Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Vendor Balancing Act

Surreal Retail ParkImage by Ross2085 via Flickr

While most people think that one of their more difficult relations is with customers, in the long run they may find that their most difficult relationships will their vendors. In a perfect world the vendors would treat you like you are truly THEIR customers but in reality many vendors act as though it is the other way around.

Of course some vendors are much better than others and it will take some experience to find out who the better vendors are.

Then there comes the balancing that you will have to perform. If you find that a vendor is taking advantage of you, what do you do? In most cases you would assume that you drop the vendor and find someone that will treat you better. The problem arises when that vendor is the only source of an important product.

Let’s use electronics as an example. Let’s say that you currently stock brand “A” electronics which is one of the more popular brands in the industry. However, “A” products does not allow you to return defective products to them causing you to eat the product. Now you will have to analyze if the amount of sales created by having product “A” in your stores is enough to justify you losing some money on returns.

If the amount of sales justifies you keeping that product then you will want to plan for a certain amount of returns that you will have to mark off. Of course you can probably find a technical school that would love the donations of the defective product in order to let students experiment with them and thus giving you some goodwill.

On the other hand if the amount of sales and the hassles created by them do not justify you taking the losses on their product then dump them and find another vendor. However, I would let the company know why you are going to drop them and see if they will do anything for you.

In addition, vendors used to have reps that would come and visit local stores, building displays and building relationships with the companies that sold their products. However, these days’ vendors have been cut so severely that they may only visit major stores once a month or have cut out some altogether so the chances of them coming to your independent store may be slim and none.

You will defiantly want to cultivate a relationship with any vendor that does take the time to come visit you. They are an excellent source of information and if they take the time to visit you then they are probably a vendor you will want to focus on.

Also, depending on the products you sell; look for smaller vendors that may not have the name but will have the ability to service you better.

Remember, you are the vendor’s customers so find vendors that treat you that way.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Evalutating your Goal Setting

Goals, Goals, GoalsImage by lululemon athletica via Flickr

How are you doing with setting goals?

Hopefully by now you have started writing your goals on a regular basis. At first your excited to do it but it is also hard to get in the habit of doing them on a daily basis until you get in a rhythm and start seeing some success with them.

After you have been setting goals on a regular basis for a couple of weeks, it is time to review your progress. See how many goals you are setting on a daily basis and evaluate how well you are performing.

If you find that you are accomplishing all your goals in a couple of hours and it feels like no effort at all, then you are not setting goals that are tough enough. After a short period of time you will have no sense of accomplishment because your goals are not set high enough to give you that “I did it” feeling.

On the other hand, if you reach the end of the day and most of your goals have not been checked off, then you may be setting your goals too high or trying to accomplish too much in a period of time.

While you want to set high goals, you also much remember that your goals need to be realistic. Your goals need to be reasonable or else frustration will set in and you will quickly abandon the goal setting process.

What it comes down to is that not only will you have to set your goals and write them down on a daily basis, but you must also evaluate your performance and make changes in order to perfect your system and get the most out of your goal setting.

Yes, goal setting does take effort but over time that effort will pay off.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Here is another video on how to start a small business which comes from Australia. The video is just under 7 minutes but gives some good information in that time.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are you Outsourcing?

BANGALORE, INDIA - APRIL 13:  A tutor conducts...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The word outsourcing will make most people cringe including myself because of what some companies have been outsourcing, but outsourcing should not be a bad word but you have to do it right.

Outsourcing has gotten plenty of publicity lately especially with so many companies outsourcing their customer service functions to places like India. Recently I had issues with my Internet Service Provider and it turned out the company I go through has outsourced everything to India. This is where the problem arises because the guy on the other end of the line only knew what the computer told him to do; by the end of the day I changed ISP’s to a company that does not outsource their customer service functions.

That is where many companies are absolutely failing when it comes to outsourcing. Instead of outsourcing functions that do not directly affect the customer, they are outsourcing their direct link with the customer and putting their customers and their futures in other’s hands.

So what should you outsource?

As a small business owner there is plenty of areas that you can outsource that will not affect the service your customers get but improve your operations and finances.

An example of outsourcing that a small business owner should seek is accounting services. While I have extensive experience with numbers, many small business owners are not numbers people and should try to find someone that could do their paperwork better than they could.

Another popular source of outsourcing for small businesses in the last few years is virtual assistances. Virtual Assistants do a large range of tasks that will free your time to build the business.

In other words outsource tasks that someone else can do better than you can or that will free up your time to be more productive. What you do not want to do is outsource anything that will affect the level of customer service that your customers will receive.

There are other side benefits of outsourcing including giving business to your fellow small business owners, having more people who know about your business and if you treat them right will talk about your business, and finally another source to network with.

So by all means outsource, just make sure you do it right.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Prioritizing your Daily Goals

DeterminationImage by pixelposition via Flickr

Now that we have talked about the importance of goals and the different time frames, we will discuss the daily goals in a little more detail.

As mentioned last time you should have long term goals, medium range goals, and your short term goals that should be broken down even farther into monthly, weekly, and yes especially daily goals.

You should get up every morning, or better yet write down your goals for the next day before you go to bed. So that you can see the big picture I suggest that on divide a piece of paper with several columns with sections for the priority, what the goal is and most important how that goal relates to your long range goals. That way you can see how accomplishing that goal will build you toward the place you want to be in five, ten years or more.

You will also want to write down the goals you have for the day that may not directly tie into your long range goals but before long you will see that everything you plan to do that day will start fitting into those long range goals.

The next item on the agenda is to prioritize your daily goals in order of importance. I usually letter them A, B, and C. If something is a lower priority than a C, then it really is not important at all and should not be a goal for the day, correct?

Next take a look at the A category. Is there anything on there that is something you’re not looking forward to doing? Then do that item first so that it is over with and you do not have to think about it for the rest of the day. Do the same thing for the other three categories of priority so the stuff you’re not looking forward to is done and over with first.

At the end of the day go through your goal list and note anything that you did not accomplish that day. Figure out what you did get that goal accomplished:

1. Will it take longer than done day to accomplish, then try dividing the goal up into several sections and completing a section each day.
2. Something that you were trying to avoid, once again get this done first so that you do not have to think about it the rest of the day.
3. Too many goals for the day? We will go over this next time.

As Rick Pitino says in his book “Success is a Choice” you need to go through your goals and not what you accomplished and figure out what you did not accomplish and figure out why and how you can do things differently tomorrow.

If you are seeing to many A or B items not get done then you should evaluate what is keeping you from accomplishing important things. Are you getting distracted? Are you being interrupted by outside influences? Trying to bite off more than you can chew?

After a few weeks you will have a better idea of how a goal setting system will work for you and get you on the road to accomplishing more.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Being a smart shopper for your business

"FOR SALE" - a classified ad in a ne...Image via Wikipedia

Too many small business owners fall into the trap that they have to have the biggest and the best equipment to operate their business.

Whether it is buying the latest and greatest computer, having the new, trendiest office furniture, or going out and leasing the copier that will do everything for you including make coffee; many small business owners fall into the got to have it trap.

I am not saying that you should go out and buy cheap crap that will not last you however; you need to become a smart shopper.

Let’s take a look at office furniture. If your customers will not see your office, then there is no reason for you to spend thousands of dollars on new office furniture. The desk I am currently using was purchase for just over a hundred dollars and has served me for more than 6 years now.

If your business is in an industry where clients or customers will see your office then you will want to find something a little nicer. However that does not mean you need to go out and buy new furniture.

There are plenty of stores around that sell used office furniture that will look nice but not cost you an arm and a leg. Another great source for furniture is on line ads. One of our local television stations provide classified ads and has become a major source of good used items at really good prices.

It comes down to figuring out your true needs for the next couple of years then being a smart shopper and finding the best product for your money. Don’t spend more money than you need to in order to get the furniture and equipment you need.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

More on goal setting...

Twenties on WhiteImage by Darrren Hester via Flickr

Last week I discussed the importance of having goals. Today I will go over the different ranges of goals and how they interrelate to each other.

First you have your long range goals. These are goals that are more than five years away. While it seems like a long time, your other goals are ones that build up to these goals. For example you can have a goal that in ten years you want to be able to sell your business and retire. Another long range goal could be to have a certain amount of money in the bank for your retirement.

On the personal side you could set a goal to have your child’s college education funded by a certain time. Another example would be that you plan to have your dream home in 7 years.

You need to take the time to deice where you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years and so on and what it is going to take to get you there.

Next down the list is your short range goals. These are goals that you want to achieve in 5 years but will not be accomplished in the next year. They are goals that are stepping stones to reaching your long range goals.

For example, if you set a goal to have enough money in the bank to retire in 20 years, in 5 years you need to have a certain amount of money in the bank. Or you can set a goal to be debt free in the next 2 years that will set you on course to hit your big goal of retiring without having to worry about Social Insecurity.

You could set a business goal that in five years you want your business to be making 2 million dollars or you want to move into a new building in 3 years.

Finally you have your short range goals. If the medium range goals build you toward your long range goals then you probably can figure out that short range goals build you toward your medium range goals. These are goals that you plan to accomplish in the next year.

Short range goals are broken down even further to year goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, and daily goals. Once again you look at where you want to be in the next year and plan your goals accordingly.

What do you have to do this month in order to reach your one year goal? Once you know what you have to do this month, you want to break it down and figure out what you will have to do this week.

Of course you know what is coming next, once you figure on what you need to accomplish this week then you want to break it down and figure out what you have to do today to reach that goal this week and so on.

At this point you probably feel overwhelmed. It will take too much time to set all these goals, and you don’t have the time.

You will be amazed what you can accomplish when you are actually setting goals for yourself on a daily basis. You begin to realize what is important and what you just do not need to do.

Other great thing about short range goals is that they get you excited. When you hit that short range goal it energizes you and the next thing you know you are busting out the next you and the one beyond that.

Now there will be days that you are just hit with multiple road blocks and it seems that nothing will go right. You have your goals but you just cannot hit any of them that day. That is when you need to take a look at your long range goals to get some motivation. Also take a look at what goals you have accomplished to see how far you have come.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Starting a small business video

Are you thinking about starting that small business? Here is a short video I found that may have some helpful information for you.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Can you Change your Niche?

Wal-Mart HermosilloImage via Wikipedia

You have your niche in the marketplace, but you decide that you want to head a different direction in order to capture a different part of the market. However, if a major corporation such as Wal-Mart and Nordstrom’s failed at changing their niche, is it possible for the small business owner to change their niche? Yes, it is possible but you have to do it very carefully.

First of all let’s take a look at what happened to Wal-Mart and Nordstrom’s.

As anyone who has been alive for the last 20 years knows, Wal-Mart’s niche has been the lowest common denominator, the lowest price shopper. Not the smartest shopper who wants value for the dollar but the customer who only looks at the price and not what is in the package.

The problem with having this niche is that there is not a lot of margin in this market. Realizing that they are quickly hitting market saturation in the United States, they knew that they would have to make more money off of their products in order to continue improving income.

Seeing the success that Target was having, they decided to move that direction. However, in the stores that they tried to upscale, they lost their core market and sales begin to flounder and the experiment was stopped. Wal-Mart is now moving more upscale but doing it much more slowly and not trying to alienate its existing market.

Nordstrom’s has always been known as the customer service retailer. You did not go into Nordstrom’s for low prices or the hippest fashions; you went in there if you wanted good service. Seeing that their core market was aging that they were not brining the younger market Nordstrom’s decided to change their focus by bring in the hip and trendy. Once again it failed as Nordstrom’s core market was alienated and sales went down not up.

The lesson to be learned is that you can change your niche but you cannot alienate your existing market. You can slowly bring in or start building new items, but you also want to keep your existing customers happy with the products they have been buying all along.

Take time if you want to move your niche and don’t alienate the people who have kept you in business.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

You Need an Emergency Fund...

Road building in Békés, Hungary.Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I have discussed in the past I am going to do it again, and that is the importance of an emergency fund.

Recently there was a story on the news about how businesses are being affected by road construction. Most of the businesses are hurting loosing a large part of their regular business.

While all of them are hurting, several of them are weathering the storm better than others and they specifically mentioned that they had an emergency fund to deal with situations like this.

You cannot hide your head in the sand. One day the road in front of your business will be torn up. You can scream all you want but the work will and needs to go on.

However, it is not just construction that can affect your business. You need to be prepared for any eventuality.

A good emergency fund of three to preferably six months of expenses will get you through most of these kinds of emergencies. If you road in front of your business is going to be torn up for a year, that means that you could have a 50% drop in business and still survive the work. Or if a natural disaster happens and you are not able to open your business for a few weeks, you will be able to deal with the emergency.

Having an emergency fund may be the difference between you staying in business and putting out the going out of business sign.

While mostly focusing on personal finance, Dave Ramsey is a good source of information on getting your finances in order and showing the importance of having an emergency fund.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

A goal, not a resolution

Goals, Goals, GoalsImage by lululemon athletica via Flickr

To be successful you must have goals. In your business you need to have a business plan which will set out the goals for your business and the numbers behind them. You also need goals in your personal life which will set you apart from most of the population.

When most people think of goals they think of New Years resolutions that they usually break in the first week. But a goal is more; it requires more of you so that you can get more out of it.

Here is the heart of a goal so that you can start putting some together.

First of all a goal must be written down. By writing the goal down you are making a commitment to accomplish it.

Second a goal must have a time period. Someday just does not work when setting a goal. If you want to loose 20 pounds then you must set a realistic timeline to accomplish it. If you want to do it in one week you are not being realistic. If you set a timeline of one year, you are not taking the goal seriously.

Third a goal must be specific. You must have a specific target to hit. If you want to loose 20 pounds you cannot set a goal that says that you would like to loose some weight. Saying that you would like to pay off some debt is not a specific goal, but saying you would like to be debt free in 24 months is a specific goal.

A goal must also be realistic. If I set a goal to be a player in the NBA by next year, the goal will not be realistic. First of all I have only played basketball a few times in my life. Second I am older than players coming into the NBA and third my height would be an issue.

So you have the basics of what needs to make up a goal. Now get some goals written down.

For more on setting goals head over to the expert goal setter himself Zig Ziglar for more ideas.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

How clean are your facilities?

Dried green paintImage via Wikipedia

How well are your are your facilities maintained?

One of the several things that I hear mentioned when it comes to small business is the perception that their facilities and stores are dirtier, older, and not as well maintained as other stores. While you can question the validity of the argument, it is still important that you maintain your facilities to the highest level possible.

It goes without saying that you want to clean your store every day. In addition you want to have a regular schedule of more extensive cleaning of shelves, counters, and anything else that a customer comes in contact with.

Another way to keep your facilities looking fresh and clean is to do regular painting. I know that you are busy people but it will pay off with your store or other facility looking more presentable to the public. The cost of the paint is small compared to how well your store will look with some regular coats of paint.

Also when it comes to paint, stay away from colors that look old or dirty very easily. White is a prefect example of a color that just does not hold up. You will want to insure the colors wit with your clientele. If they tend to be more conservative, stick to colors that are more conservative. If your niche is a younger crowd, then more radical colors would work.

A little effort goes a long way to making your store more presentable. Remember first impressions are everything so make sure your store is providing the right one to your customers.

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Monday, June 29, 2009


Drawing of a self-service store.Image via Wikipedia

Right now it is not a good time to be an employee for many companies. Many companies out there are cutting wages and other benefits right now using the economic times as a way to cut costs on the backs of their employees.

Many companies have freezed wages, lower starting salaries, and cutting any benefits they can. One of the major retail chain went through and fired all their store employees then required them to reapply for them at lower wages and fewer to no benefits.

Compare that to what a grocery store I shop at has done. They went through and gave EVERY single employee in their store a $2.00 an hour wage to help them out during these tough economic times. Many people seeing that will probably think that this was some PR thing that they did. However, the company has not publicized it because they did it to help out their employees.

If you were an employee, which company would you want to be working for?

Your employees are the biggest assets your company has, yet so many companies just look at employees as a wage cost and don't see the value they bring to the business. Is it any wonder that there is so little employee loyalty?

I am not saying that all employees are perfect and you will have some bad employees, but if you treat your employees with respect and treat them like the assets they are, you will have a better group of employees.

If you want the best employees, you need to treat them like they are.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Social Newtorking can be your friend...

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...Image by luc legay via Flickr

While many think of social networking sights as a place for friends and meeting people, there is also many opportunities to build your business and take care of problems before they arise. I will go over ideas that you should be looking at to build your business and reflect back on the situation in my previous post on how it could have been taken car of as a win-win situation.

1. You need to have a blog. I know, you are a busy person and don't have time for worthless prattle in a blog. Instead you need to look at a blog as a way to personalize your business. In your blog you can discuss new items in your store, let people know about special offers, explain how to use some items, let people know about recalls, and other information that lets them know more about your business.

2. You can also Twitter. Many people still think of Twitter as something for useless talk, but it is another opportunity to network with others and let people know what is happening with your business. You can include links to postings on your blog or to the websites of companies you do business. One thing to avoid is too many posts directing people to your website and nothing else. If that's all you post and you do it too frequently (there is people out there doing 20/30 posts and hour with this kind of stuff), then you will loose followers and your message will not get out.

3. Get yourself on Facebook and MySpace. I deal with Facebook more than I do with MySpace but make sure you have a presence on them. You can also set up your facebook account so that your twitter messages will show up on your facebook page. Not only should you have a personal page on Facebook, you should also have one for your business so which will allow people to become fans of your business and to get more information about it.

Now lets go back to the situation mentioned in my last posting. The customer who was upset with the business told all his friends on Twitter and Facebook excactly what happened. Even though the business was also on Twitter and a follower of that person, they did not respond in any way shape or form. The customer is a member of a close nit group who is the main niche of this store. While some people may continue doing business with this store do you think that some of the people that followed the customer will stop doing business with said store? Of course they will and the silence made the situation worse.

So what should the store have done? They could have made a blog post and posted links to their other social networking sights telling their side of the story and what they tried to do for the customer. Once you make your statement you do not want to say anything else. The other person will most likely want to get in a shouting match with you but no one will win in that situation. It is easy to get emotional in these situations since the person is putting down in your business but the best thing to do is sit back, let others see your side and make their decision from there.

Use social networking sights to your advantage. It is an opportunity for your customers to know you better, find new customers, give your customers more information about your business to your customers, and deal with your customer service issues.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Returns, Returns, Returns...

Word of Mouth MarketingImage by mringlein via Flickr

On several occasions I have mentioned how important it is to have a good return policy. Too many small retailers fear the thought of returns and institute somewhat draconian measures to deal with that fear. While this may result in fewer returns it also results in fewer sales because the competitors have better return policies.

Many times a small retailer will only offer in store credit on returns and some even add a restocking fee on some transactions. This type of policy will only send customers to competitors because the big box stores and many on line retailers will give refunds on purchases.

Now lets take a look at an extreme example. Say a customer purchases $150,000 in product, and the needs to return $20,000 of that product. While this kind of return would seem to be devastating in its amount, it is close to the 10% mark that I suggest you keep out of your sales to compensate for possible returns.

While the return amount may be hard on you to deal with, your customer invested a great deal of money with you and it is important that you take care of them. If you are hard nosed about the return, how do you think that person will react and tell their friends? On the other had if you take care of the customer how will the customer react and what will be the information conveyed to the friends?

Remember, word of mouth advertising is one of your most important marketing tools at your disposal. Word of mouth can make or break a small business so it is important to keep it positive. While it is impossible to please everyone, making your return policies reasonable will go a long way to keep your customers coming back to you instead of going somewhere else.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is your niche too small?

In the past I have discussed the importance of having a niche. A niche is the segment of the market that your business focuses on and sets your business apart from the competition. While it is important to have a niche market that separates you from competitors, you also need to avoid the problem of having too small of a niche.

Recently I saw a note from someone I knew that is having problems with cash flow now because their niche in the market is too small to pay the bills. Now they are expanding into other areas in order to put food on the table.

It is very important when you are doing your marketing plan that you conservatively estimate the size of your market. If you estimate too low and your market is much bigger, so much the better. However, if you estimate too high and there isn't enough market to support your niche, you will not be in business for very long.

In other words, do not look through rose colored glasses when you are doing your marketing plan. Be realistic about the potential of your marketing and be conservative. This also points out how important it is to have that business plan and to keep it updated on a regular basis.

Remember you have plenty of resources to figure out what the market is for your niche so be sure to make the most of them.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adding On...

An HP LaserJet 4200 dtns printerImage via Wikipedia

Are you adding on to the services you are providing?

If you are a fan of Jeff Foxworthy you probably think of his number about McDonalds and their attempt to add the Hot Apple pies to people coming through the drive thru. Adding on to products and services can also have a negative cogitation because of the way some companies push extended warranties.

So why would companies push an add on even though it might be considered pushy by the customer?

Let’s take an electronics store for example. It may surprise some people that there is little to no mark up in electronics. A store selling a business laser printer may make anywhere from 2 to 10% of the sale of that machine. It is a big sale but it is not making a lot of money. Now if an extended warranty is added to the transaction that could be anywhere from 50% mark up or more, you can see why some companies can get really pushy about getting those warranties.

However, you as a small business owner is trying to build customer loyalty, so pushing products that the customer may not think is necessary will only alienate them and cause them to shop elsewhere.

So how do you get additional items added to the sale without upsetting the customer?

First of all, you need to use proper salesmanship. I have gone over sales presentations in the past and will refresh that information in the near future. You need to ask your customers questions and listen to their answers and they will tell you what they need.

Let’s use the example of selling a printer. Most printers do not come with USB cables because the manufacturer doesn’t make any more money building the printer than the electronics store makes selling it (the manufacturers make their money selling the ink).

One of the questions you can ask your customer is if they already have a USB cable and is it long enough. Another example is that they may tell you during the conversation that they will be printing brochures so a natural add on would be to ask them if they will need any brochure paper.

So how does this build customer loyalty? You are finding out exactly what the customer needs to insure that they do not have to turn around and come back to your store or more likely go to another store to get needed supplies. I cannot tell you how many times people came into my store and said they bought a printer and the salesperson never mentioned that they would need a USB cable so the had to come to our store to purchase one. Do you think they were happy with the salesperson at the other store?

There is other ways to get additional sales.

Service businesses can also benefit from this and since I have several friends who are professional photographers, I will use them as an example.

During my wedding, our wedding photographer mentioned to several families that he also takes family portraits. He ended up doing some shots of families at the wedding in addition to the pictures of us. Since he was already at the wedding, this extra business only cost him a couple of rolls of film.

If the photographer did one wedding per week, think about how much additional revenue he could make by just getting one family per wedding to do a portrait session.

Getting an add on to a sale not only can help your revenue but it can also help you build customer loyalty by ensuring your customer leaves your store with everything they are going to need in order for the product to solve the customers problems.

Also, be on the look out for additional ways to increase your revenue stream to make your business more profitable and successful.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Building Customer Loyalty

Small Businesses 1Image by Angela Radulescu via Flickr

How loyal are your customers to you?

The answer to the question could be what stands between success and failure of your small business. Today you see many major retailers trying to build customer loyalty through their so called rewards cards. It is the latest attempt to keep customers coming to their stores as opposed to their competitors.

But what can you do to create customer loyalty?

The Freelance Folder blog has several ideas to build your customer loyalty.

The first idea they mention is to add a human touch to your service. When is the last time your tried to call a company on a 800-number and have been totally frustrated with the results? Make sure that your customers are able to reach someone that can answer their questions.

While I have said it is OK to outsource some projects, you should never outsource anything that will affect the service that your customer receives. These days too many companies are outsourcing their customer service functions which in the long run will only harm the experience the customer has when they call.

An outsourcer can provide the same level of customer service that you can because it is your business and to them it is just another account.

Another important way to build customer loyalty is to take care of the customer no matter what. To often small businesses have return policies that are too restrictive and cause them to loose customers in the long run. While a return always hurt, a customer that is able to return a product without problems is more likely to come back and buy more than a customer that cannot return a product.

The best way to deal with returns is to set aside a certain percentage of your sales to compensate for returns. This way you are not being caught by surprise with a really big return that you are not expecting.

Building customer loyalty should be one of your biggest priorities. It will mean the difference in the long term future of your company.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Finding the right Web Hosting Service...

Amsterdam servercluster in its own rackImage via Wikipedia

The Start Up Spark has some great tips for small businesses on finding the right webhosting service for a website.

As the blog mentions, be sure you do plenty of homework before you decide who is going to do your hosting. For any small business price is going to be an important factor but you need to look beyond that.

Check to see what other small businesses are being hosted by the site and see what their experiences have been.

Also do an internet search of the companies name and you will most like find posting boards that talk about the service. While people on these boards tend toward the negative side, it will also alert you to issues that the company may have and that need to be avoided.

Also do not make your decision on what “free” items you get with your webhosting. I have seen webhosting services have all kinds of offer including free software but the free software is worth about what you pay for it. Do not use any of these free items to decide from one service over another.

Remember, your website is the first thing many of your potential customers are going to see. Make sure that you find the right web hosting partner for you and your business.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Overcoming Cheap Imports

Quality ProductsImage by Wade From Oklahoma via Flickr

The Babe of Business has a good article on how you overcome cheap imports by showing value and quality.

This is another area were your network can come in handy. While your big time competitors have big money to advertise their cheap products, you can use your network to get the word out about your products and the value and quality they have.

For example if someone in your group hears that a customer is planning to head to store “A” to buy a product, they can inform them that your store has a better quality product on sale that will last longer and you can do the same for them.

What you must remember is that you are not selling to the majority who think they are saving some money by buying something for a couple of dollars less but are getting far worse quality. You are marketing toward those who can see the value for the dollar, that they will be getting a better product for there money.

This is why it is so important to stake out your niche and take advantage of it.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Obama Stimulus Plan and Small Business

DENVER, COLORADO - FEBRUARY 19:  Financial adv...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The Obama Stimulus Plan and Small Businesses - Join Us for a Townhall Meeting

The Small Business Trends website has announced it will be holding a town hall meeting tomorrow at 3:00PM eastern time which will discuss the Stimulus plan and how it will affect small businesses around the country.

The townhall meeting is scheduled to last one hour.

I would encourage all small business owners to make the attempt to listen to this broadcast.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Networking and Marketing Partners

Meeting Guy Kawasaki On the Network Solutions ...Image by shashiBellamkonda via Flickr

In my last entry I mentioned how important it is to get the word out about your business and the importance it plays in the economy.

However, you also need to build a network that will not only help you and your business but also be beneficial to other small business owners. Look for small business owners that own complimentary businesses of yours so that you can work together to promote each other’s business.

As a small business owner you do not have the money to go out and plaster the television with ads like your big time competitors. Therefore you need to look at less expensive ways to promote your business and creating a network is the best, least expensive way to do it.

One of the ways to build your network is to check with your locally owned business association for complimentary businesses. If you do not have that type of organization in your area check with the chamber of commerce, SCORE plus friends and family that may have suggestions for you.

You should be able to find many businesses that compliment yours. For example if you run an appliance store, you could work with repair people, stores that sell furniture but not appliances, home decorators and so on. You can refer clients to them with them referring clients to you.

Make sure that you feel comfortable with the people you network with. If you do not feel they will provide excellent customer service, consider finding someone else because you are putting your reputation on the line with a referral and joint marketing. Also make sure that the referring and the marketing are a two way street. If you find that you refer many clients over to your network but you never see any referrals from them then look into it. Sometimes it could be that you just have more people to refer than they do but you also don’t want someone to take advantage of you either.

Networking is an important marketing strategy for small businesses. Be sure to network with complimentary businesses that will fit your niche and your comfort level.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Small Businesses will be the leaders

Into The Wild Green YonderImage by Matthew Stewart | Photographer via Flickr

Small Businesses Will Lead Us to a Better Future

It is amazing that 63% of people feel that Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses will lead us to a better future.

If you look at most of the troubles that we are currently facing you will find that either government or big business or more likely both created the problems that we are facing.

Considering that small business owners have been largely ignored not only by the government but also by the general population, it is nice to see they are starting to see the importance that small businesses play in the success of the economy.

Now you need to get the message out on how important small businesses are to the economy. While sometimes a chamber of commerce is helpful in getting this information out, many of them have very large corporations as their members so are not willing to alienate those large companies by putting the focus on smaller businesses.

What some areas are now doing is creating locally owned business associations that are designed solely to promote locally owned business and to get information the public about their importance. In Utah their are two organizations designed for this purpose. First is the Vest Pocket and the second is Buy Local First.

Buy Local First comes out with a directory of locally owned businesses plus also promotes their importance to the local community.

Small businesses are very important to the economy and now is the time to let people know. If you do not have an organization designed to promote your small business get together with other small business owners to get the message out.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Learn lessons from the failures...

A newly designed Circuit City store (St. Louis...Image via Wikipedia

Previously I have discussed how important it is for you to know thy enemy and to keep appraised what they are doing right and wrong in order for you to be more competitive. However, it is also important for you to learn from those that fail since as the old saying goes "Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it".

In the retail sector there has been many failures over the last year including such names as Steve & Berry's, Circuit City, Mervyn's and others.

Today I am going to give a couple of examples of things you can learn of what went wrong at Circuit City and how to use those as lessons in your own business. By studying your own competition including those who don't make it, you will learn valuable lessons to improve your business and insure the same thing doesn't happen to you.

Among the issues that Circuit City faces was the lack of a niche, customer service, and the layout of their newer format stores.

While I may start sounding like a broken record, it is critically important that you have your own niche away from the major competitors. In the case of Circuit City, it could not separate itself from its major competitor Best Buy. The only major difference between the two stores was that Circuit City eliminated appliances several years ago which seem to contribute to their problems, not help them. Otherwise, they seem to try to emulate Best Buy not set themselves apart from Best Buy.

Following up on their attempt to emulate Best Buy, Circuit City eliminated their commissioned sales staff a few years ago and put them all on hourly. At the time Circuit City said it got rid of the top of sales ladder because they would have wanted too much money and in my experience it was clear that they kept the mediocre people and that led to poor customer service.

Let me give you one of my personal examples. I wanted to buy and item and the only store to have it in my state was Circuit City (otherwise I would have gone to a local competitor). I walked into the store and immediately found it in a looked up case. There was two employees standing just a few feet away but neither one of them would come over to help me. Finally I went over to the customer service counter to ask for a manager in order to get some help.

Instead of coming up to the counter and helping the customer personally which should have been done, the manager calls on the phone, tells the customer service person to find someone to help me because he had better things to do. Finally someone did respond to the calls by the customer service counter and I got the item I needed.

Clearly Circuit City failed from management down to take care of the customer. While in many cases this could have been an isolated incident, I heard many similar stories from other people which showed that Circuit City was failing in this area.

Finally, Circuit City also had problems when it came to their new format stores. The last new Circuit City store to open near me was in their newest format and I took a drive over to check it out one day. While the store was nice and new, the whole layout of the store was confusing. There was one department that was spread over three different areas of the store. How confusing would this be to the average customer? Stores need to be logically set up so that people can come in to them and find what they need easily.

That is just three examples of what where major problems at Circuit City. These are valuable lessons to learn so that you do not suffer the same problems as they did.

Learn from your successful competitors and learn from the failures so that you do not make the same mistakes they did.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Know Thy Enemy...

Jordan LandingImage via Wikipedia

How well do you know your competition?

If your like many small business owners, the answer to that question is probably not well. Many times small business owners are so caught up doing their thing every day, that they forget to keep an eye out on what their competitors are doing.

In previous entries I mentioned how important it is to keep ahead of the competition, especially the big boys, but how can you do that if you are not keeping an eye out for what they are up to. Now I am not talking anything secret agent style here but hey if that is your style, have fun. The main thing you want to do is to find out what their stores look like, how well their employees are trained, how they price, and figure out how you can out smart them.

I would recommend you go out and visit each of your major competitors at least once a month. However, you should also not forget about the smaller competitors and visit them every few months to keep up on what is happening out in the world.

Often times the big players will send out people to shop the competition but they often will not visit locally owned stores because they don't consider them to be important. This can be a major advantage to you since you will know more about them than they know about you.

The more you know about your competition, the better prepared you are to be competitive and ahead of the them.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Email Clutter

Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail clientImage via Wikipedia

One of the worst villains in robbing us of our productivity is clutter, and one form of clutter that is becoming all too common is email clutter.

Much like the old snail mail, we get all kinds of junk emails and other emails that are not that important but take valuable time out of our day.

One of the ways I reduce email clutter is to route regular emails that are low priority directly to a special folder.

For example, I get a large number of emails from one source that I need to read but they are not a priority so I created a folder and any email that comes from that source is automatically sent to that folder so I don’t have to deal with it.

Another suggestion is to create an email account on one of those free email sites such as Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. Then anytime you sign up for newsletters or other low priority emails, you can have them sent to that email account so it does not clog up your important main account.

Also, create folders in your email system so that you can store emails that you want for either future reference or to read later. However, keep these folders to a minimum and only save really important emails. Otherwise the folder section of your email program will become cluttered just like everything else.

For more ideas check out the Organizing Queen.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Are you willing to put in the time?

Hard WorkImage by Christolakis via Flickr

Wil Schoter is another small business blogger that I like to check in on now and again. Today he has a great entry that everyone who is considering starting their own small business should take into consideration.

When you first start your own small business you will not have a nice cushy 9 to 5 job. Starting a new business is going to take a lot of time and effort. Often it will just be you or a couple of people running the ship and you have to be there to nurture it all the time. If you look at the people who have been successful at starting small businesses, you will see that they often put in 16 to 20 hour days in the start up phase in order to get it successful.

That is one thing you want to consider especially if you have a family or don’t like to put in any more time than you have to. While in the long run the hard work will pay off, you have to ask yourself are you going to be able to make those kinds of sacrifices now.

This is another reason why it is so important to find a business that you will truly enjoy working at. You need to have the passion to see the start up times through so that you will see it through this phase and beyond.

Starting a business is not a full time job; it is a full time commitment. Are you willing to put the effort in?
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