the ones that you might be told so that you’ve got the right picture of what to expect as you launch your own business.

Lie #1: You Don’t Need to Be an Expert in Your Field

Yes, you do. Don't start a restaurant because you like to eat, make sure you know how to run a food establishment. Being well-versed in your industry is important, otherwise you will learn many expensive newbie lessons. You must be eager to learn, no one can know everything, so invest time in learning the business before diving in.

Lie #2: You Don’t Need Tons of Money to Start a Business

The money to start your business will come from your personal resources. You need a solid financial base to start a business. The average start-up requires roughly $25,000. Start by creating a budget for both your business and personal expenses for the first year. Make sure you have an emergency savings account too. It takes on average 12-18 months to breakeven in a small business, so err on the safe side, set aside enough money to cover both for a year or two.

Lie #3: There is a Perfect Time to Start a Business

The fact is: there’s no perfect time. You will always have an excuse about why now isn’t the right time. Ignore the naysayer in your head and just do it! You can work out the kinks (and there will be some) later.

Lie #4: Your Need to Quit Your Job to Start a Business

You don't need to quit your job and dive into entrepreneurship, there is another way. 

Become a side hustler. You can start your business on the side while you continue to earn a paycheck. Then, once your company is financially viable, you can cut the cord from Corporate America and devote yourself to your company full time.

Lie #5: All You Need is Passion

If all you need is a dream or the passion to start a business, then everyone would do it. Passion is overrated. Yes, it’s important that you do something you enjoy, but you need to make your passion has a profit center. Your success will depend on your business plan and ability to identify a niche customer, and repeat business.

Lie #6: Marketing is Expensive

So many entrepreneurs make the mistake of not marketing their businesses because they think that it’s too complicated or costly. The truth is, there are a lot of marketing tactics you can do yourself, like blogging, using social media, or sending email marketing campaigns. A little effort goes a long way, and many of these tools are even free.

Lie #7: There’s Nothing Left to Learn

Once you launch your business, you’ve likely read every book, blog, and magazine on starting a business known to man. So you’re done, right? Wrong. You will need to continue to learn, as there’s always new information coming in, especially as technology changes your industry. Staying sharp means staying competitive.

There are a lot of opinions out there about what you need to start a business. Others will tell you what starting a business is like, but the truth is: you have to find out for yourself. Everyone’s journey is different, just remember you must grow yourself to grow your business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Spring Clean Your Customer Service

spring cleaningIs your customer service all that it should be? As a long winter slowly ends, the economy (knock on wood) continues its upward trend and consumers feel the itch to spend, now is the perfect time to do some “spring cleaning” on your customer service. Here are X areas that might need a going-over.

  1. Staffing. Do you have enough customer service employees to handle any seasonal increases in business? Conversely, if your business slows down in the summer, plan how you’ll either staff down temporarily or use your customer service employees productively on other tasks. Also consider using downtime to provide additional training or introduce new technology.
  2. Technology. Speaking of technology, there are so many solutions that can help a small business provide big-company customer service affordably and efficiently, there’s no excuse for outdated systems. Spend some time examining what’s out there and how it could help your business provide better service. Also investigate whether it’s time to take the products you’re currently using to the next level.
  3. Website. Does your business website help customers help themselves by providing up-to-date customer service information, such as toll-free numbers at the top of every page so customers can quickly talk to a live person when needed? Popup online chat options and detailed FAQs help, too. If you have an ecommerce site, detailed information about tax, shipping and returns eliminates lots of customer service calls.
  4. Policies. Are your customer service policies keeping pace with those of competitors? Today, customers have higher expectations and more options than ever before. If your employees are still adhering to “That’s not our policy” attitudes, while competitors are bending over backwards to keep customers happy, you’re going to lose business. Empower your employees to be more flexible. Set limits, then clearly explain and role-play how they might handle difficult situations.
  5. Image. How are your customer service actions (and staff) perceived by your customers and prospects? Don’t just talk on social media—listen, too. By listening to what people say about your business on social networks and in online reviews, you’ll have the information you need to make the changes they want to see—or to keep doing more of what they love.

Mondays with Mike: 5 Stellar Tips For Landing Great Customers

3-30 Landing New Customers smallAssuming you’re delivering a great product at a fair price, and assuming you’re making sure your customers get outstanding service, one of the simplest ways to generate more revenue is to land new customers.  But you don’t want just any customer.  You want the big fish – the ones who generate the best revenue.  Here are my top tips for finding those clients, sometimes where you least expect them.

  1. Look for year-end opportunities.  Whether it’s the end of a calendar or a fiscal year, many companies find themselves in the position of scrambling to spend funds so they don’t lose them for the following year.  While other companies coast from mid-December to New Year’s, if you hustle and look for those year-end dollars, you’ll be surprised what you can land.  Even if you get a trial period agreement, you’re setting yourself up to over deliver and score the longer contract when the short-term funds have been exhausted.  Check in with clients who have upcoming fiscal year ends as well, and you’ll often find the same opportunities.
  2. Leverage tax savings for small businesses.  Particularly useful both at the end of the calendar year and around tax time, pitching your product to a client can be even more compelling if you include not just the initial investment cost, but also highlight the potential tax savings that investment can create.  So while your product is certainly a good value on its own, a business who purchases it is also reducing – through the expense – their tax liability.  It’s just going the extra step to think it through for your clients.
  3. Video Sales Page.  I can’t believe how few companies use this tactic, especially given how cost effective it is.  Say you’re making a pitch – could be virtual or in person.  You’re moving through a slide show presentation that highlights all the benefits you can provide.  If you add a slide with a brief video, customized with your prospect’s name and details that matter to her business, you’re taking your pitch from the abstract to the very concrete – and that’s a good thing!  Making a video costs you nothing but a little time, and it’s a personal touch that will separate your company from the crowd.
  4. Build the vendor well.  This tip sounds counterintuitive at first, but it really works.  Instead of asking a great client for referrals to other clients, ask for referrals to their vendors.  The idea is to work with other suppliers to find efficiencies, share customers, and ultimately deliver better service.  You’re broadening your network, while focusing on what matters to your existing clients – great service!
  5. Throw a party.  Take the time to invite your very best clients – along with top new prospects – to a huge celebration.  Whether you grill out for a summer bash or pour champagne at the end of the year, putting your happy clients in contact with prospects lets everyone see how much you value your relationships.  You’ll bring in new customers, and you’ll be able to thank your existing ones.  It’s a win-win.

While generating new business is only part of what we do in a given day or week, it’s important to focus our efforts on those customers who will bring the best returns.


Losing Your Customer to the Dark Side of the Internet

More PrivateThe Internet is no longer a very private place for people to find resources or to shop. It has become a crowded market with millions of advertisements, pop-up websites, and sponsored blog posts. Companies try to track and analyze every click of the mouse. Businesses work hard to stay present on the customer’s screen. They use cookies and other bits of technical code that remember visitors in order to retarget them even when they have left the company’s site. (Source)

As a result, customers are increasingly voicing privacy concerns about the recording of all this information which in some cases has led to identity and personal data theft. Millions of people a day now have taken refuge in a very private place that exists until now in a shadowy corner of the Internet: Tor (The Onion Router). It was originally set up by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory ten years ago to let U.S. agents communicate secretly around the world. (Source) More recently, it has become a popular way for thieves, drug traffickers and terrorists groups to communicate anonymously.

Tor’s hidden services feature allow users to communicate information and publish websites without revealing their location. It is now used by large corporations to keep their competitive analysis and board level decisions private. General consumers have started to use Tor to protect themselves on a public Wi-Fi connection (Source).  Some also use it to combat discrimination when e-commerce sites show a price based on geography or number of visits. 

Consumers want to use Tor to hide their online identify and location, but still interact with all commerce websites. To access the Tor network, users simply need to download its browser, which is free and open sourced for all desktop and mobile platforms. However, most social media and retail sites have blocked Tor users because it prevents them from utilizing cookies and disables Java scripts to track them. For example, using the Tor private search engine, Start Page, most sites do not load or come up very slowly because the Ixquick proxy servicer is used for privacy. However, Amazon does employ Google AdWords on this search page in hopes of getting customers to go directly to their site without a proxy.

With Tor traffic expected to reach almost ten million a day, corporations are now looking at it as an new way to reach prospective consumers (Source). Many are unblocking the Tor browser’s access to their site. Facebook began offering Tor users a method to connect anonymously (Source). (www.facebookcorewwwi.onion ) It seems that Twitter is also starting to let Tor browsers use the social media site without verification (Source). Reddit has donated over $82,000 to help fund Tor (Source). Given growing privacy concerns, the Tor browser may be the future for all consumer web surfing because it allows users to decide if they want to disclose their location and other personal information to be tracked. Some of this can be turned off with other browsers, but most users are not sophisticated enough to be able to do this correctly.

As privacy issues escalate, many online retailers will be forced away from traditional marketing tactics fed by cookie technology or risk losing customers when they go into stealth mode. This trend will reinforce good online marketing techniques:

  1. Ask prospects and customers to opt in to be contacted by your company again. Dont abuse the privilege.
  2. When contacting them, add value, just dont sell them your products. Publish content that they value, not just an online product or services catalog.
  3. Build a trustful relationship over a long period of time so they think of your company when they are ready to buy.
  4. Build social media connections and community with your customers that they want to participate in regularly.

What will your business do when your customer goes into stealth mode on the Internet?


Using Adventure, Even Danger, To Improve The Customer Experience

Adveturer man sitting on a rock with his feet dangling on natural landscape. Adventure travelCustomers of all ages, from older “bucket-listers” to the young and increasingly important Millennial generation of customers, crave adventures and discoveries, whether epic or everyday. The more stimulating and surprising an environment, an experience, a “movie” you can create for your customers to engage with, the more your customers will want to text, Facebook, and talk about your business.

Virgin America: Consciously Creating a Tweetworthy Airline

This is a powerful phenomenon.  Think about how much people love to tell/tweet/FB their friends that they’re flying Virgin America, because the airline is intentionally providing an experience that’s worth talking about.

The details crafted by Virgin America offer a story that people want to retell: purple lighting, wildly catchy dance-based safety videos, abundant TV options, leather seats, great waiting rooms and the “Here on Biz” app that lets you meet other passengers with similar interests. These details make people talk, tweet, post and write about Virgin, because of the distinction and immersion of the experience the airline has created for them.

Smart Hospitality Operators Are Learning This Lesson

The more forward-thinking operators in the hospitality and travel industries have, perhaps not surprisingly, embraced this message more quickly than have other industries. For example, Dove Mountain Resort, a new and relaxed Ritz-Carlton property in the Sonoran desert outside Tucson, where adventures range from those you can engage in while seated to those that challenge all of your muscle groups and mental acuity. 

The adventure starts, in a sense, with the design of the hotel, a conscious effort to bring guests outdoors through large windows and doors that invite them to wander everywhere without interruption from visible and obtrusive barriers.

As the sun starts to set, guests hear a Native American musician playing wooden flute on a nearby hill, playing modal melodies that echo off the surrounding mountains in a way that gives you an auditory impression of the unique landscape in which the hotel is sited.      

In the morning, guests are challenged to pick their adventure: trail riding or Addle Addle lessons (addle addle is an ancient form of projecting arrows that predates the invention of bows) or a hike to learn about the prehistoric petroglyphs in the land trust property through which the resort and its guests have a protected right of way.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like it applies directly to your business, your entrepreneurial pursuits, but I suspect you’re wrong.  This craving for adventure, even for “danger” (more about that in a moment) can be made use of in many, if not most, industries and business niches.

When shopping, for example, many customers (including the majority of younger customers — the millennial generation) prefer what’s known as an “experiential lifestyle environment”_ (a retail environment where shopping is not just a transaction and the pleasure of being in the store isn’t limited to the goods customers take home). And when dining out, more people than ever before are looking for something exotic, adventuresome, memorable or new to explore during their dining experience. Especially among younger food enthusiasts, this has helped transform cuisine searches (“tastespotting”) into an adventure—and food truck-following (a concept sure to evoke fears of stomachache in some of their elders) into its own culture. 

Many customers — primarily younger — even say that they are are willing “to encounter danger in pursuit of excitement,” according to research by Barkley. This may sound irrelevant to you as a businessperson if you don’t sell bungee ropes or the like, but consider the idea of “danger” more broadly than actual risk to life or limb. For a customer, “embracing danger” can mean traveling across the city for artisanal cupcakes, knowing that there’s a high risk of disappointment since the bakery famously sells out each day before 10 a.m., or shopping, as a lark, at a popup store with no history and nothing but word of mouth to recommend it.


Developing Your Marketing Plan

Stock3-25 creating a mktg plan smallMarketing is one of the most critical components of your business’ success. You may have a fantastic product or service, but if customers are not aware it exists, there’s no point in continuing the line of work. In order to make sure your product is exposed to your target customers, you need to develop a robust marketing plan. Once you’ve spent time identifying the four Ps, start adding some elements and details to your strategy. Let’s look at the areas you should focus on when developing your marketing plan.

Validate the Market

How do you know you have a great product that will be of value to your customer? Answering this question is part of the validation process. You want to validate the market or make sure there’s a need for it. Here are a few questions to answer in order to help you do this.

  • How large is the market locally, nationally, and globally
  • How often do people buy your type of product?
  • How many customers are “in market” at any given time?
  • Will your customers buy daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or every five to ten years?

The answers to these questions will: 1) tell you if you have a sustainable product, and 2) help inform your marketing plan and tactics. After you’ve validated the market, start delving deeper into your target market or customer.

Define Your Target Market

In order for your product or service to sell, you need to answer the question: who is your target market? And the answer is never, “anyone.” The best way to be successful is to develop a customer profile with as much detail as possible. Answer the following questions:

  • How much income do your customers make?
  • Where are they located?
  • Are they male or female, or both?
  • How old are they?
  • What is their level of education?
  • What jobs do they hold?
  • Can you see the face of your customer? What do they physically look like?

Remember, the better you know your customer, the better your chances of making the sale. Once you’ve identified who the customer is, it’s time to articulate what makes them buy.

Create Customer Value

So many marketers and business owners are great at explaining what their product is and why it’s great. But very little know how to explain the product in a way that illustrates value to the customer. This is extremely powerful because if you can help the customer achieve a goal, the product sale will follow.

To do this, start by identifying what qualities your customers value most and least about your service. You must build your marketing strategy on customers’ perceptions of your product’s value to them. This approach is called WIIFM, or What’s In It For Me? It’s critical to keep your marketing plan customer-focused. By doing so, you are on the path to setting yourself apart from the competition.

Identify Your Competitors and How to Deal With Them

In today’s economy, it’s rare to find a product or service that has no competition. Your competition is targeting the same people you are, and as such, your message can easily get lost in advertising clutter and spam.

To avoid this, define what makes you special to your customers. Why is your product or service different and better? What is your competitive advantage? What do you offer that the company does not? Why should a customer hire you? Perhaps you offer a longer warranty than your competitor. Or you have proved results that another business does not. If you’re struggling with identifying your competitive advantage, the best thing to do is ask your customers why they bought from you.

Validating the market, identifying the target audience, creating customer value, and identifying your strengths from your competitors are the components that will shape the rest of your marketing plan. Once those steps are completed, it’s time to define the tactics you’ll use and determine your marketing budget.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Really Satisfying Your Customers?

3-24 Customer Satisfaction smallWhile consumers’ expectations of customer service are rising, very few brands are keeping pace, a new study by Accenture reveals. Mobile, social and digital are converging with traditional channels of doing business, and customers are eager to take advantage of this omnichannel world. But only 11 percent think companies are doing a good job of melding digital, mobile, social and traditional channels, Accenture’s latest Global Consumer Pulse Research found.

Instead, customers are still suffering from the same customer service issues they’ve been reporting for the past several years of the survey. For instance, customer satisfaction with companies’ ability to resolve problems quickly has remained flat for the past six years. Dissatisfaction with resolution time is the number-one reason customers switch from one business to another.

Specifically, 86 percent of customers are frustrated by companies that can’t resolve a problem in the first customer service interaction; 85 percent are frustrated by lengthy hold times and 84 percent get annoyed when customer service representatives can’t answer their questions.

Although online customer service channels have been around for quite a while now, customer satisfaction with these channels has also remained relatively flat, suggesting that businesses are holding steady but not improving in these areas. Still, traditional customer service is falling behind: Just 51 percent are satisfied with the customer service they get from traditional call centers, while 57 percent are satisfied with online chat customer service.

Companies’ “coasting” in customer service terms may be why only 28 percent of respondents in the survey say they are “very loyal” toward companies they patronize.

How can your business beat those odds?

  • Integrate all your customer service channels. Customers may expect to start a customer service interaction in chat or email format, then move to a phone conversation without having to provide all of the same information to each representative. It’s important for the experience to be simple and seamless.
  • Educate customer service teams. Your customer service reps need access to the latest knowledge about your products, services and policies so they can quickly respond to questions without having to find a supervisor. Ongoing training programs and updated, online “knowledge bases” can help.
  • Help customers help themselves. Provide as much information as possible to help customers find their own solutions. FAQs, community forums, product guides or even how-to videos can educate customers in using your product or service so that they can resolve their own problems.

There’s more opportunity than ever to provide good customer service to employees in whatever format they want it. Don’t miss out on that chance to differentiate your business.


Mondays with Mike: 10 Crazy and Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns

Rolls of US one hundred dollar billsI’m always intrigued to research the offbeat business concepts that find success in the increasingly popular crowdfunding arena.  It’s an endless supply of inspirational stories, as well as encouragement to find ways to follow your dream.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Chatype.  If you have any doubt that people have visceral, emotional relationships with fonts, look up some of the reactions to Comic Sans.  The Chatype campaign raised funds to cover the licensing of the official font of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and now the distinctive lettering can be found on everything from bike lanes to library flyers.
  2. Pizza Brain.  Located in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, Pizza Brain is the world’s first pizza museum and restaurant. It houses the largest collection of pizza memorabilia – like a pizza cutter shaped like the USS Enterprise.  It’s also serving up award-winning pizza.
  3. Inman Park Squirrel Census.  Yep.  Squirrel counting.  What may seem like a trivial and mundane endeavor not only united an Atlanta, Georgia community, but it also inspired a line of census-themed t-shirts and infographics.
  4. Griz Coat.  Add this garment to the list of things you didn’t know you needed.  According to the campaign, “It’s not a costume.  It’s a lifestyle.”  You can embrace your inner grizzly with the original design, or you can opt for the newer wolf or polar bear designs.
  5. Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.  In response to the shocking (pardon the play on words) lack of a museum dedicated to the brilliance of inventor Nikola Tesla, this Indiegogo campaign raised over $1.3 million!
  6. Bug-a-salt.  Begone, flies and mosquitoes!  This wildly successful Indiegogo campaign funded the production of air-powered guns that blow away bugs using ordinary table salt as ammunition.  The original campaign sold more than 20,000 guns, and a new campaign is underway to build the new and improved Bug-a-salt 2.0.
  7. Rob Ford Crackstarter.  The Website Gawker created an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise the funds necessary to purchase the video of Toronto mayor, Rob Ford smoking crack.  Although Gawker lost contact with the owner of the video, the funds they raised were donated to Canadian charities that work to deal with the problems associated with illegal drug abuse.
  8. Breathometer.  An app that’s both a party game and a safety measure, this campaign enables users to turn their smartphones into a breathalyzer.  You can determine your BAC, record, and track your results.
  9. Yellow Jacket.  Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this campaign – started by a former member of the US Army – funded the production of an iPhone case that not only protects your phone, but also turns it into a 650,000-volt stun gun.  Intended to be used for personal protection, the Yellow Jacket was built after the campaign raised over $100,000.
  10. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium.  London’s first cat emporium, Lady Dinah’s provides a home for rescued cats, as well as a way for visitors to enjoy a relaxing cuppa with the resident felines.  The venue provides pet first aid courses, as well as yoga classes, and it is currently taking reservations for tea up to 50 days in advance.

In addition to providing simple entertainment, this list of successful crowdfunding campaigns is a reminder that you can find success in unusual niches, as long as you tell your story in a compelling way.


10 Trends in Customer Expectations

3-20 Customer Expectations smallHere are 10 trending ways that customer service, customer experience and, most of all, customer expectations are changing.

  1. Customers’ definition of what’s fast and what’s not has grown more extreme on an almost daily basis. An escalating expectation of timeliness doesn’t just apply to product and services delivery (where amazon.com has so dramatically set the lead). It applies to the speed of response they expect from you to any issue they have or query they shoot your way. Remember, “we respond to all inquiries within 24 hours” means you’re answering in about 46 days, I figure, if you do the conversion to internet time.  It’s simply not good enough.
  2. Customers, more and more, expect omnichannel integration. I hate to get buzzwordy, so I apologize for this one, but omnichannel at its essence just means that customers expect you to honor the same offers in all channels (web, in-store, phone, mobile), and they expect you to let the customer move between channels without it being a hassle. A credit card given over the phone should be on file when you try to shop in the store. A purchase made in a store across town should be returnable by ups. And so forth.
  3. Customers expect extended hours: 24/7 or as close as you can get. When I interviewed Google not long ago, they quietly mentioned to me that they offer support to their adwords advertisers in 42 languages, including offering English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support. And it puts pressure on those of us who aren’t Google to up our game, or at least our support hours.
  4. Customers expect accuracy. Typos are no longer acceptable in a cut and paste world. Nor are inaccurate claims of what is in stock, or missed delivery dates, considering the technology and process improvements that your competitors have made, and that customers have grown accustomed to. However…
  5. Customers are more willing than ever to assist you (or, I suppose, assist themselves), participating in the service process on a self-service basis, including typing in their own contact info and hard to spell names to avoid the unacceptable typos I refer to in point #4.
  6. Customers expect just about everything to come with a money back guarantee, implied or explicit. You can put in all the fine print you want, but they’re going to expect you to waive it and take the damn dog back, period. Even if pulling it off means, ultimately, sticking it to your own vendors. Amazon of course set the lead here, both in offering the guarantee and in doing the back-office vendor stickage [which I don’t actually encourage] required to pull it off.
  7. Customers don’t want to pay for shipping, or other “hidden fees,” for that matter. Amazon yet again set the lead here.
  8. Customers especially expect you to be monitoring their communications, complaints, and compliments, regardless of channel–and bending over backward to respond both quickly and thoroughly. If a customer says something about, or to, a company via twitter, a web form, or any other channel, they expect the company to notice, to react, to respond.
  9. Customers dislike overly scripted service. This is a prominent aspect of a larger trend: the desire for authenticity.
  10. Customers feel empowered. It’s not just that they know they’re “always right,” they know they always have a voice due to all of the social media options at their disposal, if you forget that they’re “always right.”  The good news is that while they know they have options, just a click or two away, by and large customers hope you realize this too, and that you don’t make them use that twitchy clicking finger. They’d rather stay than switch, but only if you treat them right.  For which, as a start, refer back to points 1 through 9 of this article.



 
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