Like many entrepreneurs, you may be looking more closely at revenues during tougher economic times. Shore up your business with basic tenants of loyalty. Just as sandbags shore up a river bank, basic loyalty moves can keep your customers.
People prefer to do business with those they know.
Assume your current customers plan to continue doing business with you. Reinforce this premise by assuming the re-sale. For example, ask for referrals.
As my hairdresser (Debra Grasser, color specialist, of Avalon Salon, 9533 Osuna NE) scheduled appointments across the summer she chatted about her life. “Jake’s getting older,” she said. “His independence lets me expand my hours at work. So when I penciled in my summer schedule I realized I could accommodate more clients. I’m giving each of you three cards (she handed me three business cards with my name printed on them) and asking you to refer your friends to me.”
- Positive, proactive approach
- No discussion of the economy
- Prepared beforehand
- A plan that was thought through
- Personalized approach
How can you incorporate positive elements like this into your business?
Many alliances today are being forged between individual entrepreneurs and small firms. In fact, the lack of bureaucracy within small business often lends itself to creation of one or more alliances. The opportunities, while always present, may be easily overlooked.
I recently spoke with an experienced care provider for seniors. In discussing a current contract she enthusiastically noted several opportunities:
- Vegetable gardens could provide fresh produce for residents
- Students of a nearby school might be interested in helping with the gardening project
- Nearby communities would welcome a bakery; the bakery could be easily run in conjunction with the kitchens at the facility
- The essentially rural area could support farmer’s market
- This provider saw possibilities all around her. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’ll form a profitable alliance to benefit her business.
In contrast, another business owner looked at the same situation and saw only problems; in less than a minute, the fault-finder brought up the following:
- Zoning could be trouble
- There was no budget for interns or additional help
- Why had no one else considered such a business previously
- Who would want to live in that community
Does your perspective color the opportunities with which you’re presented?
A successful alliance will create a sum greater than its individual parts. Stay alert for alliance opportunities. They might be closer than you think.
Fob: a short strap, ribbon or chain attached to a scissors; a medallion used to identify or assist in the handling of a watch
“Let me fix it.” I picked up the baggie containing a series of beads. “How hard could it be to put that fob back together?
My minor beading effort uncovered some real problems. I crimped the flexwire, but couldn’t clip the excess endings. With no sidecutter, my project appeared clumsy, home-made and ugly in its incompletion. Had I searched Google first, I might have uncovered this handy tutorial on building a fob.
Lesson #1: Pick your pieces. Dozens of beads and charms exist and you can encounter a bewildering assortment of color, size and shape. So too with marketing. The choices range from Twitter to newspaper ads, professional public relations to hand-printed flyers, glossy brochures, magazine ads, websites, email messages, Google profiles, Facebook, LinkedIn and oh, so much more. In order to maneuver, you must first choose.
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Who do you want to reach?
Lesson #2: Put your plan together. Whether you begin with dozens of beads of just a few, you must put your fob in place.
- How long will it be?
- Are you making a one-day, one-hour stab at marketing or looking at next quarter and the rest of the year?
- How much will it weigh?
- Are you efforts flexible or so heavy that the whole effort bogs you down and creates overwhelm?
Lesson #3: Plan your execution. Some fobs are breath-takingly beautiful and others simply utilitarian. The “art” of a plan makes it especially difficult to emulate. I know you’ve seen artful marketing…landing pages so persuasive they suck you in and make you place an order before you even question it, profiles that talk directly to you, etc.
The great secret is these probably aren’t first time efforts. No problem.
Charge forward. Simply begin. Like me, you may fine you need proper tools. Until you start the project, how do you really know?
Everyone rides the cost-cutting train these days. Add value. Cut costs. (Eliminate words such as luxury from your vocabulary.) Instead of waiting for a pink slip from one of your customers, get proactive.
Jan, a floral supply business owner called all her clients: “We know you’re looking at your costs,” she said. “How can we help?”
Not surprisingly, most clients indicated they planned to slash expenses. They also asked for a proposal and thanked Jan for being proactive.
Although her floral supply lost a small percentage of business, she controlled the profit level. She presented three alternatives to the client. With each proposed solution, she managed to cut overhead more than she cut profit.
A graphic artist service provider found himself in a similar situation. Business had slowed and one of his larger clients predicted a much lighter workload for the rest of the year. “We’ll just handle our changes in-house,” the contact said.
The quick-thinking artist offered to negotiate fees on a project basis rather than lose the account.
The flexibility demonstrated in these two examples is typical of today’s approach to sales.
At some point, cutting costs alone no longer works. Then, demonstrating affiliations can help. For example, one vendor began adding “certified woman-owned business” to her email signature. She’s convinced that companies look for additional value in a tight economy. Consider also:
- Shop local. Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance
- Consider the environment before printing this email
Have a conversation with your clients. Talk about what’s important to them, what’s keeping them up at night. Share what’s important to you. Your goal: find ways to resonate with your customers, saving them money, sharing concerns, adding value.
Do events move you? Or, is it the people who make an impact?
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies at Albuquerque’s WESST Enterprise Center celebrated several years of effort. Politicos, clients, WESST staff and people from a variety of organizations participated in the event.
Megan Kamerick at New Mexico Business Weekly captured highlights from nearly every speaker.
As current president of the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance, AIBA, I’m especially committed to the opportunities and assistance provided to small independent businesses. I see those types of programs coming from WESST along with meeting space, training programs, advocacy for entrepreneurs and more.
It felt good to acknowledge those who worked to make this 37,000 square foot LEED certified building a reality. As the former marketing and training director for WESST (disclosure) I was involved in the planning stages of this dream, and I saw many familiar faces in the crowd.
G.O. WESST! (Grand Opening, WESST) offered plenty of opportunity for reflection.
Pedro Garza, Regional Director, Economic Development Administration emphasized individuals make the difference. Any organization can have a mission, he said. Unless you have people who can deliver, they’re just words on paper. He quoted from a poem he read in eighth grade:
‘Tis the Set of the Sail — or — One Ship Sails East
Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1916
One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.
Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
According to Garza, I’ve answered my own question. It’s the people – and the set of their souls – that make the difference.
A sifter thrown carelessly in the junk drawer caught my attention. I had a vision of me at age seven, experimenting with the flour sifter, guiding my three younger brothers through the intricacies of generating dust from dirt. I supervised diligently. Mom, doing laundry in the basement was blissfully unaware of our efforts until she carried a load of clothes outside. (To this day she doesn’t appreciate the exercise; I recall some sort of immediate punishment and loud verbiage…)
I roused myself from the reverie and considered how sifters smooth and separate matter, sorting out impurities, filtering substances, getting rid of clumps and ensuring uniformity.
Most people don’t use a sifter anymore, I thought. Literally. Maybe they should. Content requires a sifter. Here’s why:
- No one piece of information makes the persuasive case. Like flour, information must be blended in order to be effective. One fact is merely that: a factoid. It needs context, provided by other facts and your interpretation of them, for meaning.
- Sifting purifies ingredients but it’s the blending that gives flavor. Blending content is critical. Combining sales information with educational materials with commentary makes for persuasion. Once again, putting context around the information is key.
- The sifter filters out ingredients that are too clumpy. With powdered sugar, for instance, the coarse pieces remain in the sifter. If they were added to frosting, it would taste gritty. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have an automatic sifter go through each piece of content you develop? In sales copy, for example, irrelevant facts would be deleted from the flyer. Better yet, information presented from your view rather than your prospect’s would be eliminated.
- A sifter offers a built-in measure. Content requires the same. Word counters start the process. However, it’s not the quantity of what is said; it’s the quality. Imagine getting six pages of information with no headers, bullets or graphics. That’s like four cups of flour in a bowl. Word overwhelm.
How do you define relevant? How interesting to consider sifting the data.
Sift. Filter. Sort. Narrow the field. Sort out. Categorize. Divide up. Find some way to look at your content from another perspective. Then, work on the mix.
A chaotic economy sets the stage for all-out efforts. Some businesses teeter precariously between continuation and failure. Others have begun to try anything in an effort to increase sales. If that sounds tempting, think again. If you’re acting in haste, pause. Re-evaluate now. Use the magic word: No!
A simple “no” adds the voice of reason to your campaign.
- No, you can’t put ten pictures on your postcard even if they’re good. It’s too many messages. Three is pushing the limit.
- What message – what one message do you want to convey?
- P.S. No, you can’t put a paragraph of copy on the card, either. A postcard is like a billboard. Six words. That’s pushing the limit.
No, I don’t want to receive an e-card from your business. E-cards are either personal or spam. Period. Mixing a business sales message with a holiday greeting card will not serve you well.
- What do you mean you you’re bored with Constant Contact? There’s a reason why it’s used for multiple e-mails. It meets the legal requirements for CAN-SPAM.
- Yes, CAN-SPAM applies to you. You’re a business. You can’t email people just because you collected their business card at a networking event.
No, that advertorial won’t make you rich. The magazine sells them. It’s not likely that you’ll get significant response. Does your message include a special offer?
- Do your clients read this magazine?
- Does your competition get response with this kind of approach?
- Has this type of offer worked for you before?
No, I can’t guarantee that a feature story will make you profitable this month.
- What is your break-even, anyway?
- How many sales do you need to generate to get to profit?
- I can guarantee these numbers are of importance – and not just for your ad campaign.
Sometimes the voice of reason requires no. if in doubt, try it out. Let me know how that works for you.
You don’t have the problem, right? This blog post isn’t for you because your collateral is perfect. It’s generating hundreds of inquiries, sales and interest. No?
Custom content offers a common opportunity for small businesses today. It seems easy. Publish stuff. Post it. Build a list. Get sales. If you aren’t seeing this kind of automatic progression, welcome to the new world.
Your customers expect to get information from you. But publishing content just for the sake of getting it out there is hardly the answer. The market – your customer(s) – votes on content with what it accepts. Every day new opportunities present themselves. How can you stand out? What problem can you solve? Where does your customer go when they need an answer?
Communication requires form and structure. From newsletters to web pages to postcards, brochures and product sheets, one thing’s for sure: information is available. It’s growing. More than 3,000 new books publish each day. A week’s worth of New York Times contains more information than lifetime during the 18th century.
Funny, the thing that hasn’t changed is the necessity of focusing on the customer. So, the artist with whimsical animal prints building a website begins by looking at the terms people use in their search. The custom builder starts his postcard campaign with an appeal to the boomer’s sense of dream home. A textbook publisher talks with home school parents to discover what meaningful support mean to them.
Where are you in the content building cycle? Have you talked with a customer lately?
Case study expert Casey Hibbard teaches her craft in Stories That Sell. The book, published early in 2009, offers readers a content-rich, seven-step ‘how-to’ spiced with examples, diagrams and advice.
Casey’s expertise shines through. From industry experts who endorse her to the clients she features, one thing is clear: she’s all about helping you turn satisfied customers into your most powerful sales and marketing asset.
Here are Casey’s seven steps:
- Strategic story planning
- Uncovering customer candidates
- Securing customer permission
- Intelligence gathering
- Creating compelling stories
- Story signoff
- Leveraging customer stories
Of the seven, step #7, leveraging customer stories, is my favorite not only because it’s most familiar to me, but it’s completely and masterfully presented.
Casey touches on blogs and social media, addresses other aspects of the web including search engine optimization and the part case studies can play in it and then turns her attention to more traditional media.
“Seven Ways to Slice a Customer Story” is a mini case study in the middle of a sub-chapter, “Leveraging Stories to the Media.” In this section she takes her own advice, letting her customer Tech Image, a Chicago-area PR firm, showcase seven ways of using success story and case study content:
Prep clients for it
Help reporters craft questions and stories
“It’s usually a three to one ratio, with one case generating at least three pieces of media coverage,” says Bob Dirkes, account manager at Tech Image.
Sub-chapter take-aways reinforce important points here and throughout the book. Quotes inspire and tease the reader to go on.
I’ve recommended Stories That Sell to clients and fellow consultants and used my copy as a personal textbook: highlights flags and comments across margins mark the copy. Stories That Sell is an asset for any bookshelf and I recommend adding it to your business books. In addition, bookmark Casey’s Stories That Sell blog or join her LinkedIn Group, Success Story Marketing.
In a market where businesses cry “Where’s the money?” the new buzzword is customer loyalty. You’ve probably experienced a loyalty program: frequent buyer cards, written thank you notes, membership sites, surveys, to name just a few.
My conversations about loyalty start and end with questions like these:
“How are you making the customer experience better?”
“How do you add value?”
“What are the little things you do to make a difference?”
Customer loyalty is more than a program. Certainly special offers help. I maintain the experience of interacting with you can build far more loyalty than any special price or contrived incentive.
People recognize the experience, the engagement, of doing business with you no matter what your communication. Here are just a few of this week’s missteps:
Confusion. Three people show up for a cancelled seminar. Had they submitted an RSVP, they might have gotten the cancel message. Q – Who’s responsible for the error? A – You are.
Indifference. “The paper always gets it wrong.” Q – Does the customer care? Who’s responsible for communicating? A – You are.
Denial. “You’ll have to call technical support. It looks fine to me.” Q – Why would I return to this store? A – Although it took 90 minutes, I did work out the technical problem with someone who was not in India.
Unclear calls to action. “You got my offer wrong.” “We no longer honor those coupons.”
The business person who methodically builds relationships day after day and encourages his/her employees to do the same is the one who creates loyalty. The effort doesn’t include blame. Rather, there’s an ongoing effort to listen, to eradicate misunderstandings, correct problems and treat customers with genuine care and concern.
Communication either creates or dissipates loyalty. How’s your loyalty communication these days?