Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


Mondays with Mike: Win Customers With Your Authenticity

6-15 Be Authentic smallEven though I’m not an accountant, I understand just how important effective accounting and accountants are to running my business successfully.  A few years ago, I attended an accounting conference, and I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t very excited about it.  I hire accountants because that’s not where my natural talents lie.

But there I was, armed with a gallon of high-octane coffee, committed to sitting through what I predicted would be a boring presentation.  The featured speaker stepped up to the podium, and I nearly groaned out loud.  He was everything I was afraid he’d be:  boring suit and matching monotone voice, with a heaping helping of a snooze-worthy Powerpoint.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and this guy didn’t even try.

I made it through the presentation without falling asleep and drooling on my neighbor, and I hightailed it out of the seminar, glad to be gone.  You can imagine my dismay when I attended a friend’s barbecue a few weeks later and literally bumped into the accountant speaker.  Since we were face-to-face (and because he recognized me,) I was stuck.  While I was thinking of excuses to escape, he surprised me, though.

He was actually funny.  He was relaxed, dressed casually, and he was really interesting.  It was like it had been his boring clone making the presentations, because this guy was nothing like he’d been the first time we’d met.  We were laughing about a joke he’d told when he said something that simply stunned me.  He said, “Man, I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

I’m pretty sure I spaced out for a moment as I though about the weight of what he’d just said.  He had no idea that he was more compelling, more appealing, and even seemed more trustworthy when he was being himself.  By putting on a false front in an attempt to appear professional, the accountant was making himself fit a mold that not only wasn’t comfortable for him, but was also unappealing to his clients.

I left that barbecue with two important takeaways.  First of all, that guy is now my accountant – the very best I’ve ever had.  Secondly, I realized just how important it is to be brave enough to be our authentic selves.  In fact, it’s when we give ourselves permission to let our real personalities emerge that we’re most likely to find clients who really connect with us, our values, and our big-picture goals.

Now I’m not advising that folks stop showering or litter their sales pitches with dirty jokes, but what I am advising is that we stop trying to pretend to be someone we’re not.  Let your creativity peek out.  Give your quirky sense of humor a chance to brighten your sales presentations.  Will everyone get your off-the-wall jokes?  Probably not.  But the ones who do are more likely to end up as customers for life.

I’m reminded of the wise Dr. Seuss’ timeless advice:  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  Let your authentic self shine through, and you’ll find your best, most loyal customers.


7 Things Small Businesses Do To Lose Online Customers

6-10 online shopping smallRunning a small business isn’t easy. Finding and keeping customers is even more difficult. If you don’t make it really simple to buy from you online, shoppers will go elsewhere for their next purchase. There are specific bad behaviors to avoid with the shopping experience on your website.

Here are seven things small businesses do to lose online customers.

1. You Have Confusing Information on Your Site.

As an entrepreneur, time is often your most precious commodity. If you don’t regularly review what’s on your website, you might be turning away potential customers with misinformation or simply old data.

If your newest blog post, for example, was written over a year ago, that’s a turnoff. If your products don’t have a sales page or enough detail to help shoppers make an informed decision about buying them, they won’t.

Remedy:

Periodically review all your web copy. Update it on an annual basis at minimum, and make sure it’s always accurate.

2.  No Contact Information.

Spam is a definite concern when posting your email address online, but there are alternatives that will make it easy for customers to reach you via email while keeping your inbox spam-free. Instead of burying your email address on a never-visited page, post a phone number and set up a contact form for customers to use to reach you.

Use FAQ page to help answer many of the questions people have before they hit submit on that contact form. Being helpful is always good customer service!

Remedy:

Ensure your contact information is clear and easy to locate. Offer multiple ways for customers to contact you (email, chat, phone, social media).

3.   You Don’t Answer Email in a Timely Manner.

Have you even sent an email trying to get help and no one every got back to you? Sure you have, but don't have that happening in your business. Don't set up an info@xxx.com email account no one checks. Time is money when people are shopping online.

It might have been acceptable for you to respond to a customer’s email within 24-48 hours several years ago, but now every minute counts in your response time. As in: the sooner, the better. Taking even a day could lose you serious business.

Remedy:

If your inbox is overflowing, consider hiring a customer service rep or social media virtual assistant to help field some of those emails.

4.  You Use Social Media Inconsistently.

Social media can be a game changer for small business owners…but only if you use it regularly. If you aren’t making an effort to update your profiles at least once a day, potential customers will not know you exist. A steady stream of fresh content, on the other hand, can pique people’s interest and lead them back to your website, which is your best opportunity to generate a sale. 

Remedy:

Focus on only one social media site to engage prospect customers. Update your social media account daily. Dedicate a few minutes each day to the effort.

5.   You Don’t Engage with Potential Customers with Email.

You need to make sure you have at least three ways to capture a potential customers email address when they come to your site, so even if they don't buy that day you can nurture the relationship. Use email to building your brand to attract future customers, share helpful information to a build a like, know and trust relationship with your prospects.

Remedy:

Use email marketing to engage potential customers by demonstrating your ability to anticipate their needs, and offer help.                                                                                            

6.  You Share Too Many Promotional Updates on Social.

One of the best ways to create a relationship with a potential customer is to provide assistanceOf course, you want to bolster your connection with your audience, but it is critical to provide value first especially in social media. Don't start selling relentlessly as soon as you start using social media, Instead, share informational tidbits in the guise of links, tweets and conversations to build community with potential customers. Make it about them and not about you.

Remedy:

Use the 4:1 ratio. For every four useful, informational updates, post one promotional one.


Three Ways that Viral Fads can Create Successful Businesses

Posted on by Carol Roth

6-8 instant success smallEvery entrepreneur dreams of “going viral”, but sometimes, that virality leads to a fad rather than a bona fide business. Fads can make big money, but if your business is based on a single trend, you need to make some important decisions upfront to make sure it’s a net money-maker, rather than a money-taker.

Take the Money and Run

Within six months of introducing the Pet Rock to the marketplace in 1975, Gary Dahl earned $15 million in profits. Not knowing if his silly idea would be a hit (and way before the Internet), Dahl kept his costs low. The product that he sold for nearly $4 cost less than a dollar. He had very low overhead, introducing the product at a gift show, and selling to major stores, with a little help from free publicity obtained from a Newsweek article and two appearances on The Tonight Show.

Clearly, Dahl never intended to start a long-term business, but his one product made him an instant millionaire.

If you have an idea for a one-hit wonder — and you don’t have to expend a great deal of time and money to get it to market — go for it. As long as you don’t spend your profits on too much overhead (expensive rents or inventory, for example), you might gain enough money that you never have to work again.

Add Value

Many workout programs have come and gone (remember Suzanne Sommers and the ThighMaster?) Well, direct response retailer Beachbody has managed to take some hot properties that could have died like so many before and has given them long lives by adding value. 

Programs like P90X have been supplemented by a number of items, including program line extensions and nutritional supplements to keep the customer engaged with the products (and consumable ones that require continual purchases).  These offerings add value to the original product — and keep their programs popular today.

To remain relevant over the long term, your product needs to morph over time. If it’s a toy or other object, make it bigger or smaller, or introduce must-have accessories.  If it’s a fitness program, think about follow-up videos, nutrition and personalized coaching. And, considering that consumers get bored, do not assume a consumable product is safe. Add more flavors or accompaniments, or create a low-fat or low-calorie variety. Even cream cheese now comes in an abundance of fat levels and flavors.

Expand Your Focus

On July 8th, 2014, Crumbs Bake Shop, which focused solely (and for a time, successfully) on the cupcake trend, announced its apparent demise when they closed their doors. Six days later, they filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and about a month later, they announced the planned reopening of two dozen stores, under new ownership.

The new owners plan to expand the business beyond its popular cupcakes to a variety of sweets and snacks, instead of relying on a one-item fad like a cupcake.

If you have a one-product business, keep in mind that fads lose popularity over time. Set your focus over the long-term and find ways to expand your product line to keep it fresh and interesting to customers.

A similar strategy is being used by I Want to Draw a Cat for You, which reportedly earned $200,000 in its first year, by, you guessed it- drawing cats for customers. Knowing that this Internet-led sensation would not likely be sustainable in its current form, the company expanded by adding physical products (pins, greeting cards and tee shirts) to its initial offering of customized cat-drawing services.

So, either take the money and run or evolve your core, and you may be able to make your fad worthwhile.


Lifetime Network Value: Even More Important Than Lifetime Customer Value

Roundabout traffic signTaking the time to calculate the lifetime value of a single customer can be a powerful motivator to treat your customers right: Once a company realizes how enormous the value of a single customer can be over her lifetime, it provides a great encouragement to stop nickel and diming your customers, to stop arguing over responsibility for a FedEx upgrade, and so forth.

But there has been understandable concern among businesses about brand fickleness in today’s–and tomorrow’s– generations of customers.  The ability of customers to switch providers at the click of a mouse, as well as the surfeit of acceptable providers in many consumer and B2B categories, is troubling and has created a competitive landscape in which our existing lifetime customer value calculations may no longer valid.

However, this required recalculation isn’t exactly bad news. The occasional straying of customers today due to the ease of switching masks a more important positive change in today’s landscape: the extent to which social media and Internet reviews have amplified the reach of every customer’s word-of-mouth.

Never before have customers enjoyed such powerful platforms to share and broadcast their opinions of products and services. This is true today of every generation—millennials, Gen X’ers, Boomers, and even some Silent Generation customers share on Facebook and post reviews on TripAdvisor and Amazon. (Millennials, thanks to their lifetime of technology use and their growing buying power, are likely to make especially active spokes-customers. Boston Consulting Group, with grand understatement, says that “the vast majority” of millennials report socially sharing and promoting their brand preferences.)

Customers today are talking about your business when they’re considering making a purchase, awaiting assistance, trying something on, paying for it and when they get home. If, for example, you own a restaurant, the value of a single guest today goes further than the amount of the check.

The added value comes from a process that the great Patrick O’Connell, chef and proprietor of the double five-diamond Inn At Little Washington, calls competitive dining: “comparing and rating dishes, photographing everything they eat, and tweeting and emailing the details of all their dining adventures.”

By doing so, they’ve greatly increased what I call their Lifetime Customer Network Value. And this makes them at least as valued as any customers in the past–even if they have wandering eyes and wallets to an extent not expected of previous generations of customers.

*****

It’s easy to underestimate the commercial power that today’s customers have, particularly when the network value of the youngest of these customers doesn’t immediately translate into sales. Be careful not to sell their potential short and let that assumption drive you headlong into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Remember that younger customers are experimenting right now as they begin to form preferences they may keep for a lifetime. A little love lavished on these customers now will likely be repaid in spades in the future.


5 Tips for Picking the Right Business Partner

Having the perfect business partner can help you take your business to another level even faster than you could take it on your own. Not only will you have someone to bounce ideas off of, but you can also have someone whose skill sets complement your own, making you a well-rounded team. But just like any relationship, you need to date first and test the relationship, so that you don't make an expensive mistake. Breaking up a business partnership is a major distraction, so you must choose well.

Here’s how to make sure the person you pick is right for your business.

1. Pick Your Partner Carefully.

Just like you wouldn’t marry someone you barely know, it’s important that you get to know the person you want to run a business with. In other words: date before you get married in business.

How can you do that? Work on a few projects together before joining forces in business. See how you work together. Do you flow well, or do you butt heads? Do you enjoy working together?

It’s also a good idea to do a background check to know who you're getting in business with. 

2. Get an Entrepreneur's Prenup.

Even if you trust your new partner implicitly, it’s still a good idea to hire a lawyer to develop a formal partnership agreement. Make sure it addresses how money will be managed and when net profits will be shared, as well as how hiring decisions will be made, and spells out each of your roles and responsibilities. Make sure to clarify terms on exits, buyouts, death, and divorce.

Money can ruin a good partnership. Have clear policies drawn up on how money is handled, including vendor payments, reimbursements, cash withdrawals, etc. Having this document can help you if things go south and you need legal proof of your original agreement. If you agree to change the partnership agreement, legally document the change. 

3. Keep it Business.

Unless you’re married to your business partner, your relationship will do better if you focus on business and keep your ego in check. Never make decisions based on emotions, and do take your partner’s opinion into consideration. Schedule meetings to rtegularly review your financial statements together. Be open with information and clear with communication.

4. Don't Be a Credit Hog.

There is no "I" in team. Successful partnerships can be ruined when one partner wants to take credit for everything. If your partner has come up with a great idea, pat him or her on the back and make sure credit is given where it’s due. It takes teamwork to make the dream work.  If one of you dominates the relationship, the business partnership won’t last long.

5. Value a Good Partnership.

If you have a good partner and the business is successful, celebrate this. That way both will thrive. Always make sure to make decisions in the best interest of the business and not your personal self interest. Just like in any relationship it will take time and effort on your part to develop trust and keep balance in the partnership.  

Understand the value of that partnership and make concessions for the good of the partnership. Remember: this isn’t just your business anymore. You share it with someone else, and everything you do should take that into consideration.


How to Get Large Corporations as Your Customers

Big and small goldfishA dream: I have been named by Google as their exclusive supplier of educational content for all their small business resellers.

To have a large and respected corporation like Google as a customer is a small business owner’s dream. It typically brings with it a steady revenue source as well as brand prestige and recognition. This is not as unrealistic as it sounds. In fact, a driving growth factor for many small businesses is a large company as a major customer.

Getting large companies to be your customer is a common way to grow rapidly. Here are the steps to take:

  1. List the targeted large corporations. These should be ones that have a demonstrated need that your business can solve. They should have a record of buying your types of products or services from small businesses.
  2. Find the right person inside the company. Many times there is an employee that has specific responsibilities for using vendors that are small businesses or ones that are minority or women owned status. If this corporation does a large amount of work with local, state of federal governments, they may even have requirement to do a certain amount of business with your size or type of company.
  3. Find someone to help. Ask your professional and social network for introductions to people they know inside the targeted large corporations. Almost any contact will do in order to get past the traditional company gate keepers.
  4. Find a program. The SBA has specific programs designed to help small businesses get sales from the federal government. Many Chamber of Commerces also have mentor programs to link up local small business with large corporate headquarters in their area.

The influx of revenue from a large corporation can bring dangers to the small business. Here are the big ones to avoid:

1. Cash flow crunch. Many corporations negotiate longer payment terms and small businesses accept them. Be aware of the cash flow problems this can cause by paying for cost of goods or services well in advance of payments from this customer. Do the math in a cash flow statement to measure the exposure.

2. Over expansion to meet short term demand. Large corporations can boost a small businesses sales quickly but they can change course and leave just as fast. Get written longer term commitments for any major investment of capital to meet their demand.

3. Revenue concentration in one customer. Many growing businesses have at least one customer that is 25% or 50% of their revenue. This can be a precarious position for any company. Seek customer diversity as an ongoing goal.

Tell me your story on how a large corporation drove the growth of your business.


The Difference Between Being an Entrepreneur and a Franchisee

5-27 comparing smallIf you’re planning to become your own boss, one option you might want to consider is becoming a franchisee. In a franchise everything’s already laid out for you in terms of the products you’ll sell and the marketing plan. Many people prefer becoming a franchisee over starting a business from scratch. Still, there are several differences between being an entrepreneur and being a franchise owner that you should be aware of.

1. There’s Less Risk with Franchises (But Still Risk)

Many franchisees are attracted to the fact that they’re buying into a proven business. After all, there are thousands of burger franchises across the country. People are already familiar with the brand, so you don’t have to work to establish it on your own.

Still, it’s important that you know that there are risks with running a franchise. No business is guaranteed, and it will be susceptible to all the same threats as any other business, including recessions, competition, and location (a bad location for your franchise can kill the business).

2. You Have to Follow the Rules as a Franchisee

While technically, yes, you are a small business owner as a franchisee, you essentially sign up to have a master, your franchisor, who will tell you exactly how to run your business. You will sign a contract agreeing to do business the franchise’s way, and there may be penalties if you don’t.

You can’t, for example, change the brand logo, or add new products the menu. The franchise may provide you with marketing materials (though you may have some freedom in how you market locally through newspaper ads, events, and social media).

3. Being a Franchisee is Expensive

Becoming a franchisee involves paying a franchise fee to the company. This is essentially your buy-in fee to have the right to use the brand’s name and products. But you’ll also probably pay a monthly royalty fee based on your sales. When you start your own business, you pay for start-up expenses — like your website, marketing services, inventory, uniforms, etc. — as they come up, and you’re beholden to no one over the long-term.

4. An Entrepreneur Has More Creative License

Because franchisees are limited in the creative decisions they can make, many who want to color outside the lines prefer to start their own business. That way, they can set up exactly how the business will operate, what they’ll sell, and how they’ll market it. If you feel stifled by other people’s rules, franchising might not be for you.

It’s important to understand the difference between starting your own business and buying a franchise. Based on your personality and preferences either one could work for you.


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.




 
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