Back to School Lessons for Your Small Business

"Back to School Lessons for Your Business - School Supplies"
The back-to-school season is upon us, and kids across the nation are sharpening their pencils and packing their lunch boxes as they ready for the first day of classes. But preparing for the academic season isn’t just for kids; business owners can take a tip from students and do their own back-to-school prep. Whether you’re a kindergartener (new small business owner) or college student (established entrepreneur), these tips will help you get your business ready for a new year of success.

School’s in session!

 

Time to Buy School Supplies

 

Many entrepreneurs are bootstrapping their small business, making do with as small a capital outlay as possible. While not spending yourself into a hole is wise, refusing to invest when you need to can cause problems, too. Particularly in the area of technology, it’s critical to have the tools you need to get the job done. Just as you can’t complete your trigonometry homework without the right calculator, you can’t keep things in your business flowing if you don’t have the right stuff. The main areas you want to look at are:

  • hardware
  • software
  • business and office supplies

In the area of hardware, today’s desktop and laptop computers have advanced to the level that you could likely run a small country from a laptop or iPad. That’s not to say that you need an iPad, or even a laptop. In fact, as long as you have a PC or Mac, a printer, and dependable internet access, you’ve got the basics covered. You may also want to look at a mobile phone or iPad that will allow you to get online when you’re on the road – provided that you do actually head out on the road. If you’re strictly desk-bound, skip the portable devices and invest instead in the latest software to help you keep track of your business.

Software comes in a number of flavors. For most small businesses, you’ll need:

A word processing program. Microsoft Office Word is standard, but OpenOffice (available for free online) is a cost-free and versatile option.

An accounting program. On one end, you can keep track of your budget and spending with a simple spreadsheet. If you want more bells and whistles, try Quicken or Quickbooks.

A graphic design program. Even if you outsource all your graphic design needs, you still will want the ability to make small adjustments (price, etc.) to your “Buy Now” buttons, easily handled with Photoshop Elements. If you want to be able to design your own pamphlets, brochures, PDFs and more, check out Apple’s Pages.

The good news about technology is that it’s readily available and relatively inexpensive. The bad news is, the new versions come so fast and furious that no sooner have you invested in the latest and greatest, than you’re already obsolete! But before you plunk down your credit card to upgrade, ask yourself:

  • Is not having this holding me back?
  • What am I hoping to do that I cannot do now?
  • How much will it cost me to upgrade?
  • If I make this investment, how long until it pays off?
  • Do I have the cash to pay for this?

If your answers to the above questions are satisfactory, go ahead and invest. Do your research online to find specials or the best deal, and after you make your purchase, sign up as an affiliate and tell others about your recommendations. That way you can convert your expense into a revenue stream – and get an “A” in economics!

Small business profitability is just as much about spending right as it is in a good income stream – it all adds to your bottom line. Spend wisely!

Seven Marketing Tips of Highly Successful Marketers

"Seven Marketing Tips Successful Marketers Use to Grow their Business"
Seven Marketing Tips Successful Marketers Use to Grow their Business Offline

  1.  Don’t lower your price and expect to sell more! Today its not about volumn sales (unless you are Walmart or Costco). Think about it. Would a dentist lower his price to get more clients? Or a brain surgeon? If you want a cheap haircut you go to a place that does volume. If you want a hair style you go to a salon that specializes in what you need. When you lower the price you might just be lowering the value of your product and service in the eyes of your intended audience. In most cases it is better to compete on service than price. Remember this: Quality does not come cheap.
  2. Choose 3-4 marketing tactics that fit your market, your product and your service and get really good ad delivering on those promises. When we first start in business we try everything to see what works. But if you are established, it is better to choose less tactics and get more strategic with each. Go the distance and don’t give up before all the results are in. The less you do, the better you can be at doing them because you won’t have to juggle dozens of ideas at once.
  3. Educate your customers about your products or service. Don’t try to sell them, educate them. The more educated a person is about your offerings the better buying decision she or he will be able to make. If they feel empowered with the knowledge they are more likely to use you than the competition (all other things being equal, of course).
  4. Be a little different. If you and the other guy are selling the same thing, for the same price one of you is unnecessary. Be original, give better service, stand out in the marketplace and you will get the business.
  5. Submit articles on a subject matter related to your business to local news and industry publications. By doing so you build credibility as a thought leader and you expand your reach. Most news media are looking for good quality articles to publish, especially trade publications and local newsletters of chambers of commerce and associations. You an use this as added publicity, post the article titles to your websites with links to the digital version and show the press how media friendly you/your company is.
  6. Commit to communicate your message in a way that your intended audience will understand. Don’t use jargon that is not part of your customer’s every day vocabulary. In most advertising campaigns you will notice they subscribe to the “kiss” theory. Keep it short and simple. If it takes a rocket scientist to figure out your ad and your audience are not typically rocket scientists, then Houston, You have a problem… The marketing message should match the market.
  7. My good friend Bob Burg says: “people do business with people they know, like and trust.” Be that person.

To your marketing small business offline success… and then some!

 

Follow-Up Tips to Build Relationships and Referrals

"Follow Up Tips to Build Relationships and Referrals"
When it comes to finding ways to market a small business both offline and online its all about building relationships. With so much competition and so many ways people can “reach out and touch someone, today more than ever selling products and services is begins with the relationship between buyer and sell. People hire people they know, like and trust. Oftentimes they hire people because they trust someone else who has used the service or patronized a business because they trust the person making the referral. Referrals are one of the best (and least expensive) ways to build a thriving business. Especially in this economy, when so many people are deeply discounting their fees and prices just to make a sale.

When you build a relationship of trust you don’t have to resort to “giving away” your products and services because you have built the value in by building the relationship with your client or customers. This may seem like a simple process, but building relationships is not simple. You may know what to do but do you do it? Do you take the time necessary to nurture those relationships? I dare say most of us do not. At least not to the extent that we could. And by the way, I may “know” how to build relationships, but it is just as difficult for me as for the next person. So I decided to create a list of ways to build relationships that don’t require a Ph.D (painful, hard, and demanding) approach. They do however, require time and a little effort. That little effort can pay off in BIG ways. One client can give you a referral that becomes one of your top ten best customers.

That happened to me. All because I sent a postcard thanking someone for their business (it had a picture of me on the front) and they kept the postcard. That picture was me as a 4 year old on a swing having a great time. I told my customer I hoped they had as much fun doing business with me as I had with them and they LOVED IT! That postcard is still hanging on her cork board in her office. That was 14 years ago. How many people do you think have seen it since then? Hundreds maybe. I know it works because people call and tell me. They do business with me. They tell their friends. One lady said she wanted to do business with me just to get a postcard to hang on her wall? Imagine?

So my first tip to be a smart marketer when coming up with strategies to market your small business offline is to do something memorable. Sending postcards is always a good idea. But sending one that is unexpectedly fun or different could be a conversation piece for years to come. I still use that postcard today.

Here are 12 other tips to build relationships and referrals to build your business:

1. When you have the chance to meet someone at their office or place of business you can get to “know” a little bit about them by the things they have hanging on their walls, sitting on their desks and decorating their space. Make mental notes of those things as they will come in handy. For instance if you see a picture of them catching fish, then chances are they like to fish. Even if fishing does not interest you, this can be a great tidbit of information to draw upon later, when you recall the mental note while deciding a proper way to thank him or her for their business.

2. Become a GREAT listener. Listen more than you talk. It will gain you the trust of those around you. And you will likely learn a thing or two about the individual you would not know otherwise. When people have a chance to talk about themselves, they will. It will give you insight into “who” they are. If they are having a bad day you will be able to find out the “why.” You may not be able to do anything about their bad day, but you can be empathic and lend an ear, oftentimes all someone really needs to make it “better.”

3. Be authentic. Don’t pretend to like something you don’t just because you think it will please the prospect. It will backfire on you in the long run. Imagine having to remember all those things you pretend to like and then one day it slips out that you didn’t really after all. I am going to go out on a limb here and confess that I am not really crazy about racing. My husband loves it but I am hypersensitive to the “noise” and don’t really enjoy it because of that. It would be exhausting for me to have to pretend to like it if I really didn’t. And eventually he would find out (which he did). Not good.

4. The same is true of doing things that don’t really interest you. If you don’t like to play golf or attend the theater, don’t do it simply to get the sale. It is really painful, hard and demanding to do those things you don’t enjoy. And life is really too short to be someone you are not.

5. Don’t rush or force the relationship. Most relationships do not develop overnight. In very few cases is it “love at first sight” except in the movies. Take your time. Getting a good customer is like getting a good mate. It takes time, effort and a little “courting.”

6. Speaking of COURTING, when building relationships with clients and customers it is a good idea to take time to reach out and reconnect. Just because you mad e the sale, don’t for a moment think you will make another one if you ignore the person. Send a thank you note for the business, send a follow up a few weeks later and stay in touch. That could be in the form of regular postcards, a note, a phone call and yes, even an email from time to time. And not to sell him or her something, just to say, “how are you doing.”

7. Follow up quickly. If you meet someone at a networking function and decide you want to get together with them, call or e-mail them within 24 hours to set something up. Commentary: Quick follow-up increases the chance that you will actually do it. It also increases the chances that the contact will remember you. Following up right away does not mean that you have to meet right away.

8. What do Oprah, Barbara Walters and Jerry Springer all have in common? Yes, they are all talk show hosts. Why? Because they have mastered the art of interviewing people. While each of them has their own style, they each know how to draw things out of people to get to their core. When you become a good interviewer, you become genuinely interested in others and what makes them tick. This may be the single most important skill in the art of following up.

9. Think about ways to “stay in touch” without being perceived as a stalker or pain it the back-side. If you read an article that you know would be of interest to someone in your circle, mail a copy to her or him. Or email it along with a note that says, when I read this I thought of you (your situation, your interest… etc.). Make it pertinent and meaningful. Your thoughtfulness will not go unnoticed.

10. Support a cause. Nothing solidifies a relationship more than like-minded, like-hearted activities. Its the things we have in common that endear us to one another. And it gives us something to talk about, and a goal to work together to achieve. Be sure you believe in the cause, that it makes you feel good to of give your time, talent and treasure, otherwise again it will be painful, hard and demanding to keep participating.

11. Refer business to those you are building professional relationships with. If you cannot do business with him or her right now, find ways to send business their way. When you make a referral, a strange thing happens. The person you refer business to has an innate desire to return the favor. Be sure the referral is one the other person would appreciate and want as a client or customer.

12. And finally, make introductions. Find others in your own sphere of influence others would like to meet. Even if it is only by email. When you make quality introductions, again those being introduced will be more likely to do the same. You never know where that introduction will lead.

Follow-up is critical to building relationships and ultimately increasing sales and your bottom line. Its the ultimate relationship marketing. Become a shining example of the art of follow up. Who knows, you could start a movement!

 

Being Okay Can Kill a Business

"Being Okay Can Kill a Business"
If your business is just okay in the eyes of your customers or your intended audience, chances are you won’t be in business long. With all the choices today, why would a customer settle for “okay” when they can have GOOD, NO, make that GREAT experiences?

If you think that just because you don’t get many, or any complaints you are doing okay, think again. Apathy is rampant. Most people when they have an okay experience don’t tell anyone. Its when they have a really bad or really GREAT experience that they share it with others. And if its bad, hopefully they tell the business owner. If its GREAT, they tell their family, friends and colleagues. Complaints are opportunities for improvement. If customers aren’t complaining and they aren’t raving about your business either, chances are they are not returning. Its all about the Customer Experience.

Restaurants are a good example of this principle. Unless you live in a town with only a handful of restaurants, there is a high probability that if the food is mediocre and the service is just okay, you aren’t going back. Not with all the other choices you have. You know that for every okay restaurant there are at least the same number of great ones. Restaurants that offer an “experience” great food, seamless service are the ones that, by their very nature give the customer the promise that each time you return you can expect the same great experience. And if by chance you don’t, you are more likely to give the restaurant a second chance because you know first-hand what they are capable of delivering.

What are you willing to do to give your customers a great experience? Here are five tips to give your customers an experience they are willing to return for:

1. Don’t just sell to your customers. Care about them. Cavett Robert said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You can show you care by asking their opinions. Ask what they want. What they need. Why they buy from you. People will tell you these things and more. And they will be loyal because you showed them that their opinion matters.

2. Practice little acts of gratitude. To most people, it’s the little things that matter. They can add up to bigger things. Little things like handwritten notes, personal phone calls, a little ethical bribe (small token gift to say thank you) all add up.

3. Think Small. Dan Kennedy says, “It is not enough for a business to be about something. It must also be FOR somebody. If it is for Everybody, it is of keen interest to Nobody.” I can think of very few exceptions to this statement. Walmart, maybe fast food will appeal to the masses. And yet they really are for Somebody. The somebody that wants to spend less on inexpensive products. Someone who wants to buy cheap, buy convenience. When I say “think small” I am referring to a niche. And the smaller the niche the better chance for success. If you can fill a need with a small group of people, one that no one else can do quite like your company, you stand a better chance of success than trying to appeal to the masses. Niches equal riches.

4. Stand for something bigger than you or your business. My good friend Bob Burg says, “People do business with people they know, like and trust.” When you stand for something bigger, worthy, something you care about, people notice. People trust you. That something bigger could be a local charity or non-profit. It could be the environment. They appreciate and are happy to support that. It’s one of the things that make an extraordinary business stand out from the ordinary.

5. Give customers an experience. People want to have FUN. We work too hard. We worry too much. When you give people an experience, you create a memory for them. Something they can recall when times are tough.

We are living in an experience economy. Customers are bored with the status quo. Bored with sameness. With ordinary. Customers want and are willing to pay a little (or a lot) more for that experience. Give it to them. Don’t settle for being an okay business. Only settle for GREAT!

Make giving your customers an experience they will remember a part of your business goals and you will build a sustainable business that will last the tests of time.

 

A Dozen Tips to Advertise your Website Online and Offline

"A Dozen Tips to Advertise your Website Online and Offline"
I recently put together a few tried and true ideas to advertise your small business website during the summer/fall season and beyond. Here are twelve tips to get you started:

 

Tip #1

Put your URL on every piece of advertising you use to promote your company, your business card, letterhead, bills, checks, invoices, delivery vehicles, personal vehicles, magnets, yellow pages, newspapers, notecards, etc.

 

Tip #2

Partner with vendors, and suppliers to offer giveaways or freebies to your customers.

 

Tip #3

Make your website part of your overall marketing efforts including networking, print, radio, etc.

 

Tip #4

Create a registration page on your website and offer something for free to encourage them to leave you their contact information. It could be a register to win something just for stopping by, or something they can download when they register. Be sure to track where the leads are coming from.

 

Tip #5

Offer a “hidden prize” on your site such as a dinner for two or free product. This will encourage people to visit other pages to find the prize. It is a great way to force people to read all the pages on your site, so they learn more about your company in the process.

 

Tip #6

Design and write a newsletter or ezine about your area of expertise, industry news, tips, answers to difficult questions, and ideas about how to make the most of your products and services. Create a sign up box for people to subscribe (I use Aweber).

 

Tip #7

Place banner adds on local sites such as city/town/municipal sites and radio stations. If these are your customers you can probably “trade” links. On radio stations, you can offer to provide a giveaway to the listeners for visiting the website.

 

Tip #8

Cross promote your newsletter with other complimentary companies or companies and individuals who target your audience.

 

Tip #9

Create a postcard campaign announcing your website and send to everyone in your current database or at least those who would benefit from visiting your site.

 

Tip #10

Include a voice message for your phone system (or cell phone) inviting callers to stop by your website – be sure and include your website address and spell out anything that would be difficult for someone to understand or has an unusual spelling.

 

Tip #11

Try a classified ad campaign with an incentive to get people to stop by and take advantage of your special offer.

 

Tip #12

Ask other complimentary website owners to “trade Links with your site. Start with those you visit and shop and then expand to others that serve your client base.