Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


Six Ways that Small Businesses Can Go Green for St. Patrick’s Day

3-13 St. Patty's Day for Biz smallAs a small business owner, you undoubtedly spend every day looking for ways to promote your business and increase your clientele. Just about every business takes advantage of Christmas to increase sales, with “Black Friday” representing the first day of profits in the retail world. Do you really want to wait until the end of the year to drive your bottom line? Why not get started earlier in the year? Perhaps the green in St. Patrick’s Day really stands for money.

Here are six ideas that can help you grab enough green to encourage company growth and prosperity.

1. Save Customers Some Green

Whether you offer a new customer discount or take cash off of orders for existing customers that provide referrals, the connection between money and St. Patrick’s Day green is an obvious one, but this particular holiday offers some natural benefits. For one thing, it lets you take shameless advantage of the color green in promotional materials. It also provides a natural time limit, allowing you to make your offer last for the entire month, for a week or even just on the actual day of the holiday. Most important, it helps jump-start your business early in the year.

2. Green Up the Environment

As many as 15 percent of local individuals define themselves as environmentalists. Your company may not make biodegradable diapers or cleaning products formulated from veggies, but the green tie-in lets you demonstrate your environmental interests. This is great time to tout your recycled product packaging or advertise your company’s sponsorship of a local recycling effort. For example, if you run an auto repair shop, offer to shoulder the recycling charges for all oil changes performed in March. And don’t worry about competition from eco-friendly businesses — they’re probably busy preparing for Earth Day in April.

3. Make Green a Lucky Color

A luck-of-the-Irish contest can attract more clients to your business. Make it easy to enter. Customers can “like” your Facebook page, provide an email address on your company web page or walk into your store to complete an entry form when they see a sign in your window. Entrants get a chance to win valuable gift certificates and other prizes — and you increase your customer database for future sales and promotion efforts.

4. Wear Green While Participating in Local Events

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day events begin by dying the Chicago River bright green, followed by a big parade. Naturally, bars and restaurants sponsor the events, but the list does not stop with alcoholic beverage providers. Sponsors include a wide array of businesses, including dance studios, beauty salons, banks and even trade unions. Of course, the media will be there, too. So, whether you sponsor a parade float or hang out with the spectators on the sidewalk, you can increase your brand recognition — or maybe see your company represented on the evening news.

5. Give Away Some Green Bling

Did you know that you can put your logo (and maybe a shamrock) on just about anything? Any visitors to your place of business can walk away with a variety of promotional items, from T-shirts and coffee mugs to flashlights, sports bottles or even USB hubs. Place these items in a re-usable grocery bag with your logo and maybe a few words about your business (go green!), and your logo can remain in front of potential customers for years to come.

6. Offer an Evergreen Movie at Your Place of Business

Admittedly, there really aren’t too many St. Patrick’s Day movies out there, but what about a classic 1952 Irish movie like The Quiet Man? If your customers prefer humor, maybe Waking Ned Devine is more to their liking. With a little extra effort, you can even make green popcorn. Attracting a movie audience gains you an instant audience for your business message as well.

Before the movie, use a welcome message to introduce your business. If you have a promotional video or TV commercial available, play it before and after the main event (wow — double feature!). And a discussion group after the movie enhances the movie experience while enhancing your personal relationship with customers. If they walk away carrying bling bags, all the better.

Be Sure to Make it Unique and Relevant

Doing the same things as everyone else gains your business no more visibility than if you were to jump into the green Chicago River wearing a green wet suit. If you use a little creativity to capitalize on the things that make your business unique, adding a little green will make it pop.


Creating A Self-Reinforcing Culture Of Customer Service Excellence

3-12 Customer Service smallHere’s an important question, the answer to which determines whether or not you have any hope of creating a culture of customer service excellence: Are you willing to put the customer at the center of everything you do?  At the center of…

…your company

…your daily routines

…what you determine are best practices

…the way you schedule your day

…even the way you design your webforms?

Let’s look at that last one: webforms. There is a company I know that has over 97 percent of its customer base within the U.S. Yet, to fill out any form on this company’s website, you’ll find yourself trudging through over 200 unlikely options (Swaziland, Solomon Islands, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu…) just to get to the U’s to select “United States.”

This company, like so many others, hasn’t made the decision to put the customer at the center of its operation.

Assuming you’ve made this decision, we can get down to business.

And it’s an arduous business. It’s not easy. Putting the customer at the center doesn’t just mean being sweet as pie, over and over, and over and over again. It does mean that, but it means more than that. Putting the customer at the center is a more complicated, subtle, and demanding adventure than it sounds.

But it will ultimately be a very, very fruitful endeavor.

Doing what comes naturally. Sort of.

Once you’ve made the decision to have a customer-centered mindset, a “spreadable” situation will grow, more or less naturally. This, really, is central to thriving commercially in our world where customer service, customer experiences, are such a crucial part of real-life marketing.

Here’s how the doin’ what comes naturally virtuous circle works:

  • You commit to allocating resources, improving processes… based on the interests of the customer
  • You hire based on the customer
  • Those whom you hire inspire the next people hired through positive peer pressure.
  • Engaged customers themselves become ambassadors for your brand: your extended marketing team for the human-driven world of today.
  • The inspiration you receive from these customers, and the customers they bring to you, inspires you to do your work better and better. Putting customers at the center is no longer a chore, but an inspired passion.

I’m sounding a bit airy-fairy, new agey here, which I assure you I am not. And I have indeed left out many of the hard parts in this description, including developing detailed and battle-tested customer service standards for almost everything you will do that will affect the customer.

But all of this will flow, and will be self-reinforcing, if you start with the decision. 


How to Make Your Business Appealing to Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists

3-11 funding for SB smallSmall businesses and investors can go together like ice cream and apple pie. It is definitely a vote of confidence when someone provides funding that can take your business to the next level, yet there are trade-offs that come with accepting investor funding. If your idea is so big that you know the only way to bring it to success is with the support of outside resources, then angel investors or venture capitalists might be the right fit for your company. However, remember that this class of investor is looking for a good investment. They weight talent first and ideas second, so make sure you understand how to position yourself for this level of funding.

What’s The Difference Between Angels and VCs?

Keep in mind that angel investors and venture capitalists are very different types of investors. Angel investors are usually private individuals who have some money and are keen to use it to get a return, but they may want very little to do with the day-to-day running of your small business. They may fund businesses with lower growth rate projections and be more interested in firms that create value in the community in ways other than high profits.

Venture capitalists, who usually work as a collective firm rather than individuals, have deeper pockets, but desire larger and faster returns. They usually will require a much larger stake of your business to entice them to partner with you and may even take over management of your business as active backers. However both types of investors will become your partners and require a piece of equity in return.

There are many ways to appeal to angel investors and venture capitalists. The main thing to keep in mind is that you will have to work very hard to interest them and have conclusive evidence that your organization brings substantial value to the table. Here are five ways to make sure that you’ve got what it takes to encourage this level of investor.

1. Build your business (and your personal brand)

There is no way to avoid it: building your business takes hard work. One great way to make sure you succeed in this task is to become an expert in your field. Dig deep to build those skills. You may want to look for a mentor or networking group to ensure you continue to grow in areas like public speaking, marketing, or management. Consider this an investment in both you and your company.

2. Solve a problem

Make sure that your business solves a problem for which your customers need a solution. You need to be able to convey to an investor that you understand this problem, as well as how and the why your company is the best solution for this problem. There is no room for feebleness here. You must be on point. Rewrite your business plan if you have not yet fine-tuned this aspect of your business.

3. Have an amazing team

In short, your team must work together effortlessly and complement one another’s skills. Trust me, venture capitalists will go through your roster with a fine-tooth comb. They want to see your team in action and know that you can withstand whatever challenge comes your way. Always hire candidates who bring a variety of hard and soft skills to the table so that you can create a culture of success from the outset.

4. Have a phenomenal pitch

Your pitch must be persuasive, thoughtful, and farsighted. It will go hand and hand with your business plan, but you must be able to convey in confident and concise speech the essence of that plan. There is an art to delivering a pitch, so make sure the right person delivers it.

5. Always have the big picture in mind

If you have your eye on the big picture, you are guaranteed to keep things in perspective. Be honest with yourself about your venture and its challenges, so that you anticipate market changes that affect your industry before they arise.

Investors want humble founders who know the industry, the competition, the technology, the business climate, and regulatory issues. In short, they want to see someone who has their feet in reality, but is reaching for the stars. If you can be that person, you’ll find the right investor to help your business grow.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Your Employees Have Emotional Intelligence?

Business Team Chatting at Their OfficeIn my recent post 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Reps, I mentioned the concept of “emotional intelligence.” Since emotional intelligence is a very desirable quality in a customer service employee, I wanted to explore this topic a little further.

In the workplace, emotional intelligence (sometimes called EI or EQ for “emotional quotient”) means being able to identify, understand, manage and use emotions—your own, and others’—in positive ways to build teams, lessen stress and communicate more effectively.

There are four aspects of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions is the first step in EI. By paying attention to their own emotional reactions, employees can learn to recognize the physical, mental and emotional signs of emotions such as stress, anger or sadness that can hinder good customer service.
  2. Self-management: Self-aware employees are in a better position to manage their own emotions. For an example, an employee who recognizes that a stomachache is a sign of stress can take steps to ease the stress before it becomes overwhelming. When they realize that emotions are interfering with their job, employees can make positive choices to defuse these emotions.
  3. Social awareness: The third part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand what others are feeling, empathize with them and react appropriately. For instance, if a customer is sighing heavily during a customer service call, an employee with social awareness will recognize this might indicate growing frustration, and “check in” on the customer’s emotional temperature.
  4. Managing relationships: Employees who possess the three other aspects of EI will be more successful at managing their interactions with other people. By being aware of their own emotions, managing them in a positive fashion, and responding appropriately to others’ emotions, these customer service employees can defuse conflicts, improve customers’ moods and build customer loyalty.

Want to assess and improve your employees (or your own) EI? Here are some emotional intelligence exercises and an emotional intelligence toolkit to assess and improve EI. 


7 Ways To Make Money In Your Sleep

3-2 Make Money While you Sleep smallIf you think about the way your business works – you find clients, pitch your goods, land the sale, deliver the product, build repeat business, and work for referrals – there are loads of challenges entailed in every step.  If you want to generate more income with less effort at every stage, the key is automation.  Finding ways to implement systems and maximize efficiencies helps your business earn an income even when you’re not actively working.

  1. Turn yourself into the product.  Once you’ve established yourself as a credible authority in your field, the logical move is to develop a way to market your expertise.  Whether you sell a book or instructional videos, once you’ve created your product and implemented a marketing plan, the hard work is over.  You collect your money while you’re moving on to the next challenge.
  2. Do fewer things.  The surest recipe for failure is trying to do everything under the sun that could possibly be relevant in your venture.  If you settle on a few key services or products, then you can perfect the systems for producing and delivering your offerings.  Always remember that the riches are often in the niches;  if you can offer customers something unique – and do it efficiently – then you’re a standout.  You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
  3. Create continuity.  If you can find a way to build a recurring service plan for clients, you’re maximizing efficiency in two main ways:  you’re creating predictable expenses for your clients, and you’re ensuring continued revenue for your company.  Recurring billing – the subscription model – capitalizes on efficiency both for the client and the service provider.
  4. Sell the system cheap and make money on the refills.  One word:  Keurig.  The dominant entry in the single-cup coffee industry doesn’t actually make that much money on its high quality brewers.  The real bucks are in the coffee refills.  Millions of dollars in revenue are derived from individual sized coffee pods.  Proprietary design is the key to recurring purchases.
  5. Become the middleman.  There’s a reason middlemen exist, and it’s the economy of scale you can find when you consolidate the transportation, sales, and delivery of goods.  Look at Amazon:  they don’t produce the stuff they sell.  They simply attract vendors and find a way to sell, collect money, and deliver products – faster than nearly anyone else in the world.
  6. Become a teacher.  Much like turning yourself into a product, becoming a teacher lets you market your expertise.  Whether you become a part time consultant for other entrepreneurs in your field, or you write a how-to guide for starting your kind of small business, you’ll reap dual benefits from becoming an educational resource:  income from the time you spend consulting or writing, as well as increased visibility for your brand.
  7. Become an investor.  When you started your business, you did it to fill a need you saw in your market.  My advice to entrepreneurs who want to invest is to look at needs (other than the ones you supply) that your existing clients have.  By partnering with other companies who service the same clients, you can find efficiencies and provide an overall better level of service.  It’s a win-win for both entrepreneurs and their clients.

There’s no avoiding the hard work it takes to get a fledgling business off the ground, but once you’ve achieved a measure of success, your most profitable moves will be those that maximize efficiency and generate revenue – even when you’re not actively working.


How to Make More Money without More Customers

2-27 More money from customers smallFable: A man who sold his farm and everything he owned to travel in search of diamonds in a foreign land. After he spent all his money, he lived in poverty for the rest of his life. One day, the successor of the man’s farm was out on the land and found diamonds that reflected all the colors of the rainbow. Morale:  If the man stayed home and dug on his own land, he would have had “acres of diamonds.

Much like the man’s search for diamonds, the secret to increasing profits and growing a business typically already is present inside every company with existing customers. Unfortunately, many small business owners ignore this advice since they are so busy trying to get new customers in the front door that they let existing ones escape out their back door. They focus their energy on scrambling for the next lead, chasing the next prospect, and spend thousands of dollars on marketing to uncover the next big customer. They forget about mining for the “acres of diamonds on their own land”. Remember that every customer that leaves, needs to be replaced by a new one.

Here are ten ways to increase profits by extracting the maximum value from your existing customers.

  1. Sell more. Are the best customers buying all of your company’s products or services? Put together a chart where all your customers are listed on one axis and your products are listed on the other. Place an X where each customer is buying a given product. Use this chart to discover where your holes are. If they already trust your company, they will want to buy more things from you.
  2. Incentivize greater usage. Encourage your customers to use your product or service more often. Offer loyalty programs or bonuses for repeat use to the best customers. This is especially true in an industry where products are commodities or they can be sourced easily. Great examples of this are Amazon Prime and all airline frequent flyer programs.
  3. Communicate Consistently. Use content marketing strategies to send customers useful information like articles and newsletters that are both educational and funny. Keep in touch with your customers at least once a week using multiple mediums so you can be there when they are ready to buy. This can be original advice or links to relevant articles.
  4. Know your customers. Mine the data. Know what, when and how much your customers buy monthly or annually. Invest time and money in knowing exactly how your customers think, what they like, what they dislike, and tailor offers to match. This data can be found in Google analytics, your CRM sytem, your accounting or shopping cart system.
  5. Know your ABCs. Separate your customers into “A”s, “B”s, and “C”s according their life time value to your company. Measure them based on purchases, referrals, and brand recognition. Come up with a strategy to move Cs to Bs and Bs to As.  
  6. Become the “Go-To”. Leverage your strategic alliances to connect your customers to other resources that can fill needs and desires that are beyond the scope of your business. Your customers will view you as their “go-to-resource” which will give you an opportunity to go from being vendor to a partner.
  7. Show thanks frequently. Build customer loyalty by rewarding your customers beyond financial incentives. Call them to express your appreciation or send a handwritten card. Post a thanks on their social media page or feed.
  8. Make an exclusive club. In addition to recognition, people love to feel a sense of belonging. Create a membership group for your customers with special offers and privileges for members. Costco and Sam’s club does this very effectively.
  9. Sell a subscription. Renewable products are ones that customers use up and will need to buy again. Harry’s (razor blades) and Birchbox (cosmetics) are successful examples. This will ensure that the company always has customers at the beginning of every month. According to John Warrillow, author of “The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry”, any business can be a subscription based company if they think big enough. He suggests starting by asking yourself, “what could I offer to them that is 10X bigger than I do today”.
  10. Just ask. Simply ask your customers what they want. They may not be always be able to tell you directly, but it will begin a dialogue which will get to what they really desire. This can be done easily through two to three question surveys using Survey Gizmo.

Where will you begin in mining your customers?


Why Entrepreneurs Should Fake It Until They Make It

Young Businessman Using a Digital TabletWith the increasing popularity of business-casual attire, a great business suit is not as effective as it used to be in creating an impression of success. But projecting a successful appearance is still important when you want your business to attract customers and clients, as it creates a feeling of higher comfort and less risk in your potential customers’ minds.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be associated with a successful entrepreneur?

Even if your business doesn’t yet have mountains of cash, you can appear prosperous without breaking your bank. Here are a few ways to economically enhance your professional image without misrepresenting your business or yourself.

A Successful First Impression

After a failed attempt at an acting career, Beanie Babies founder Ty Warner became a billionaire by selling stuffed animals. According to legend, he rented a Rolls Royce to drive to sales calls to project a wildly successful image. While we don’t recommend following Ty Warner’s cues on all of his faking- (Warner is still trying to stay out of jail after admitting to tax fraud), you can borrow his moxy for creating a successful impression.

Creating a successful impression extends not only to your car, but also to your business office. Your business may involve two people working in your basement, but unless your basement resembles the Taj Mahal, you will not impress prospective clients by holding meetings there. Until you have a high-profile address where you can meet with clients, a flexible office solution, such as the choices offered by companies like Regus, can enhance your office image while providing services that you need.

You may decide that a virtual office gives you a prestigious address (complete with a phone number and receptionist support) without having to make a big financial commitment.

One extra word of advice, though: make sure that your impression matches your target customers. If you want to attract eco-friendly customers, don’t show up in a Humvee or if you are attracting clients in the pet care industry, showing up in your fur coat is probably counterproductive.

Consider a Website Upgrade

Clients will not flock to your door if your website has a similar production value to a late-night auto insurance commercial. Your website needs to convey a professional image with content that makes search engines place your company toward the top of a search list.

Only you can decide how much help your website needs, but you do not have to spend a fortune to head in the right direction toward a slick website. You can use templates, like those that coordinate with WordPress, to look modern and professional.  And of course, don’t forget to make your website mobile-friendly, as more and more customers are accessing information from their smartphones.

Do your homework by talking to a number of web development firms. Look for those that use words like “SEO,” “interface design” and “regular maintenance.” If you hear the word “cool” too often, head for the hills.

Establish Credibility with a Quick PR Blitz

One way to boost your profile is to be featured in the press.  Having appeared in print or online publications, television shows and/or on the radio can make you seem bigger than you are.

Leverage any relationships that you have to get some PR placements.  If you don’t have connections, one cost-efficient strategy is to hire a “pay-to-play” PR firm, which may cost a bit more for a placement, but guarantees their services, instead of you rolling the dice on a monthly retainer fee.

I did precisely this when I was starting out. I hired a firm that put me on a radio tour.  Within 45 days’ time, I had between 20 and 30 radio appearances that I had made.  Since I only listed the appearances (not the dates of) on my website’s “press” page, that list looked like I had been a go-to press expert for years.

To get the most out of your PR, highlight where you have been featured on your website, in your marketing materials and even in your email signature line.

Work Pro Bono for the Right Clients

Working for free will not generally add to your success. But there’s an exception to this rule: high-profile clients. When you add a big name to your client list, your work is repaid when other big-name clients buy your goods or services. They see your business as a legitimate industry player.

As a bonus, high-profile clients do not have to remain pro bono forever. Do a great job for them the first time, get to know their key decision makers, and you can develop a valuable business relationship in the future.

So, before you hit the big time, act like you are already there and you will be there in no time at all!


How to Choose a Bank for Your Small Business

2-25 Choosing a bank smallOne of the first things you need to do on your path to becoming your own boss is to open a business checking account. Now, you might think it’s best to keep your business account with the same bank where you have your personal accounts, but it’s better not to. Should your business fail and you have both business and personal accounts at the same bank, you risk losing everything because the bank can seize your personal assets to satisfy your business debt.

What You Need in a Bank

Your business needs a banking relationship not just a bank. It isn’t just a place to put your money. It’s a place you have a relationship with a partner that should be interested in helping your business succeed. Not every bank has great personal relationships with its business clientele, so keep that in mind when beginning your search.

While you might only start out opening a business checking account, there may come a day when you want to apply for a small business loan through your bank, so make sure the banks you consider offer a variety of small business services that can support your company as you grow.

Where to Start Looking

Ignore billboards, online ads, and commercials when choosing a bank. You’re better off asking other entrepreneurs for referrals, since they will know which banks are small business-friendly (not all are).

It’s a good idea to narrow your choices down to three, and then schedule time to sit down with a branch manager from each. These questions can help you gauge which is the best fit for your business’ needs:

  • What percentage of your customers at this branch are small business owners?
  • How fast are checks cleared to my business account (both in- and out-of-state)?
  • Is there a dedicated small business banker on your staff?
  • What kind of customer service do you provide for small business?
  • Are loan decisions made locally?
  • Does the small business banker have any influence over the loan decision process?
  • How many SBA loans did your bank process last year?

The point of these questions is to see how much energy a bank puts into managing and developing its small business clientele. You want to feel like a welcome and cherished customer, especially since you will be trusting this bank with your hard-earned cash!

Also consider what you’re looking for in a bank. Do you need to easily get to it to deposit cash each day (if you operate a restaurant, this is a must)? Would you prefer to be able to access your accounts through a mobile app?

Developing the Relationship Over Time

You may have little need to visit your local branch, especially since many banks allow you to deposit checks with a few clicks on your phone. But make a point to stop in and visit your branch manager or small business banker every few months and update them on what’s happening with your company.

Ask if there’s anything new service-wise with the bank. You might find out they’ve got a new banking program that’s perfect for your needs at the moment. Keeping that dialogue going will help you both find ways to work together for the success of your business.


10 Smart People You Need to Meet

2-19 Inspiring People smallI meet a lot of smart business people every day. This happens in person, over the phone, through email exchanges or on my radio show. Here are ten people that blew me away with their brilliance in 2014 (in alphabetical order).

Dorie Clark: One look at Dorie and you know this branding expert is pure genius. My thoughts are not even in the same zip code as hers. Maybe it’s all the think tanks and academic universities she speaks at all over the world. The smartest thing I heard her say: To achieve in today’s competitive job market, it’s almost certain that at some point you’ll need to reinvent yourself professionally.”

Barbara Corcoran: She turned a real estate empire and being “a shark” into sincerely helping small business owners. I remember when I was on TV with her. She has the fastest wit around! The smartest thing I heard her say: “Taking chances almost always makes for happy endings”.

Nir Eyal: This guy knows why people get hooked on a product or service. In one of my favorite books of the year, “Hooked” he shows exactly how to do it. The smartest thing I heard him say: “Companies who form strong user habits enjoy big benefits to their bottom line.”

Tomas Gorny: A former immigrant from Poland, Tomas is huge success story. He founded the company IPOWER that became the fastest growing website hosting provider in the United States. Now CEO of UnitedWeb, he is making his mark helping small business owners. The smartest thing I heard him say: He tells me that his competitive advantage is that people don’t think he is smart since he speaks with an accent but he says, “I don’t think in an accent.”

Sally Hogshead: She is a master at observation and what makes people tick. Her books are well researched and her ideas actionable. The smartest thing I heard her say: “Once you know what makes you valuable to others, you’re more authentic and confident, and more likely to make a brilliant impression.”

Tom Hopkins: This guy started breaking sales records before most of us were out of high school. He has taught how to sell to millions all over the world. When I was in Phoenix, Tom welcomed me into his home.  The smartest thing I heard him say: “Do what you fear the most and you control fear.”

Les McKeown: This guy is always the smartest person in the room. We all want predictable success and Les explains it so we can achieve it. The smartest thing I heard him say: “Heroic acts are powerful, but they are not scalable.”

John Sculley: At age 75, former president of Apple and Pepisco, John is still changing the world. He is called a global storyteller for the digital revolution. The smartest thing I heard him say: “The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.”

Pam Slim: She shows how to get ahead in a world filled with economic instability, rapid change, and 24/7 work. The smartest thing I heard her say: “The quality of your life, and business, is directly related to the quality of your stories. Tell them well."

Paul G. Stoltz: We all know it takes hard work to succeed, but Paul told me the science behind having resliency. The smartest thing I heard him say: “Over time, either adversity consumes you, or you have to consume it. That’s why resilience is so essential to grit.”

Which smart people did you meet last year?




 
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