Do you have a great idea? Do you think it will sell? How do you produce, market and manage your product or service? And how can technology help you? These are all basic questions that challenge every small business owner.
I got my start in small business with an auto repair shop. Plus, I have always been a computer geek. Along the way, I put the two together, and with a lot of hard work, I built businesses with revenue in the millions—by combining traditional business concepts and technology.
Small business owners and tech
A lot of small business owners are dedicated to delivering old-fashioned value and service to their customers. I work with a diverse group of clients who come to me when they have tried everything to get ahead, and are either falling behind, or just not achieving the success they want. I know—I’ve been there.
For me, a turning point arrived when I began to deeply understand the customer lifecycle, not just the single sale. By adding technological solutions to my traditional understanding of business concepts, I achieved success. And now I work hard to offer that opportunity for financial success to each small business owner I work with.
Technology, when used correctly, can help you allocate your time better, offer greater value, save money—and make you money. I use appropriate tech to create personalized, high-touch marketing campaigns and back-office tools that build my brand and extend my reach.
Trends in marketing tech
For me, a high quality customer relationship is a key differentiator. I want my clients to know they matter, and that I value their business. A lot of the time, my go-to method for personalized, old-fashioned client care is technology.
In 2014, Salesforce, a cloud computing company, sponsored a Forrester report on one-to-one, or personalized marketing. The survey queried more than 150 marketing decision makers in a variety of businesses, including leisure, retail, healthcare, financial services, and others. Trends identified in the report include the following:
Together, old fashioned customer service, and meaningfully deployed marketing automation are critical to the future success of small business entrepreneurs.
Trends in IT for entrepreneurs
In the back-office, there are IT trends that business owners cannot ignore. Consider these points about small businesses and technology from the Harvard Business Review:
The model of traditional business has changed, but not traditional values. Do you have an unbeatable offer? Do you have the right technology and workforce in place? How about your business plan? When you know you can succeed, but you do not know what to try next—call me, I can help. My business goal is to make you a millionaire. You can reach me at 585-633-7563.
Yours in profit.
Along with the opportunity to create and expand your brand, the Internet also offers dissatisfied customers plenty of opportunity if they decide to take their beef online. Search engine reputation management (SERM) and online reputation management (ORM) are two names for the same type of important service—consultants and businesses that keep tabs on your online reputation.
What is it all about?
The importance of reputation management for entrepreneurs
In a recent blog, I talked about the importance of going the extra mile with customer service—especially if your client is unhappy. A negative Internet comment or review can catch fire under the wrong circumstances.
While large companies take Internet hits with some frequency, a smaller, local business can really struggle in the face of negative online backlash.
Good Internet reviews, comments, and information are influential to customers, potential employees, business partners—even lending institutions. While some people believe that any publicity is good publicity, a negative reputation is hard to overcome on the Internet.
The annual 2014 BrightLocal survey of approximately 5,000 consumers made some interesting points about customer use of Internet reviews, including:
These statistics leave no question that positive online buzz is helpful—and that negative comments can damage sales, and your brand.
Damage control—what can you do?
The best way to deal with a negative online comment is not get a bad review in the first place. Train staff, provide exemplary customer service, and be ready to offer coupons, perks, and waive costs if a mistake happens. Preventing bad Internet press is far easier—and less expensive—than controlling the damage caused by an unhappy customer.
But let’s say a customer is unhappy with a product, and does not get the satisfaction they want when they reach out to your company. They post a negative review on a social media channel. What do you do?
Sometimes a fast response to a complaint earns you good will on the web. At other times, a complaint may not have any weight. Your best option is to make it right. The decision, and the investment needed to respond to the issue, is yours.
Reputation management—do you need it? You bet. If you have questions about online branding, your marketing reach, or problem solving customer complaints—call me at 585-633-7563.
Yours in profit.
Many small business owners spend good time and money parsing analytics and pursing strategic marketing angles. All good ideas. But once your customer walks in the door, that point of contact makes all the difference.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
When I work with small business owners, we build a strong business plan, and plot smart marketing moves to deliver an unbeatable offer. Despite the best laid plans, though, when it comes to closing the deal, the point of sale can sometimes go very wrong.
I talked in an earlier blog about an experience I had with a marketing vendor. I had to delay initiating a campaign, but got back to them a week or so down the line to restart my account. Nothing could convince their service rep to open my account and move forward. When I delayed, they cancelled. Needless to say, my business—and good opinion—went elsewhere.
I am sure you, and people you know, have a hundred unbelievable stories about poor customer service. Like they say, a happy customer tells one person, an unhappy customer…posts it on the Internet and tells everyone.
So we all know what poor customer service is, and the real and intangible damage it does to your business and reputation. Now let’s talk about the extra mile.
Customer service—your chance to add real value
Small business owners who attend our live events hear me talk about value all the time. When you provide premium service, you can charge premium prices. When you are charging more for your services—and providing higher value—you get the loyal clients you want and the higher income you need.
So let’s talk about that extra mile and how you get there.
Everyone knows what the extra mile feels like. It is when a business, or a teacher—or someone on the street—takes a minute to make your life a little easier. Anonymous good will is a great thing. In a business setting, good will not only builds your brand and reputation, it makes you money.
Here are my top tips for providing more value through the extra mile:
Everyone likes to read stories about businesses that do right by their customers. It starts at the top. As a small business owner, add value and build success by going the extra mile for your clients.
When you have questions about personalized client development and marketing automation, call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.
Do you need to get your message out there but lack the budget for a full-blown marketing campaign? Influencer marketing can help you stretch your budget, spread the word about your brand—and increase your success.
Influencer marketing uses a source, or information, to target potential customers already interested in a product or service. Although very similar to word of mouth marketing, influencer marketing is not the same. Both word of mouth and influencer marketing are peer-to-peer marketing methods, but influencer marketing relies on some form of knowledgeable authority—someone, or something, already viewed by potential leads as trustworthy.
What, or who, are influencers?
As the name implies, influencers are people, institutions, and resource bases with a lot of credibility. What they say, do—and even eat—may influence the people who follow their moves on social media.
The rise of social media created opportunity for well-networked individuals and companies to build followers—people who are interested in what influencers have to say. Influencer marketing, when it works, gives you access to followers who can get to know your brand, service, or other product through the eyes of their influencer. For small business owners, followers of influencers could become leads.
Celebrity endorsements were the original influencer marketing. Celebrities were paid to pitch a product on television and became associated with the brand. Brands built buzz through placing a famous face next to their rental car, coffee maker, financial service, or jeans. Paid to speak the message of their sponsor, celebrity endorsements are still used today.
Forms of influencer marketing include:
In one influence marketing campaign, you can utilize all three of these resources. You can cultivate a relationship with an influencer, build your own influence base—and link to influential institutions that maintain a body of authoritative knowledge.
Points to understand about influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is different, and trickier from the standpoint of message. You are not paying money for a static advertisement that you hope reaches your target audience. With some work, you are connecting with a person who has a previously established, trusted, relationship with thousands of potential leads.
As any small business owner knows, referrals from satisfied customers are the most effective, least expensive means of growing your client base. Consider these tips about influencer marketing:
These are some key ideas around using influencer marketing to build your brand—and your business profit. When you have questions about influencers, or your marketing message, call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.
and crushing your productivity. What can you do?
Don’t should on yourself. When faced with tasks you do not have the time, or skill set, to pursue, give yourself a pass. Here’s why.
As an entrepreneur, you are the captain of your ship. At the helm, you have overall responsibility for the business and your strategic plan. This means you are not at the oars, the galley, or rigging. When you lose your focus, your business goes off course—or possibly sinks like a stone.
If you cannot do everything, who can?
Delegation and the small business owner
Trying to handle business goals outside your expertise and interest is exhausting and time consuming. As we discussed earlier, entrepreneurs must undertake the responsibilities only they can handle—without feeling guilty about not doing everything else.
If it worries you to hand off some of your business function to others, consider the real benefits of diversifying your workload:
What types of tasks can you delegate?
Consider these tips when you think about what you could delegate:
Delegation looks different for each company. I work with entrepreneurs to create business plans and technological solutions. To coach small business owners from making in the low six, up to seven figures, I provide focus and create solutions that save them time and money.
Some modes of delegation for a small business owner can include:
Think about delegating tasks and services before you become overwhelmed, and your services suffer. Keep the following pitfalls in mind:
When you have a lot of things to do—and you know you are not going to do them—stop shoulding on yourself. Spend time thinking about your business, and move forward.
When you want to make more money doing the things you love to do, and you need focus—call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.
What is VUCA?
A term borrowed from military leadership in the 1990’s, VUCA is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In other words, VUCA is the normal operating environment of a small business owner. Sure, it is crazy world. But it’s more productive to examine the parts rather than become overwhelmed by the whole.
At a glance, the components of VUCA seem to lead to the same conclusion—there is too much to handle, so just do what you can. Much of the time, entrepreneurs are too deeply engaged in helping their business survive the economic roller coaster to apply critical thinking to the mechanism of the ride. Let’s take a look at the pieces:
The excitement of a VUCA world
When I work with entrepreneurs one-on-one, or in my master group, elements of VUCA are never far from the table. A situation is uncertain, supply or labor is volatile—these are everyday components we deal with on the way to success.
VUCA can be explored from an analytic and a hands-on approach. While many focus on how to survive in a VUCA world, I want to talk about how you can thrive in an uncertain world.
Change is certain—especially in the current business climate. We can accelerate and revitalize our business processes to embrace and use change, rather than defend stale business plans against it. Consider these tips:
Many small business owners already have the innate ability to recognize and meet volatile, uncertain times. Successful business in a culture of change means developing readiness, and confident leadership, in the face of continually changing circumstance.
When you need a fresh perspective on turbulent factors impacting your business, call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.
Quick question—as an entrepreneur, what is the hardest work you do? Let me give you a quick answer. As a small business owner aiming for success, the hardest work you will ever do is thinking about your business.
Let’s think about it right now.
What does thinking have to do with being successful?
Entrepreneurs are people who do. People who take action, and harness resources, with confidence that others may not possess. This comfort with ambiguity and need for speed comes through in the adage sometimes used to describe business: “ready, fire, aim!”
In an earlier blog, I talked about the importance of using time to do the things only you can do. When you take the time to do things that should be handled by others—or not handled at all—you make more work for yourself, and run out of time at the end of the day.
Most small business owners do not have an issue with hard work—it comes with the job description. I work with business owners to align their products, pitch, and processes with success. I know from experience that thinking deeply about the business is one of the hardest things for an entrepreneur to do. Why?
Entrepreneurs are always ready to work, to find opportunity, build outside the box, look at mistakes, and try something different next time. Many have no business plan before they are off and running. Here are areas of thought where small business developers excel:
The tenacity, and ability, to move an idea to market is valuable. It also comes easy to many who find their careers in small business ownership. But forward movement in the face of uncertainty only goes so far. What is needed next? Strategic thinking.
Your hardest work might be sitting still
There are a lot of reasons you can find to avoid sitting down to drill into a strategic plan for your business. Practically anything will work to distract you from a hard look at your bottom line. It is not for the faint hearted.
When I meet with a client, I have a pretty good idea of their business inside of 30 minutes. My work is to help them develop a plan—the core strategy for their product, offer, marketing technology, and workforce, among other factors.
I run live events where our master group of small business owners meets in great locations for three days to talk business. Typically our venue is a super house with great food, scenery, things to do—and plenty of time to talk business. Because I keep my live events small, about 10 people, we are able to really get into, and break down, problems that group members face.
While we discuss business and marketing throughout each day, the toughest part of any live event is when we sit down to brainstorm through strategy questions of those present. We take the busy-ness out of thinking about business. Really sitting down to figure out the right moves, reach an audience, identify potential pitfalls—I watch these highly creative people wilt in front of my eyes.
Because entrepreneurs are so good at concept work, frankly addressing, and readdressing, the flat-out business challenges facing each other is intense. More than once, I have had a business owner come up to me afterward, with a great plan in hand, and tell me they never could have made themselves sit down and do this work on their own.
More heads are better than one
I work with entrepreneurs one-on-one, and in groups. There are advantages to both.
Individually I offer small business owners personal attention and clear feedback on their present business state, and future potential. Working with clients, I develop a step-by-step plan by engaging you in deep thinking about how you are working, and what profit you hope to see. You walk away with a plan that relieves your worry, is based on sound business principles, and gives you rock solid direction on where you are heading, and why.
In a group, you safely discuss what works—and what does not work—with people who know exactly what you face. Too often business owners only have a friend, or maybe an associate, to run ideas with. Whether you join a group like mine, or form your own—get the business support you need to exploit your natural creativity. Don’t go it alone.
The hardest work you will ever do is the most rewarding—and what it really takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
When you need a sounding board, or help with your strategic plan—call me at 585-633-7563
To your success.
What is on your list? And what have you crossed off lately? Oh—you gave up on the list. You are just living in the trenches of too little time, and too much to do. Let me tell you a secret—you will never have enough time.
Not, at least, until you get smart about how to use it.
A lot of attention, business practice, logistics, and personal frustration are rolled up in the concept of time. Young, middle-age, senior, workday, weekend—all words that measure time, underpinned by the general understanding that time flies—fast. You either work with time or it works against you.
Until you get smart about time, you will never have enough of it. Why do I keep talking about getting smart about time? Because as valuable as time is, most entrepreneurs do not see where, how, or why, they are exhausted and falling further behind each day. That is where getting smart comes in. Let’s talk about time.
You cannot make time, but you can spend it, and waste it. My business is to help entrepreneurs become successful. In fact, I aim to make my clients millionaires, work at what they love, and enjoy their lives, too. And trust me, you do not get there without understanding time.
When I work with clients, I check out how they do business, their processes, marketing, automation, products, services, and sales. When I first start working with small business owners, I see a lot of the following:
Any of this sound like you?
Let’s take a look at some of the traits that seem like a lack of time but could be something quite different:
What is the power zone?
Your power zone is where you work best. As a business owner, it is your job to focus on the right things, and drive the focus of everyone who works for you. If you are off task, and losing days on unprofitable ideas—your business will suffer. From owning my own business, and in helping other run theirs, consider these important tips:
When you are doing what really needs to be done to become successful—you are not entrenched, you are growing your business.
While you cannot make time, you can save it. When you want to make more money from your small business, and spend less time doing it, call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.
Every sale counts to a small business owner. You train your team, you fine tune your product and marketing, and you are doing okay – but not great. One day a friend mentions that he called your business but was stuck on hold forever. Or worse—he called and your sales representative was not interested in doing business. What gives?
Offer solutions—not a stand off
Earlier in my career, I needed some marketing help. I worked with a company, set up an account, and got things moving. I realized that I did not have my content lined up, so I called the company to let them know I was holding off on my campaign for a few weeks.
In two or three weeks, I was set, and called to trigger the services I set up. The sales rep said my account was cancelled because I had postponed. When I asked if I could reactivate, maybe pay a small fee, the answer was no, my account was cancelled.
Anyone reading this is shaking their head. That blew my mind. Not only did this company not want my business—they argued with me about it. Even after the discourtesy of cancelling my account, I would have paid a fee to get going again. In effect, I was turned down twice.
Never do this. Obviously, I took my business elsewhere. And, needless to say, that company never got a good referral from me.
While the attitude of this sales rep—or maybe the entire company—was way off, there are times when a business does not recognize the signals that a customer, or a client, is ready to buy.
Sales signals—and what they mean to your success
Some entrepreneurs still try to get ahead with hard sales tactics. They employ tricks and tips that push and prod a customer into buying. While you can make a sale this way, it isn’t likely this customer will feel any loyalty to your company. And customer loyalty is one of the keys to ongoing business success.
My job is helping small business owners create and enjoy success. Whether talking about marketing, organizational planning, or business automation, I help business owners recognize and build relationships that work—through effective sales, business structure, and technology.
A big part of my job is helping entrepreneurs cultivate a clientele willing to pay premium prices, for high value, and good service. Success depends on repeat customers who enjoy how they are treated by your business.
Building a sales relationship with a prospective lead takes work and recognition of what signals an interested customer. Consider these points:
• Customer interest: I said it before, and I will say it again. No one is calling your business unless they have a need. On a sales floor, or on the phone, you need to find out about their need. You may—or may not—be able to offer the solution they want, but first understand that anyone who contacts your firm, or your shop, has a need that led them to take the effort to contact you.
• Reward customer interest: When someone calls or contacts you, reward them by listening carefully to what they are saying, and how they are saying it. Your goal is to build a relationship. This means active listening. Be intent on learning their need, parameters for their solution, budget, and timeline. With occasional additional questions—learn everything you need about their problem, so that you can offer a good solution. This means you never interrupt them to insert a sales pitch.
• Watch for signals: The best sales people are those who understand tone and body language. With enough experience, you, and your sales team, can recognize when a customer is signaling they want more information, want to buy—or that that they are not interested. When a potential customer is avoiding eye contact with you, browsing, and generally looking—express interest in them, but do not crowd or rush them. If a client calls about a product, or a customer starts looking carefully at an item—that means interest.
• Offer solutions: On the telephone, in person, or online—respond to the need identified by your potential customer. Once you know their concerns, put together solutions, let them know how that might work—and what that could cost. Work with their response and remember reciprocity is essential to a successful sales environment. Ensure your sales team understands anyone who contacts them is a potential customer. Even leads who do not buy from you today could return next week because they remembered your helpful attitude, information, and interest in their problem.
Sales are critical to small business success. Train your sales team, and fine tune your sales behavior to ensure you are building customer relationships that pay off today—and down the road.
When you need help with marketing, sales strategies, or using marketing automation to nurture client relationships—call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.
I talk a lot about value—how to value your time, and create value for your clients and customers. What about asking clients how much they value you?
In my business, I work with entrepreneurs to grow their profits. Through sound strategy, direct marketing, and business automation, I help each client grow their business to make the money they want. Sound good? A big part of that is working with your most valuable resource—your customers.
How to make your client your most valuable player
Beyond their patronage, consider the essential services your customer can provide to you:
Feedback: When you establish a working relationship with a client, ask them for feedback on your services and products. What works? What doesn’t work? Everyone likes to be asked their opinion and no one—not even you—knows your product better than those who are paying for it. Think about these tips:
Referrals: A referral from a client cuts your sales cycle in half. A huge part of getting new business is gaining the trust of a potential lead. Cold calls take time, finesse, and sure skill to warm a prospect to the point where they are willing to meet you. A client referral opens the door and invites you into the association of a previously existing relationship. Consider these tips:
Turning mistakes into gold: Blunders, foul-ups, and mistakes—they happen to everyone. It is true that a happy customer tells one friend while an unhappy customer tells ten. With the right technique, you can turn that unhappy customer into an ally who tells ten friends how well you handled their situation. Here is how:
These are only a few of the ways your own customers can shorten your sales cycle and keep your business successful. They work in my business, and I know they will work in yours.
When you want to know about client satisfaction and building value that pays off for you, call me at 585-633-7563.
To your success.