Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


Why your Business Loses Customer Focus as it Grows & How to Recapture It

5-15 lose focus smallThe attention lavished on customers in the early days of a business tends to slide when your, oh, five initial customers became 50, and a thousand, and ten thousand. Back in those exciting, if stressful, early days, the level of detail you kept on each customer and prospective customer, the number of times you followed up, and the care with which you did so, were no doubt impressive. These were big-ticket customers to you when you were just starting out; each of these customers was absolutely crucial to the survival and ultimate success of business.

But now that you’ve grown, you stop signing your notes by hand. You stop writing “thank you” on the invoices. You get rid of Jackie and Joanne, your quirkily charismatic receptionists, and switch to an auto-attendant to answer incoming calls.

This loss of focus doesn’t happen on its own, or overnight. At every step of this downward journey, there are defining moments, the moments when you answer, one way or the other, questions like: Do we really want to stop including a postpaid return envelope with our invoices? Should we just let it slide when a new employee is sneaking texts in on the job, in sight of customers, where in the past we would have been sure to gently and quickly correct such behavior?

These moments represent your chance to prevent, or slow, the blurring of your initial customer focus, but only if, in every single case, you answer the relaxing of standards with the following retort: “If we would do it for our first customer, we’ll do it for our 10,000th.

The secret, in other words, is to never stop believing in the importance of every single customer.  Never start believing – as cell phone providers and so many companies in so many other industries have – that there is an infinite cohort of customers out there for the taking, if only our marketing and sales get the promotions and discounts out there far and wide.

Tell yourselves instead that there’s just one customer, the one you’re facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There’s only customer Jim. One Margo. One Alecia. Which means that even after you have thousands of customers, you need to do everything you can to maintain the mindset that every one of them is a core customer—and to treat the loss of a single customer as a tragedy.

Here’s why: Because every single customer is irreplaceable. Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it’s probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business. And this is a calamity to be avoided.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction, as an infinite plurality. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their individuality, their Jim-ishness, Margo-ishness, and Alecia-ishness. Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn’t care to hear how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn’t in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Every customer’s different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  But each of them is precious. Recapture this attitude. Stop thinking “good enough” is o.k. Stop thinking your early reputation (built on those moments when you were treating every customer as precious) can pull you through your current slackness. It won’t. Only your redoubled attention to superior service can do that.


3 Keys to Writing a Powerful Mission Statement

5-20 writing a mission statement smallEstablishing your identity as a small business is a challenge. At first, you may be tempted to chase every dollar you think you can get in the attempt to bring in revenue, but the fact is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no one. It is important to hone and identify your core audience as part of your business plan. In doing so, you have laid the foundation for writing your mission statement.

While there are many examples of mission statements that are so grandiose, they are almost a joke, a good mission statement clearly communicates a business's services, the type of projects in which the firm specializes, and unique values offered. For example, as the SmallBizLady, my mission is to end small business failure. It sounds simple, but it is easy to get off track. In order to write a potent mission statement, here are three considerations to get you off to the right start.

1. Give Yourself Sufficient Time to Write.

Mission statements are deceptively simple. They usually consist of a one to three sentences that provide an overview of the business and its goals. However, a good mission statement will also provide a view into the essence of what sets your small business apart from others.

Identifying and communicating your core principle may be challenging. You’ll need to write several versions and give yourself time to edit them into one cohesive statement. It is best if you allow yourself several writing sessions over a few days in order to convey it in a direct and meaningful way.

2. Communicate What Makes Your Small Business Unique.

Many a mission statement has been written on the bones of another more established company's hard work. You may be tempted to take the easy way out and "borrow" a phrase or even direct quotes from a firm you admire. It’s fine to get inspiration from other companies’ mission statements, but yours should be unique to your brand.

3. Use This as an Opportunity to Further Refine Your Business's Core Values.

Not all of us enjoy writing or even think that we can write well. However, this mindset will sap of you of your strength and undermine your confidence. At its core, writing is a powerful form of communication, and strong communication is a central tenet of doing business. It’s all about what you want to be known for.

The exercise of writing your mission statement strengthens your ability to communicate in a compelling manner. It is vital to push yourself to do this significant work in a thoughtful and conscientious way. You might even, through the act of writing, uncover core values you hadn’t elaborated on before.

Your mission statement is the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. It provides clarity and focus on the essence of your business. When you put substantial effort into the creation of this document, you create a steady foundation that helps you move forward with more vigor and determination.


Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Bottom Line With Recurring Fees

5-18 recurring fees smallAttracting and converting new customers is an important part of any business.  Revenue is the lifeblood of our companies, and it’s important to devote time and energy to ensuring we have a steady, fresh supply.  One source of revenue we shouldn’t overlook, though, is our existing customer base.  If we’re chasing down new clients without first looking at how we can maximize revenue from our current clients, we’re missing out on real opportunities.

One of the very best ways I’ve found to bump up my billing is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan.  Here’s how it works:

Say you own an HVAC company.  You have a stable of corporate clients, and when they call you for a repair, it’s never cheap.  Your average call results in a bill for $2000.  You make an average of one call per year to each client, but you’re looking for a way to increase your per client earnings.  So you offer your clients a plan.  They pay $200 each month, and when they call you, their service is covered (with appropriate restrictions of course.)  Your revenue per client has gone up to $2400 per year, and you’re providing a huge benefit to your clients as well.  Rather than having to scrape together $2K when the a/c goes on the fritz in August, they know they’re covered.  They benefit from predictable costs, and you benefit from increased revenue and predictable income.  It’s a win-win.

But there’s more: your technicians have added incentive to work efficiently, since they’re not billing by the hour.  They also have incentive to fix things properly the first time, since any shoddy work will come out of your bottom line, should they have to go back for a second repair.  Likewise, your customers will call you at the first sign of trouble, rather than waiting for a small problem to turn into a large one.

You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to convert customers to a recurring fee model.  We’re far less likely to balk at a low monthly fee than we are to experience sticker shock when we look at the annual total.  Once your customers get used to your new model, they don’t even think about that predictable monthly expense.  It’s practically invisible to them.

Nearly every business can find some way to implement a recurring fee program.  Whether you’re a liquor store that enrolls clients in a Beer-of-the-Month Club, or you’re an office supplier who bills monthly for copier servicing plans, you can find a way to make recurring fees work for your company.

The best of both worlds is when your recurring fees bring your customers even closer to you and your staff.  Creating an elite program for your top-drawer clients gives the client an ego boost and gives you a revenue boost.  You’re preserving future business, and you’re doing it in a way that lets your clients manage their costs effectively. 


How to Build “Overnight Success”…Within a Decade

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-15 long-term success smallIn a world where two clicks are too many and online purchases are about to arrive at our doors instantly via drones, we have taken the concept of instant gratification to a new level. Every new business owner envisions overnight success. But no amount of technology is likely to make up for patience and dedication.

Most companies touted as overnight successes were actually years in the making. Here are some ways that you can emulate their long-term success.

The Willingness to Do What it Takes

The major players got to where they are through hard work over the long-term and business success does not lighten the load. To this day, Howard Schultz, the CEO of  Starbucks is reported to put in 13-hour days at the office before going home to work some more.

Doing what it takes involves much more than running your daily business operations. Be prepared to get out of the office. Attend conferences that can teach you new methods within your industry or within business in general. Travel across your community, the country or even around the world to find new markets for your products or services. Check out other companies whose success you want to meet or exceed.  And don’t just try—make things happen by leaving no stone unturned.

Collaboration Over Competition

Rather than looking at other companies in your industry as competition, think of them as potential allies. Your businesses may excel in different areas that can create a winning relationship through formal or informal collaboration, ultimately leading to more success for your business.

In an article in FastCompany, Bob Mudge, President of Consumer and Mass Business at Verizon refers to this as “co-opetition,” asserting that cooperating with other companies in the same industry may seem counterintuitive to competition, but it is an essential part of business success.

You may not be ready to collaborate on the same scale as Verizon, but even customer referrals can have a huge effect on your bottom line. Just as important, your cooperative spirit builds long-term business and personal relationships that you will value for a lifetime.

Flexibility

Your initial business idea may have a great foundation, but it may require substantial tweaking before it earns success. Steve Jobs’ early inventions did not create Apple’s success. Even though the Apple Lisa introduced the world to the Graphical User Interface, it took many years of modification until the Mac was born. And it took around two decades of reinvention before the company became an overnight success.

The old motto, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” should be posted on the wall of every business owner who really wants to make it big. Always look for ways to change or enhance your products or services until customers beat a path to your door.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

At the opposite end of the coin, you need recognize what you are doing right and stay the course. Take a lesson from the “new Coke” fiasco from back in 1985. In spite of blind taste tests that indicated that customers preferred the new formula over both Pepsi and the original Coca-Cola product, consumers flooded the company with letters of complaints. Three months later, the original formula was back on store shelves.

When loyal customers already like what you do and how you do it, don’t take it away from them. As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Perseverance

When prospective customers say “no,” they often mean “not now.” If you have done your homework, you already have a good understanding of their current and future needs. Whether you re-design a product to better meet their needs or find ways to add value, make sure you keep them in the loop. Your diligence can turn “no” into a resounding “yes.”

Additionally, having patience is a key component of success.  Everything will take longer than you anticipate (and longer than it probably should) to complete, so keep moving forward, even when it seems like you are wading through quicksand.

You may  “want it all” and “want it now”, but the successful business owner is the one who can keep their eye on the prize and the big picture over time. Your hard work and patience will be the keys to making it big.


7 Ways to be More Memorable

6-14 Be more memorable smallEveryone wants to be remembered. When someone says your name, it’s a magic that can solidify any business relationship. Here is how to be successful at it:

1. Repeat their name.

When you are introduced to someone, repeat their name back to them. This will prevent you from forgetting their name as soon as they say it. For example, when the other person says “Hi, I’m Mary”, repeat “It’s nice to meet you, Mary”. Follow this up by using their name again in the first 30 seconds of the conversation.

This not only helps you remember their name, but it also makes a favorable impression. In general, people love the sound of their name and in the case of an initial meeting, using it shows that you are intentional about learning about them.

2. Tell a story about your name.

Stories stick with people more than facts, so instead of simply stating your name, give them a little background on it to make it more interesting, and therefore more memorable.

For example, explain the origin of your name. This is especially effective if it is unusual and people have a hard time pronouncing or spelling it. Another option is to explain how you got your name. The name John isn't very memorable, but telling a story about your grandfather who was a pilot in WWII makes it a lot more interesting.

3. Use your name in conversation.

If you don’t have any good stories to tell, try fitting your name into conversation as much as possible.

You can do this by addressing yourself by name ("so I said to myself, Barry, if you…") or using your name in dialogue ("so my friend says to me, 'Barry…'"). With this, the person will benefit from hearing your name multiple times throughout the conversation instead of just once at the beginning. It takes practice to avoid sounding awkward or conceited, but it can be mastered.

4. Use the right body language.

Memorable people are fully engaged in conversations, both verbally and non-verbally. To be engaged non-verbally, make sure you have positive body language. This consists of an open torso with uncrossed arms, feet facing forward, head and chest up, and shoulders pulled back.

At the beginning and end of the conversation, offer to shake hands (in the U.S.) During the conversation, keep an eye on the other person’s body language to mirror it. If they are animated and using their hands while they speak, don’t stand there like a statue. Make eye contact and smile frequently.

5. Answer common questions uncommonly.

When first meeting someone, you will inevitably be asked: “How are you?” and “What do you do?”

Instead of responding to these questions in a typical fashion, come up with answers that will make you memorable. For example, instead of responding to “how are you?” with a short and vague “I’m doing well, how are you?”, use it as an opportunity to tell a story about your day, week, or life in general. Use stories with self-deprecating humor instead of bragging.

6. Ask better questions.

You will most likely be asked the same “how are you?” and “what do you do?” questions, but that doesn't mean you should ask them. Assuming the person isn't making an effort to answer these questions uncommonly as suggested, they will go on autopilot and answer them in very traditional ways.

Spark brain activity by engaging the person with interesting questions. Ask “what has been the highlight of your day today?”, and “What’s your story?” It will force them to think and make you stand out from the rest.

7. Follow up.

Don’t just collect business cards, put them to use! Send an email recapping your conversation. Your email address should feature a picture of you, so they will easily be able to connect a name to a face. The photo should be your profile picture on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

What are you going to do to be more memorable?


Why You Can Never Stop Learning in Your Small Business

Colleagues working on a creative project in a startup office laughing at funny jokeContinuous learning is critical for entrepreneurs. As much as you may or may not have enjoyed school back in the day, the fact of the matter is that entrepreneurs cannot afford to stop learning. Staying sharp and on top of what’s happening in your industry is critical to long term sustainability.  You also need to keep an eye what your competitors are up to. Still, it takes hard work to continually learn what you need to know. Here’s why you can never stop learning.

Learning From Peers is Key

As a business owner you need to make sure you surround yourself with others who are doing even bigger things than you. Iron sharpens iron. Join a mastermind group in your industry, so consider Vistage or even WPO (women presidents organization) to develop a peer group that you can learn from. Building personal relationships and learning new concepts and ideas does amazing things for your mind.

My learning challenge for you: Find a peer-to-peer business organization to join.

Go Back to School

No I don’t mean MBA school, but I do mean sign up for 6 week business plan or negotiation course. Continued learning helps you set forth with awareness toward broader horizons. Once you see that anything is possible, you can expand your goals and do even more with your business.

My learning challenge for you: Try a free class on a challenging subject via coursera.org. It doesn’t even have to be business-related, and you might be surprised how learning about art or nutrition, for example, can expand your brain in other areas.

Learning Keeps you Growing

It may be tempting to think you’ve seen or heard it all, but you close yourself off to experiencing new things when you embrace this attitude. It may feel scary to admit to gaps in your knowledge or limits in your experience, but you can’t grow beyond them until you recognize them.

The act of learning activates our growth. Your learning can be formal or informal, but ideally a blend of both will propel you to new heights, both personally and professionally.

My learning challenge for you: Make a list of areas you’re weak in, then bone up on them. Learn how to use social media. Figure out how to unclog your own pipes.

Learning Enables You to Learn from Mistakes

We make mistakes in every aspect of our lives, entrepreneurship included. What you do with those mistakes is where your future success is determined. Be embarrassed of your error and shut off from the lesson it teaches, and you don’t benefit. On the other hand, learning from the mistake and changing your path for the better makes you a smarter business owner.

Mistakes aren’t mistakes if you walk away with a lesson learned. Make a point of assessing every situation and gleaning what you can from it.

My learning challenge for you: Consider mistakes you’ve made in the recent past. Did you learn from them, or do you continue to make the same errors over and over? Consider how you can break that pattern.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Customers Hate Your Business?

5-12 businesses customers hate smallDo your customers hate your business—not because of anything you’ve done, but simply because of what you do? For example, most of us dread going to the dentist, meeting with our accountants to prepare our taxes, or taking our cars in for repair. The best-case scenario is at least an hour of pain and suffering; the worst-case scenario is suffering plus a huge bill at the end.

So how can you turn customers’ thinking around and transform a business people hate into one they look forward to visiting (or at least don’t dread)? Transform the customer experience, that’s how. Here are four tips to do just that:

  1. Speed things up. Do whatever you can to serve customers quickly so they can get in and get out fast. This could include emailing them forms to fill out ahead of time; having them complete forms online; using technology such as tablet computers to gather information instead of written forms; setting (and sticking to) appointment times; and streamlining your processes to eliminate time-wasters and delays.
  2. Calm customers down. Little things like comfortable seating, soothing background music and attractive surroundings can help to boost customers’ moods. I recently had my car serviced at a business with a luxurious waiting room, wide-screen TV, gourmet coffee, free Wi-Fi and even a breakfast buffet available while I waited. I got lots of work done and was so relaxed, I almost didn’t mind when my car needed a major repair.  
  3. Hire and train right. When your business is unpleasant, your staff needs to be extra-nice. At my dentist’s office, for example, everyone from the receptionist to the technicians is unfailingly friendly and greets me by name. No wonder I’ve referred tons of friends there over the years. Look for customer-facing employees who have a great “bedside manner,” never lose their cool and help customers maintain theirs, too.
  4. Build relationships. Reaching out to regular customers with thank-you notes, special offers, reminders when services are due or products are in stock, event invitations and even birthday or anniversary cards help to build connections that create a positive opinion of your business.

By taking these steps, you can gain loyal customers who’ll recommend you to others.


6 Ways to Renew and Revitalize Your Business Relationships

Business team having fun on coffee breakPeople do business with people they like, know and trust. So it’s really all about the relationship that determines whether or not you get the opportunity to even pitch for the business.  But when is that last time you evaluated your relationships. Joleen Jaworkski, President of Business Clubs America (BCA) of Philadelphia, inspired me to expand upon her six tips for making the most of your business relationships.  Here’s my take on the 6 ways to renew and revitalize your business relationships.

1. Treat Relationships like an Investment

Just as important as the money you invest back into your company is the time and energy you invest in your business relationships. Even when you’re swamped, you’ve got to put time in to check on your customers and contacts and see how you can move the relationship forward.

If it’s been a while since you caught up with some of your key connections, make an effort this month to email, call, or have coffee with each one. While your goal isn’t to sell, you never know where this effort will take you.

2. Be More Understanding and Accepting

Just like with married couples, business relationships undergo their own ebb and flow. Realize that if a client snaps at you, it’s probably not really about you; don’t take it personally. Also, have a grain of patience in your interactions. If, for example, a long-standing customer tells you she’s having some financial issues that are keeping her from paying you, be understanding and offer her a payment plan that will help her get back on track. She’ll appreciate you being so accommodating. The best relationships are made in tough times.

3. Be Present

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a meeting with someone who keeps checking his phone or email…or even accepts a call while you’re talking! It’s the worst, and it makes you feel like that person doesn’t value your time.

Don’t be that guy. Put all your attention on the person in front of you, and really hear what they’re saying. Don’t interrupt them with what you think they want to hear; you might be wrong and offend them.

4. Go Out of Your Way to Reconnect

If you are flying to a city to attend a conference or see another client, make a lunch, dinner, a drinks appointment to check in on a current or old client. You often don’t have to go far out of your way to show a contact that you’re thinking of her. You can also email an article that you think a client would like. Send a birthday card. Pick up the phone just to say hi. These little efforts can have a pretty big impact to the recipient of your attention.

5. Be Authentic

I thrive on being myself as the SmallBizLady. I’m nothing if not authentic, and people seem to appreciate my honesty in who I am. No one wants you to be something you’re not; they’ll appreciate you, warts and all. You’ll be surprised by how much you have in common with another professional single mom or dad that travels a lot. So see yourself how others see you, strengths and weaknesses included. Then be that person in every interaction you have.

6. Be Generous

Always look for a way you can serve your customers, even if it does directly put money in your pocket. I often introduce my clients to each other. Even if you hope that your business relationships blossom into sales, that’s not your aim in revitalizing those relationships. Put your focus on giving: giving your time, your energy, your advice, your referrals.

The effort you put into nurturing your business relationships will come back to you tenfold, so keep the energy flowing.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Customers Love Loyalty Programs

5-5 customer loyalty programs smallDo you have a customer loyalty program? If not, you’re missing out—because loyalty programs drive sales. Sixty-three percent of customers in the 2015 Loyalty Report say a loyalty program makes their relationships with a brand better, and 34 percent say they wouldn’t be loyal to a brand without a loyalty program. In addition, 64 percent modify the brands they buy, and 76 percent modify when and where they buy, in order to maximize their loyalty program benefits.

So what makes for a successful loyalty program? The top criteria for customer satisfaction include:

  • How appealing the program rewards are
  • How easy the rewards are to redeem
  • The amount accumulated per $1 spent
  • Being able to build up meaningful rewards in a timely manner 
  • Having different options for how rewards/benefits can be earned

Customers also want loyalty programs to be simple, easy to understand and fun to use.

What about mobility as part of loyalty programs? The data is inconclusive here—while about half the respondents say they would like to engage with loyalty programs through a mobile device, just 12 percent of them have actually downloaded a mobile loyalty program app to do so.

However, there are a few ways in which loyalty programs are falling short—not for customers, but for brands. For instance, only 49 percent of consumers report that joining a loyalty program leads them to spend more with the brand. That means you might be throwing away money on a loyalty program that isn’t bringing in enough financial returns.

In addition, almost half (44 percent) of consumers polled agree that “…it would be easy to replace the program with a competitor’s program.” In other words, loyalty programs aren’t differentiating themselves enough from the competition.

Interestingly, the survey notes that some of America’s most popular brands don’t have a formal loyalty program, but achieve many of the same goals without one. By focusing not solely on transactions, but also on treating customers as individuals, making them feel valued and providing personalized experiences, they build a relationship that makes customers willing to pay more for and be loyal to a brand.

In other words, whether you use technology or just plain old human interaction, loyalty is all about creating a human connection.




 
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