Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Customer Service Thoughts for the Holidays

We are entering the busiest retail time of the year. A large percentage of all retail sales take place between Thanksgiving and New Years. With that in mind, I found what I believe is some useful information that might help you with your business:

Happy Thanksgiving to all our faithful readers! And Thank You for following us every week as we share information that we hope you find of interest.

This week, due to reader request, we are rerunning an Agurban from late last year. The message is as fitting today as it was a year ago.

Holiday Marketing Tips for Businesses
by Scott Taddiken
Washburn Small Business Development Center

That's right - it's that time of year again! I'm amazed every season how many creative and wonderful marketing strategies business owners use during this season, and having spoken recently on the topic, I thought I'd share a few ideas I've come across.

1. Don't overlook any potential markets - Gifts are huge, but decorations, candy and food, flowers (poinsettias and others) greeting cards and postage, etc. are also big. These categories make up to 25% of Christmas spending!

2. Black Friday is big, but it isn't everything - Traffic is extremely high on the day following Thanksgiving and some say up to 25% of shoppers will start at 5 a.m. However, Black Friday isn't always the biggest spending day - for brick and mortar businesses, the last two weekends prior to Christmas may be the biggest.

Many people are looking for good deals and a place to have fun. Black Friday shopping is something fun to do with family and friends.

While many people get out to shop on Black Friday, stores must have a plan to bring them back in to buy.

3. People are shopping online - Online purchases tend to increase as the season progresses (people have checked out store specials and done comparison shopping)

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are often good online - people shop in stores over the weekend and then shop online at the beginning of the week. This means retailers must close the sale on the weekend while shoppers are in their stores.

4. Spending the week after Christmas and into January continues to increase! - Find a way to bring these shoppers back into your stores. Hand out "good for ___% off your next purchase" coupons to holiday shoppers. Offer surprises with a future purchase and make sure to promote your after Christmas and January sales.

5. When they are buying from you, be sure to "Bundle 'em up"! - Create gift packages (corporate gifts, related products, etc.) Remember people are four times more likely to buy something they can touch, so have items available.

Ask your vendors for displays or use displays that suggest a product's use or someone else's enjoyment in receiving a product.

6. Gift Cards - Did you know that 56% of people spend more than is on the card? So make sure all shoppers know you offer gift cards as a great gift idea.

Gift cards are also a great addition to any purchase (buy $25 for $20).

Another benefit of gift cards is that they expose new people to your business - great advertising!

And remember, some gift cards never get used.

Above all be positive, cheery and enjoy the season - your customers will notice!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The 3/50 Project

I received this in an email today. I saw if first several months ago and find it as interesting today as I did the first time around. We are defined by the choices we make and every purchase is a choice. We can support our local businesses and they will thrive, we can ignore them and they will disappear. Please take a moment and read the info below. If you are intersted, get in touch and lets discuss how we can make a difference with and for locally owned businesses:

The 3/50 Project

We received a great email this week from Frankie Gilliam, CEcD and Community and Economic Development Specialist at ASU Delta Center for Economic Development in Jonesboro, Arkansas, introducing us to Cinda Baxter and the 3/50 Project movement. Below are the key points of The 3/50 Project, as outlined on their home page.

3 - What three independently owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared? Stop in. Say hello. Pick up something that brings a smile. Your purchases are what keeps those businesses around.

50 - If half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine the positive impact if ¾ of the employed population did that.

68 - For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays local. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

1 - The number of people it takes to start the trend - you!

As you know, we have been long time proponents of supporting your local businesses. What a great idea that Cinda has put together! I encourage each of you to Pick 3 and Spend 50, to Save your local economy. Thank you, Frankie, for bringing this to our attention!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

So you want to start your own business, do you...

Much of my effort as an economic developer in Stokes County is spent in an effort to assist local businesses and to work with those that wish, for many reasons to start their own business. Many of them feel pressured into this because they have lost a job due to downsizing or they feel the pinch of stagnant incomes and rising prices. Whatever the reason might be, I would suggest they take a few moments and read the comments posted below. If after reading this and taking the time to really consider what Mr. Walton has to say please get in touch with my office and lets make sure you have the tools to start you own your way:


How Badly Do You Want Success?
Are you fully committed?

By Jim Walton
CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
Indianapolis and Charlotte

I recently had lunch with a young man who wanted advice about starting a business. He’s a very talented individual with a great work ethic. He has a job working for someone else but his long-time dream is to be self employed. Many have that same dream but few really understand what goes into starting and growing a business.

As a business owner, I am often approached for such advice. I’ve started, stopped, bought, and sold several companies. I’ve been self employed nearly half my career. I guess you could call me a habitual entrepreneur. It’s just in my blood and I love the process of creating and growing a business. I’ve made many mistakes and learned countless lessons along the way.

For the sake of clarity, when I talk about self employment, I am not referring to freelancing or projects taken on to fill a financial void while searching for a job. I’m talking about a real company – full-time self employment.

Today’s challenging economy has spat a large number of very talented people onto the job market and many have considered self employment as the next step in the career path. Before starting a business, there are several questions that must be answered. Only by clearly understanding where you stand on each should you move into the world of self employment.

Why do you want to be self employed?
People start companies for several reasons but the most common is the need for a job. Big mistake! Most new companies require at least 1 ½ to 2 years to become self-sustaining. If all the owner desires is a job, he or she had better have the patience, hustle, and resources to ride out this crucial startup period.

How far are you willing to bend?
There will be times, whether you’re self employed or work for someone else, when you will have to work with people you simply don’t like. As a business owner, you have the ability to decide which employees, vendors, and clients to allow into your circle.

We once had a series of meetings with a construction industry supply company which had expressed an interest in signing Brand Acceleration as its marketing communications agency. The discussions went well until the third meeting. As is often the case, when you allow someone to speak long enough, their true personality will eventually be revealed. At that point in time, the company owner/president became belligerent, not only with us but with virtually every one of his staffers. Now, we’ve worked with difficult people before but this guy was rude, condescending, and just downright abusive to every person in the room.

When I started Brand Acceleration, I vowed to myself that I would not work with any person I didn’t like, nor would I ask anyone on my team to work with such a person. At the end of that meeting, I politely declined the business, telling the owner that it just didn’t appear to be a good fit for us. As a business owner, you need to know how far you’re willing to be pushed, even if you desperately need the business.

Are you up to managing the details?
Companies often fail because they outgrow the ability of the owner to manage the details of running a business. For example, many restaurants are started by people who consider themselves great cooks, just to die because the owner is overwhelmed by the minutia of running a business. Staffing, accounting, taxes, insurance, leasing, equipment, and other details are more than some people can handle. At some point in time, it stops being fun and the business shuts down. If you’re not up to the daily grind of business ownership, don’t jump in. You’ll regret it.

Have a passion for excellence
As a business grows, the owner needs to remain committed to providing excellent products and/or service. You must be able to do this while managing the details and growing the company. The moment you turn your back on your clients and begin cutting corners, you’re doomed to fail.

Surround yourself with great people
Over the years, my most trusted mentors, some former employers, taught me to surround myself with great people and then get out of their way. This applies not only to employees but also to suppliers and vendors. I’ve found that they make me and my company look great by providing excellent deliverables to our clients. It’s also important to swiftly remove underperformers. Regardless of how great the team is, your customers will remember the poor service resulting from the actions of the one person who dropped the ball. As the business owner, you must build, monitor, and make changes in order to protect your company brand.

Always offer and demand loyalty
The glue that holds the Brand Acceleration team together is the loyalty and caring that we share for one another. Our clients, employees, and vendors are our friends, too. We care for one another and function much as a family.

How badly do you want success?
One of the biggest things that budding business owners fail to consider is the amount of work they’ll have to do. The idea that self employment means you won’t have to work as hard is pure fantasy. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. As a business owner, you can forget the concept of a 40-hour work week. Sixty or eighty hours may be more realistic, especially during the startup phase. You’re going to live and breathe that business during your every waking moment.

I recently saw a YouTube video of Mr. Eric Thomas, Advantage Director at Michigan State University. In his Secrets of Success video series, he asks the question, “How bad do you want your dream?” In it, he dramatically demonstrates the importance of the passion, desire, and commitment required to succeed at anything, including self employment. This is one of several of his speeches on YouTube. Click the picture to view his YouTube video.

To my young friend, here’s what I said: If, after considering these very serious questions, you still have a burning desire to start your own company, then you may just have what it takes to succeed. Develop a well written business plan, establish a team of advisors, get your financing together, and then go for it. I wish you much success and personal satisfaction