Featured Post

Supporting Veteran Owned Small Businesses

This video shares examples of a few veteran owned small businesses. Feel free to comment and share your own examples with website link belo...

Friday, May 29, 2009

How Do You Keep Your Customers Happy?

Keeping customers happy is a one by one task, there's no mold or formula. What keeps one customer happy most likely will not keep another one happy.

I find it best to listen and understand what makes your customer tick and then addressing their needs individually. Always understand and be able to view the big picture ..... their side vs your side.

Remember, when Communication breaks down so do relationships.

At the end of the day, actually DO all the things you say you are going to do.

If strategic planning has been made, insure all benchmark steps and commitments have been met.

Don't leave questions unanswered. You know, the " I'll get back to you on that." Respond to them before they call and ask again.

Be proactive. If they were supposed to get back you on something and they don't, call them and follow up.

Be honest. Work with them to solve problems and forge ahead.

Don't worry about keeping your customer happy, focus on the tasks at hand. Utimately if the goals are met, it's productive, and the overall expereince is good, they will be happy.

There is no firm formula, but these all help:

1. Do what you say you are going to do.

2. Don't lie.

3. Tell them when you do not know something, so they trust you when you say you do.

4. Be a decent person.

5. Respond quickly even if it's to say you can't respond until later.

6. Remember what they tell you, and course correct as you get feedback.

7. Know what they want .... including what they do not yet know they want.

8. Under promise .... in other words don't let your mouth write checks your actions can't cash.

9. Over deliver .... always give more than expected or promised.

10. In short it boils down to this .... treat them like you want to be treated. It's just that simple.

One thing is true, you cannot keep everyone happy all of the time. What you have to do is minimize the damage that an unhappy customer can bring. This is one area where the new world of Social Media assists both marketing efforts and customer service. When a customer is about to leave you must know what is necessary to retain them. Conversely you must know when it is best to just let them go.

Some of this is about demographics. Is the customer part of the demographic that you feel are the key focus for your organization? Often if is a fine line of judgement. But offering a personal service has a lot to do with it. As does the need to listen to and understand what the customer is looking for.

Taking a page from Dr Tony Alessandra, you have only one goal in being in business--that is to acquire and maintain customers. The only way you do that is to be totally immersed in the voice of the customer.

What are they telling you is important to them and are you completely responding to those wishes. If you are not then your are listening to the voice of the business which may be in direct contradiction to what your clients want. Turn your processes in the right direction by providing exactly what your clients expect .... and then some. Become your clients WOW factor. Do this and your clients will be happy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is The Economy Recovering And The Recession Almost Over?

I am an optimist by nature, but also a pragmatist.

And so I am still a bear on this market.

While a 25% bear market rally is not unheard of, I think this is simply irrational exuberance gone mad again. Share prices bear no relation to expected future earnings when you still have the likes of Microsoft laying people off.

Also, with US unemployment at 8.9% and rising, the real jobless rate in US is about 16%, according to Labor Dept. today, if you tally those who have stopped looking and those who can only find part-time work.

Almost 6 million people have lost their jobs in USA and house prices are still plunging with foreclosures still rising.

How anyone realistically expects any reasonable return to business profits until 2010 is beyond me.

Further ......

A recession is simply defined as consecutive periods of deflation... it's an economic observation so it would be hard to challenge it's existence.

The "End of the world" recession that doomsayers are touting the world over seems a little far-fetched... yes there are people doing it tough, there are countries struggling and companies failing...

But the real question is... at what point will the individual situations of the individuals return to a normal enough state that they will return to predictable patterns of behavior common to consumer societies.

Optimists say the recession is over... WRONG... the recession is not over until the panic subsides. While there is less media coverage, reactionary behaviors are still in place. Lending is down, borrowing is down, there has been an overall tightening in the supply of money (as well as an elimination of a great deal of "virtual wealth") and people are buying less and spending less.

All this means that from an economic perspective we're still in a recession (we being the world at large).

This is not to say that it is a bad thing... because as things begin to reach some semblance of normality again, people are behaving in a far more responsible way...

It is essentially a commercial "thinning of the herd". Businesses which were well thought out and which provided something of value are still as necessary and capable of surviving today as they were this time last year. Businesses who had borrowed unrealistically in an attempt to grow beyond their means or compete in a market in which they could not survive are failing.

The harsh reality of it is... it's the recession that HAD TO HAPPEN... sure it probably could have happened more cleanly and less painfully... and I personally am saddened by the fact that it is those people who were always struggling who are suffering the most for the failure of others to act responsibly ... but the United States has something like a 250% private debt to GDP ratio (Australia is sitting pretty at almost 300%) ... people had been too well conditioned to living beyond their means and guess what?

REALITY CHECK.....

It's not over .... but the worst of it is over for individuals .... those who were going to be burned have been, those of us who have survived the burn should really think about what we are doing to help the people who haven't.

I'm also going to take the opportunity while I'm on this soapbox to say ..... if this recession didn't rob you of everything you had .... if you haven't lost your home, your job and everything you held dear .... and you are thinking about saving now because you don't know what's to come .... don't forget the people who don't have the luxury of thinking of the future right now, give a little. This isn't an altruistic attempt to solve the world's problems .... this is our friends, our neighbours, people we know who need a helping hand to keep them in the game. Help where you can!

Monday, May 25, 2009

What Criteria Should Be Used To Measure Whether A Business Is Successful??

A business is successful if it meets the goals of the business owner. It may or may not not be successful by my measure of success - net profit, competitive advantage, equity growth, efficiencies etc., but I don't matter in this equation.

A business owner may want enough to live on, low stress and plenty of flexibility while another may want to build a business to pass on to the next generation. Different goals - each having different measures of success.

Every business owner has his or her own goals, whether they be free time, or short-term income, or long-term wealth, or whatever that may be. The same is true for investors ..... some may be happy with more cash flow and less capital appreciation, and others may want to sacrifice cash flow in order to get a saleable asset, while others may want to be influential in a particular industry. I spoke a little while back with an investor who wanted to put a good sum of money into a luxury food product basically to get access to hot clubs. All of these people can be successful, but they may not all be the right partners for each other.

Of course, from the outside, if you're looking to acquire or partner with a business, then you have your own criteria for success. Those are the ones relevant to you at that given time. It may be worth it to partner with an unprofitable firm that nonetheless has good access -- that firm may be successful from your measure of needing access. Or you may want to buy a company that has great customer loyalty, slim margins, and poor technology -- your measure of the success you need to add to your current success may be that customer loyalty, not profitability.

The key thing is to describe success for yourself before you start the business, look at buying companies, or search for partners; that way, you know you're measuring success by something meaningful, and not buying into someone else's description of success.

To simplify an answer .... a business is successful if it meets the expectations of the owners. If you are fulfulling your mission and vision then you are a success - PERIOD!

Whether you are a success to OTHERS, is a whole 'nother question. Basically, you compare the company to others in same industry, size - so apples to apples - on basis of revenue, margins, DSO, cash flow - any & all of the financial ratios that you are most comfortable with and understand.

Personally, I prefer trend analyses to see where they are coming from, where they are at, and project where they are going - then evaluate against like companies to determine how "successful" they are.

The easy answer is:

1) Are you making a profit?
2) Are you happy?

If you answer yes to both 1 & 2, the your business is successful.

Basically I'll say this. You set your own criteria and benchmark it by what you want, not what others think is a good thing. If you don't in all honesty know the definition of what success means to you (your/biz), give it a LOT of thought quickly, then write in down NOW before another day has passed. Otherwise you will forever walk in uncertainty over whether what others told you ever really suited you at all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Best Business Resources For Professional Services Strategy, Marketing & Sales

Ian Brodie has created a portal site for professional services strategy, marketing & sales at Rainmaker Resources

The site has links to the best resources Ian could find for professional services business development - including websites, blogs, podcasts, video, books etc.

Ian has tried to include general professional services sites (e.g. David Maister and Ford Harding's sites) ..... along with sites specific to Law (e.g. Larry Bodine's Law Firm Marketing), Accounting (e.g. Michelle Golden's Golden Practices) and Consulting (e.g. Alan Weiss's Contrarian Consulting).

There's also a combined RSS feed with the headlines of the latest blog posts from the major sites.

Obviously, Ian has targeted websites that specialize or mostly focus on professional services - rather then general strategy, marketing & sales for other types of companies.

So .... if you're business is in the professional services niche ....check out Rainmaker Resource. You should find something you can use.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How To Create An Email Marketing Campaign That Works .... With A FREE Test Drive Too

An oft overlooked, misused, or ignored marketing method for small business is the use of email marketing. To help you overcome that what follows is information on AWeber .... the industry leader in this area.

AWeber's email marketing software will help you create loyal customers out of vistors to your business website .... here's how.

* Email Newsletters - Create visually stunning, engaging email newsletters. Choose from over 50 HTML templates, paste in your own HTML or use the built-in message editor.

* Website Sign Up Forms - Turn anonymous website visitors into prospects. Create signup forms with their point-and-click wizard - no need for a web designer!

* Follow Up Autoresponders - Build lasting relationships with an automated sequence of personalized messages. Statistics have shown it often takes multiple contacts to maximize sales conversion.

* Email Web Analytics - Track opens, clickthroughs and other subscriber activity with accurate, easy-to-read reports that show you what works and what doesn't.

* Top-Notch Email Deliverability - You want your email to reach your subscribers. Over the past 9+ years, AWeber has developed the reputation and skill needed to get your opt-in email delivered.

* AWeber also offers LIVE Webinar Training and Video Tutorials .....

* You can even get a FREE test drive!!

If you'd like to learn more simply check out their website for more information .... plenty there you can use: AWeber Email Marketing Tools

Monday, May 18, 2009

Need a Web Based Project Management Tool For Small Business?

It really depends on the type of project management you're attempting to accomplish. I've seen very sophisticated SharePoint solutions and very Proprietary feature rich custom web applications which were very expensive that I loved. I've also seen very simple and very cheap Wiki's do the job well.

To "create documents" you need to know what kind of documents you're trying to create, what sort of metrics you plan on tracking, what sort of communications mechanisms you and your project require - and decide that up front. It may very well be that all you need is a shared spreadsheet believe
it or not.

If you're looking to reduce cost - then I would suggest a simple search on PM software at sourceforge.net. If you're looking for robust features - well there are several packages that would meet your needs. If you're a small group you may find that Office.live.com - with their Small Business Packages is a good choice.

Lots of possible choices but it really depends on the type of project planning you expect on doing, who will really be using the PM tool, and what the need from the tool. I would sit down and discuss this with your majority stakeholders and those who will have to use it daily. Gather requirements for what you need - and fulfill that list.

No single application will suffice all your needs - but try to locate the greatest pain points and address those first, when you're done you can see what's really available to you.

Here is a list of project management software reviews that you could find helpful ......

* Side-by-side comparison of 10 project management software products:
Project Management Top 10

* List of 287 project management software products: Project Management
Software


* Thirteen reviews of project management, bug tracking & customer software
products: Project Management Reviews

* The best PM Tools on Gantthead: Best Project Management Tools

* and the list of PM software on wikipedia: Project Management Software

Friday, May 15, 2009

How Do You Use Twitter As A Marketing Tool?

These tactics have worked for those being smart about using Twitter for business. They will result in a very targeted group of followers if you spend some time and think about it.

1. Use Twitter's "search" function and search keywords that pertain to your business/company. This should result in "tweeps" (people on twitter) who are tweeting about that keyword or have it in their profile short bio. Scan these tweeps and follow ones that seem good candidates. About half or so will follow you back (This is common Twitter etiquette), and even more will follow you back if you send them a nice introduction in a direct message.

2. Find competitors on Twitter and see who is following them. Follow their followers and many will follow you back.

3. Include a link to your Twitter profile on your website, email signature line, and any sort of email marketing you do.

Once you've built up a nice initial following, you'll want to be sure to keep your followers happy by staying active on Twitter, engaging your followers in dialogue (ie, responding to their tweets, even if they are only tweeting something about their cat... respond and engage!), and giving them a reason to continue following you. You should be retweeting others' links when they request it, retweeting others' links even when they don't request it, and constantly be on the look-out for interesting articles or news relating to your company/industry.

Finally, offer your followers some special reason to follow you on Twitter. You can offer discounts or coupon codes to your Twitter following, which will cause them to tell their friends to follow you in order to get in on the special offers. Don't use Twitter as a broadcast medium; use it as a way to engage with your audience, even if it doesn't always pertain to your business or industry. People want to see the human behind the company mask, and that's what will separate yours as a genuine, trustworthy company.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Small Business Resources For Retailers

If you're an independent retailer then you kinda have to learn the hard way, you don't generally have access to the kinds of courses and resources that the big box retailers have. So with this in mind RetailRehab was created to be a FREE resource for independent retailers. Yes, you did hear me right, don't have to refresh your browser... free resource for independent retailers.

Registering at the site gives access to downloads, e-books and all the information you'll need for a successful independent retail business, covering areas such as sales, branding, marketing, staff development, SEO, and anything else they could think of to make it easier for independents.

Independent businesses are vital to our local economies. They ensure the unique character of an area, are more accountable to customers and the local community, more likely to support local charities, and have greater direct control over the environmental impact of their businesses.

Money spent at locally owned independent businesses goes around longer in the local economy. It yields two to four times the economic benefit to the local residents compared with non-local businesses. This means more local income, wealth, and jobs. Which is a good thing for all of us....

Oh and there's a topical blog too...!

To learn more check out Retail Rehab

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tea Party Protests .... The Small Business View

I could not attend a TEA party, but I was thrilled that they were so successful.

For those interested the next TEA Party Day is July 4 2009. More info can be found on Tea Party Day. Organization is well underway for cities all over the United States of America - it is time to hear from those of us that are usually silent.

I understand that small businesses will be allowed to exist in the foreseeable future, but the burdens placed upon them will be great, and far fewer people will take the risks required to start a business if the government is going to impose such burdens.

I'd be glad if the federal government did what it was meant to do ... preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not invade every facet of my life and business and control me beyond all limits.

The Tea Parties are about promoting the free market economy and letting it flow naturally without government intervention and ridiculous taxes and spending. We will recover from this recession, that's for sure...because we are America, an incredibly resilient nation. That being said, it'll take longer to happen with this level of government expansion our demagogic liberal president is furthering.

My concern is that the movement will die down because the people they attract are going to get discouraged by the lack of media coverage (and the false accusations of racism and hate), and begin to feel that they can't make a difference.

For those who really want this movement to grow, we have to adjust our expectations:

* there will be no coverage on the news no matter how big and how successful the movement is - any coverage we do get will be negative and insulting (and probably filled with lies and misinformation).

* Any one person who acts inappropriately will become front-and-center for the cameras and media reports - expect both that there will be those people and that the media will still be running the footage four years from now.

* Like any other movement, we've got to make it appealing for others so that they have a reason - an investment - in what they're doing.

I think that the Tea Parties are a great idea. The government isn't perfect and I would hope that they would appreciate some constructive criticism. People who disagree with this current administration are simply exercising their first amendment rights: they would be less than patriotic if they remained silent. It's a shame that the vast majority of the media downplayed the demonstrations and actually took out time to make fun of the demonstrators -it was down right juvenile. Who in a free society isn't bothered by that?

It took our President some time to admit that he knew about the Tea Parties (and he did it rather sarcastically) but I certainly hope, especially because he has no business experience, that he will be a little more attentive to the Small and Medium-Sized business owners and their concerns. <--That is where our national rebound is going to come from. If they get taxed into poverty, so goes the country. Hooray to those that were able to participate in the last Tea Party...I plan on attending the next one.

With continued and sustained effort, we can build a coalition of activists who, by the 2010 mid-term elections, can wipe out these corrupt congress members and senators and put the President on notice that we will not allow him to advance socialism in the United States.

As Lady Margaret Thatcher said (and I have to paraphrase), "The primary problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

Friday, May 8, 2009

How Small Businesses Can Use The LinkedIn Business Networking Community More Effectively

In the latest episode of 'The Connections Show', my friend Stan Relihan talks with former professional athlete-turned sports industry writer & LinkedIn trainer, Lewis Howes.

After a serious injury left him hospitalized for some time, Lewis turned to Linkedin - and rapidly became a successful public speaker & trainer on using LinkedIn more effectively.

He's recently launched a book on the subject, 'LinkedWorking' - and took some time out from his heavy promotional schedule to talk to Stan about it.

If you're interested in eavesdropping on the conversation (and learning some of his secrets into the bargain), just visit The Podcast Network

By the way .... Stan regularly has top notch guests sharing eye opening information on The Podcast Network, covering topics of importance to the small business community. I wholeheartedly suggest you check regularly for the latest schedule of The Connections Show and soak up the free education.

********************

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Small Business Resources For The Solopreneur

Here's a collection of small business resources I've run across for the bravest of the brave .... the solopreneur. Although any small business can benefit from these. They cover a variety of needs faced by most small business enterprises so see if there's something listed that meets a need of yours.

* The International Association of Solopreneurs provides coaching, training, support, tools and resources specifically for solo business owners. It is extremely affordable at only $29 per month. You can find more info at Soloprenuers

* Business Coach Donna Amos provides one on one and group coaching for small business owners. She specializes in helping them learn how to love sales and marketing through establishing consistent and effective sales and marketing systems. To learn more about Donna and her unique service for small business owners go to Business Coach

* Solo Talk ... a Blog Talk Radio program every Friday at 12 Noon EST - the program is all about helping small business owners succeed. Solo Talk helps solopreneurs grow their businesses with training and experiences from other successful solopreneurs. For example ..... One of the most recent guests shared how recently laid off individuals who wish to start their own business have access to start up money through their 401 K. Each show is recorded and available for download. You can listen in at Solo Talk

* For those single to small businesses who too often neglect and have little experience with small business finances and accounting .... there's help. You can learn all about it at Outright

Outright is a web service which means, like Zoho, Webex, or Syncplicity, you use the service exclusively online rather than through software. Nothing to download, save or backup; its done for you. The advantage therein, of course, is reduced cost on software and significantly improved ease of use as all employees can access the service, from any where.

Outright is free. Plug in income and expenses and track sales, get records organized for taxes, pay estimated taxes on time. Nice little tool that's easy to use. Plus ... you just can't beat free.

* A great resource for any small business is a Virtual Assistant company. A VA company can help move things along at a smooth pace, especially when you're a one man show. If you get the right team, they will be able to help you with research, graphics, editing, data entry, and even sales and email support.

At GlobeTask, they also add a financial advantage in that they are Americans living offshore, so you get the American service you're used to for the offshore rates ($8/hour). They also work with a full team, so you get the full scope of their skills in a wide range of services. Another advantage is that they are seven hours ahead of EST so you can get work done for you while you sleep! For more info go to GlobeTask

* TMD - TMD specializes in design and marketing for small and medium sized businesses. Whether you want a brochure, a website, a corporate identity, an annual review, or anything else to promote your business .... TMD can help you make that idea real for a fraction of the cost of using a large creative services agency.

As a small enterprise itself, TMD prides itself on its ability to bring external specialist knowledge to projects. If something falls outside their core skill set, they use a network of specialist suppliers to bring in someone who has the appropriate knowledge and experience.

Because they're not a large agency, their clients won't be paying for air-conditioned offices, leased cars, or the company Christmas party. Which for small businesses makes a lot of sense, especially at times like these.

For more information go to Design and Marketing

The above are just a few recommend resources available for small business and solo business entities. If you have others you'd recommend .... feel free to add them here as a comment. All I ask is that they be a true recommendation .... not an ad for your own service/business. Afterall ... the Small Business Resources Cafe is all about helping each other. The Cafe works best when that's what we focus on.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Podcasts from the Small Business Administration

A great resource of information for small businesses .... on current issues, concerns, and guidance in todays economy .... are podcasts from the Small Business Administration.

In this podcast, "Downshifting in a Slow Economy," SBA experts offer strategies for survival for small business owners.

Follow this link to listen. Small Business Podcast

Friday, May 1, 2009

Small Business Financial Smarts

As a small business you need to know the financial resources available to you.

There are hundreds of free resources available to help you with your small business .... if you know where to look. The challenge is finding them in a sea of financial Web sites.

For one such resource go to the Guide to Surviving the Economic Downturn.

On this Web page, you'll find links to all types of financial tools and resources for small business owners seeking loans and other financial information and assistance (look near the bottom of the page).

For anyone who may need it .... there's also information for individuals who may be looking for employment assistance, or for struggling families who need assistance in lowering their bills and managing their budget.