Down-time, down tools and review!

Down-time, down tools and review!It’s September already and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly time seems to pass. When I was a kid and it was the summer holidays, they seemed to go on forever…nowadays the year seems to pass quicker than those summer holidays! Must be an age thing!

Well, when September arrives, I know that it’s time to kick myself up the rear end and take a good look at how the businesses that my partner and I have. For me it’s thinking about what I’ve done so far and how I can kick-start things for the rest of the year. If possible, it’s also good to have some down-time too. Unfortunately, as my partner’s business is hosting music events and gigging, he is still very busy – add into the mix that my son and his partner have just had their second child and my daughter is about to have her first, it looks like a holiday away together is very unlikely. I will be going over to see the new arrivals.

rear-mirror-2480510_640Anyway, I digress! Whilst I’m waiting for the second baby to arrive, I will be reviewing both our businesses. This time of year is perfect for doing this for everyone…you’re coming to the end of the summer season and, dare I say it, Christmas will be fast approaching, so now is the time to look at the business plan you did at the beginning of the year. If you’ve been very efficient, you may have already reviewed it once or twice already. So, are you on track to do the things you wanted to do? If not, what are the reasons? It could be that some of the goals you set yourself are too big, so you could cut some of them down into sizable and achievable chunks. Maybe the goals you set were too adventurous…in which case, you could put one or two on the back burner for next year…of course, you might just need to push yourself that little bit harder to achieve them. It’s totally up to you how you approach goals that have not yet been reached.

Take a look at what you have achieved and be proud! What went well and what didn’t go so well? Make notes of what to avoid next year.

head-1345064_640Now is also the time to plan for the rest of the year – what are you going to do on Social Media? What blogs are you planning to write? Make a list and try and stick to the schedule. Do you have any events coming up, such as networking events, markets, craft fayres etc? If you do, plan how you can be more efficient and get more sales or meet more people.

If you have website, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and look at it objectively. Is it easy to navigate? Can you find the ‘contact’ details? Are the terms and conditions up to date and easy to understand? Do all the links work? You could review your ‘About’ or ‘Home’ pages, update the information and add a new profile picture. If you sell products online, are all the products current? Are old products still showing…do they need to be deleted?

At this time of year, it’s a good idea to ask current customers for some feedback, so you have new recommendations in the run up to the end of the year.

Is there anything you’d like to do as a push leading up to Christmas, such as a competition or incentive for customers? Now is the time to plan this.

What are you competitors doing? Are they doing something you could use to improve your business?

puzzle-210784_640Finally, we all like to learn new things, so make sure you are up to date with the latest news and technology – is there a social media site you’d like to learn more about? There are lots of free courses online so take advantage of them and learn something new to help your company progress. If you don’t have time to do this or learn new things this year, put them into plan, so you add them into your business plan for next year.

If you have any useful hints or tips to help with reviewing your business, please let me know in the comments – I’d be interested to hear from you. Happy reviewing!

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Supercharge your customer touchpoints

This sounds like just another one of those buzz word things – so what am I talking about?

Every business wants their customers to be happy with the service and experience they receive. But, unless you have your customers in mind at every single touch point, you could be missing out on some great opportunities to delight them and keep them coming back for more.

What is a touchpoint? According to SurveyMonkey, the definition of a touchpoint is “…any time a customer or potential customer comes into contact with your brand…before, during or after they purchase something from you”

meeting-1002800_640You may have great products, delivered on time and with a smile, but if your advertising isn’t on target, or they receive billing mistakes, or have to deal with a clumsy and clunky website, you can scare your customers away. Luckily, these touchpoints are easily fixed and within our control.

Let’s take a look at the general touchpoints a customer will come across…these are just some examples.

Before a sale – Social Media sites, Website, Customer reviews, Advertising/Marketing.

During a sale – Shop or office, Catalogue, Phone.

After a sale – Billing, Emails, Newsletter

Make a list of the touchpoints your customers have with you, then look at them in turn, e.g. your website…is it easy to navigate? Do the tabs point to the right things? Do the links work? Are you easy to contact? Do customers get a quick reply if they do contact you?

Supercharge your touchpoints

Now it’s time to supercharge your touchpoints for a better customer experience.

Personal touch – Try and speak to a customer wherever you can as most people like to beard-2286440_640be treated as individuals. I prefer to speak to a real person, not an automated service as I can ask questions and, if there is something I don’t understand, I can simply ask. It is also easier to build a relationship with your customers if you actually take the time to talk to them, as it makes them feel valued. They will feel that they are important to you and your business, that their custom is appreciated and that their opinion matters.

Consistent Service levels – Be consistent across all your dealings with customers, not just on the phone. You have won their custom and now it is time to build their loyalty and gain that all important customer satisfaction. So, not only ensure that you give excellent customer service on the telephone, ensure that they receive the same experience if they email you, such as a prompt reply, with the answer or solution they want wherever possible.

Know your customers – Know what your customers want and who they are. If you can team-2651912_640.pngsolve a problem for a customer, do it…they will always remember that you went that extra mile…and will recommend you to family and friends. Something that you did this year that went really well, might not work next year – never make assumptions where your customers are concerned. One of the simplest ways to know what your customers want is to ask them. This could be via a courtesy phone call (but be careful not to be a nuisance), via a short survey or hold an event, where you can interact directly with your customers and they can see who you are and meet you properly.

Resolve any mistakes – If you make a mistake, own up to it and put it right quickly. Don’t blame anyone else, just resolve it and offer some kind of compensation, such as 10% off their next order. The four step system is a good way to deal with complaints.

sculpture-2275202_640Listen to the complaint…don’t argue or put the blame on someone else – the customer doesn’t want to hear this – he/she just wants you to listen to what they have to say.

Acknowledge the complaint – let the customer know that you understand their complaint by relaying it back to them. This not only shows that you have been listening but gives hope that something will be done. Thank them for bringing the situation to your attention and assure them that something will be done.

Solve the complaint – if you can, resolve the issue, keeping the customer informed along the way. In the first instance, after you have acknowledged the complaint, say that you will look into it and will get back to them within 24 hours – even if you haven’t resolved the problem yet, ring them within 24 hours to let them know what’s happening. Keeping them informed every step of the way is very important in keeping that customer in future and lets them know that they are a valued customer.

gift-553150_640Thank them – you have already done this when you acknowledged the complaint but do it again. If the issue has taken or is like to take a long time to resolve, maybe offer them some kind of compensation – a money-off voucher or a free gift.

Appreciate your customers – Let your customers know they are valued, e.g. send regular customers a ‘thank you’ card, or give them a money off voucher for being loyal, or ask if they’d like their purchases gift-wrapped.

It’s also really crucial to look past the sale…once your customer has bought something from you, don’t make it the last time they hear from you…follow up the sale and ask how they are getting on with the product. Are they happy with it? Do they think it could be improved? Do they have any questions about that or any other product that you sell? They may tell you about a problem they have that you can solve for them, or give you an idea for a new product.

smiley-163510_640If your customers are really happy with the goods and/or services they receive from you, ask them if they could write a short review, either on your Facebook page or on your website…or if they prefer, they can send to you on email. Ask if it’s OK to share their review with other customers and potential customers.

Whether your business is a huge concern, or just a one-man/woman team, excellent customer service must be at the heart of everything you do. It can take extra time and resources, time and money, but good customer service leads directly to customer satisfaction, which can generate great business for you via word of mouth. It can also you’re your business thrive and ultimately be a success. Never underestimate the power of good customer service – it’s your businesses life-blood.

 

Find your niche and market, market, market

Find your niche and market, market, market

If you’re going to make a success of marketing your business, you need to hone in on what is the best niche for you to be in. What will sell well? What will make you the most money?

You might like everything you do, but in order to be a successful business, you need to be able to distinguish your brand from your competitors, find what you are really good at and establish yourself as a dominant leader in that area. Even the biggest names can’t be everything to everyone; there are always going to be those small groups of people who need a particular product or service not met by the bigger companies…which is where the small business can step in.

What are you good at? 

This first question is probably the most important. It’s not ‘what would you like to be good at?’ You need to be really honest with yourself – where do your talents really lie? VladoWhat skills do you have? What do you enjoy doing? Once you have decided what you are good at, make a list of your skills and talent in that area. For example, if you love knitting, crocheting and sewing, which one do you excel in?

Once you know which you are best at…let’s say knitting for example, then you need to look at what skills and talent you have. So, it might be knitting baby clothes, knitting adult clothes, knitting toys – put the things you enjoy making most at the top of the list and so on, down to the ones you least enjoy.

What do potential customers need from your list? 

This is where you need to do some research. Of the things you are best at making, what is popular? You can look on Etsy, eBay and Amazon – are the products you are good at making doing well? Make a list of the things people need from your list of what you do well…then look at these questions and do some research.

  • Do you solve a particular problem for customers?
  • Is your product(s) something that people will come back for time and time again? This is important for repeat business.
  • If there are other people selling the same as you, can you offer something unique that they don’t?
  • Who does your product appeal to? Can you expand that to include other groups? For example, if your product appeals to an older age group, can you make it more appealing to a younger audience. The bigger your product appeal, the more you will sell.

What will people pay for?

Now you know what is marketable, which do you think people will pay the most money for…put your products in order of price…from high to low. You now have your niche – your list of the products you like to make, that you’re good at making, that have a potential audience and that are sellable.

Market, market, market

Now you have your niche and know what is marketable, it’s time to actually market it. If Stuart Miles (3)you are a small business, marketing is all the more important as you won’t necessarily have a huge brand following, nor the money to spend on expensive and extensive advertising. So, what can you do to market your niche effectively and on a budget? I have written a couple of previous blogs about this; ‘How to promote your small business online’ and ‘Marketing your small business with little or no money’. Please take a look as you may pick up some great tips.

You should try to spend at least an hour a day promoting your business…and some things are much easier than others – here are some quick tips to help you market that all important product…

  • Always remember that YOU are your business. No matter what you do or where you are, everywhere is a business promotion opportunity. Your image largely reflects on your business. Although we all try not to, most of us do judge people on our first impression of them…so make sure that you always give a great first impression.
  • Always carry business cards as you never know who you might meet and if you don’t carry them, you could be missing an opportunity to get someone to contact you.
  • Can you leave flyers or business cards at places where your potential customers are likely to be…at the gym, hairdressers, beauty salon
  • Talk to people wherever you go – if you’re in the Doctor’s surgery waiting room, strike up a conversation with someone…too many of us sit in silence in these places…do you take your children to sport’s events? If you do, you’re likely to be hanging around with other parents…talk to them. There are always opportunities to strike up conversations and promote your business.
  • Attend networking events…again, this puts you in front of potential customers face to face…sell yourself and your business
  • Sponsor a local event or charity – or run a small event for charity in your own home or garden
  • Host a seminar or training event and share your skills – a great way to get your business name out there
  • Team up with someone who has a business that links to yours and promote each other’s business on social media sites and on your websites
  • Give your website/social media pages a facelift to keep it fresh

There are many other small ways you can promote your business and, as I said earlier, it doesn’t have to cost the earth – the most valuable thing you can invest in your business is your time.

How did you find your niche and how do you promote your business? I’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch.

Images courtesy of  1) (in title) – scottchan,  2) Vlado and 3) Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Grow your customer base

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ID-10086506Our customers are the lifeblood of our businesses, so it’s crucial to gain new customers and to retain the existing ones. At this time of year, I’m always thinking of ways that I can grow my customer base, so after a brainstorming session, here are some of the ideas I’ve come up with…

Collect email addresses

It’s a great idea to take your customers’ email addresses when they buy or contact you. You can use these addresses to let them know of special offers or to send them your newsletter. But, please note that the data protection act states that you need to have written permission from customers expressly saying that they agree to be contacted via email or to receive a newsletter, (they agree to opt-in), so please ensure you get their permission.

Newsletter

Research suggests that people don’t like to part with their email address unless they are going to get something in return. A monthly or bi-monthly newsletter is a great way to let your customers know about your business, what’s new and any offers you have running. A newsletter needs to be of value to your customers, so include…

  • Relevant information about your business and what you can do for them – people are interested in what value you or your products can add to their lives
  • Details of special offers or new products
  • Valuable, unique content that customers can’t get anywhere else. The more valuable your emails are, the more people will sign up

imagesNF5Z7BI7Develop a calendar for your newsletter, planning specific activities that run throughout the year, for example, something around special times of the year; Valentine’s day, Easter, Christmas, Halloween etc. It’s also important to promote your newsletter everywhere; on your website (via an opt-in link or ‘sign up to our newsletter’ page; put it on the bottom of your email signature or on invoices and receipts; include details in any order you send to customers and if you speak to a customer on the phone, ask if they’d like to receive regular updates from you about your products.

Events

If you go to an event, or have a stall at a market, there are ways to attract new customers…

  • Have slips of paper where people can give you their email address – include a statement saying they agree to opt-in to your newsletter and maybe have a fishbowl or something similar where they can ‘post’ their slips
  • Give away small samples in exchange for an email address so you can let them know about your products and future promotions
  • Include your business card and a flyer with every purchase, which gives details of your website and newsletter
  • If you’re at a tradeshow, you might want to run a short presentation on a laptop giving details of your business and what you can offer customers

Recommendations and referrals

Don’t be afraid to ask your existing customers for a recommendation. If they like your products and are happy with the service or services you provide, they will be happy to write a few words stating just that. Then you can publish this recommendation on your website and social media pages. Potential customers viewing your website will be able to read your recommendations and know that you are trustworthy and provide a fabulous service. It’s reassuring for new customers to read about how a previous customer has been satisfied.

You can also ask your customers to refer you to their friends and family. You could provide an incentive, so if they recommend you and that person becomes a customer, they get 10% off their next order.     

Survey

ID-100349134Ask for your customers’ opinions on your products or services. Is there something you could be doing better? Customers like to feel valued and it is good customer service practice to ask a customer what they think, listen to their answer and act upon it. It shows you listen. You could run a short survey and ask opinions – again, give an incentive to reply. You could put something like this at the beginning of the survey in the introduction… “We place a high value on our customers, so we would like to ask you to take five minutes of your time to answer a few questions about the products and services you receive from us. If you complete this survey, you will receive 10% off your next order as a thank you for giving us your opinion.” People like to be asked to help, like to give their opinion and most of all, like to get something in return so they feel that their opinion matters to you.

Provide great customer service

When asked why they go back to the same business over and over again, people often say it’s because of the friendly, helpful person they interact with. Customers remember if they are treated well and a positive customer experience will result in repeat business. Going the extra mile to meet your customers’ wants and needs is part and parcel of giving good customer service.

ID-100245378How do you ensure you provide good customer service? Well, firstly make sure that there is a clear and easy way for customers to communicate with you – in person, by phone or email and that when they do contact you, you reply in a timely fashion. Always have a positive and friendly outlook and attitude to your customers. Pay particular attention to any customer concerns or complaints. If a customer complaints, they are giving you the opportunity to resolve a problem – if you do this in a fast, effective and friendly manner, they will remember that and refer you to their friends and family. Always remember that the reputation of your business relies heavily on providing excellent customer service.

‘How to…’ leaflets on your website and/or video on YouTube

  • Produce ‘How to…’ leaflets or articles on your website. People love a freebie – promote on your social media sites
  • Produce short, instructional and informational videos on YouTube and a link to it from social network sites, website and blogs

These are just some ideas on how to grow your business and get more customers. If you have any other ideas, please let me know…I’d love to hear from you. Contact cindymobey@outlook.com

10 quick wins to get more customers

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If you work for yourself, you will always be looking for new ways to get more customers, especially at the start of a New Year – New Year, new start!

Here are a few ways to help you find those all elusive new customers…

id-100123066Make yourself or your business the answer to a problem. Is there a problem out there that you can solve with your products or services? Do some research online and find out…then market yourself/your business, letting people know that you have the solution to their problem.

Follow up on previous sales. Once you make a sale to someone or provide them with a service, don’t forget to follow up with them a month or so down the line. Just dropping them a simple email to say ‘Hi, hope everything is OK ‘and ask if you can be of further service to them. If you sell a product, or range of products, perhaps you can suggest one to them that they haven’t tried before. If you provide a service, perhaps there’s another service you provide which they hadn’t thought of…you just need to point out that they need it and why!

Know your audience. It’s much easier to sell your products and services if you know who you are targeting. Do you know who your target market is? Take a few minutes to think about what makes those people tick…what makes them happy, sad, relieved … how can you address any issues to make their life easier?

Back to basics. Take a fresh look at your website and social media pages. Update your profile picture so it’s current, and make sure you are posting regularly. Make sure your website is up to date and that all the links work. Is your logo and online persona still relevant to what you do? If not, think about a re-brand. Make sure you have plenty of business cards and that they have all your up to date information on them. Distribute them to places where your target market may be….and think about getting flyers done to advertise your business…remember, that although we live in a technological world, not everyone is online, so there is still a need for hard copy advertising.

id-10040854Network with others. Find local groups or networking events, where you can meet like-minded people and exchange business cards and details. If you have a product and there’s a local trade fayre, go along and give out flyers and talk to as many people as you can. Don’t forget to also network online too – places like Google + and Facebook groups are great for this.

Get yourself interviewed. Approach a local newspaper or radio station and try and get yourself interviewed about your business. You can take the tack of putting yourself forward as an expert in your particular field.

Are you selling online? If you sell a product at markets and trade fayres, do you also have an online presence…and I don’t mean just a website. You could think about setting up an online shop – this can be very lucrative if it is marketing correctly.

Interview someone in your niche. Arrange to interview an influential person in your niche…someone who is an expert or leading authority on the kind of thing you do. You could interview them as a podcast or use it for a blog post. Either way, once published, that person will tell his/her contacts about the interview and point people to it…and you will get more traffic, which could lead to sales.

Offer a free trial of your product. Everyone loves a freebie and giving something away is a great way to get new customers. Make the free trial available for a limited time only, so instilling the idea that if they want a bargain, they need to do it ‘now’. Once they have the free trial, ask them for feedback so you can make improvements if necessary. If they love your product, they will look at your other products…you can also point them in the direction of another product, “If you liked XXXX, you should try XXXX – I’m sure you’ll love it!”

id-100282052Think about setting up a workshop. Although not exactly a quick win, is there somewhere local where you can share your knowledge through a workshop? People still enjoy learning face to face and this can bring you great new contacts. If you prefer to teach online, you could set up a webinar.

When you have gained new customers, which strategies have you employed? And what did you find was the most successful? It would be great to hear from you.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 steps to a successful business

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In order to succeed in business, planning and good organisation are key. When starting up in business, most people are full of enthusiasm and it can be such a disappointment to find that simply by switching on your computer and opening your doors for business, that business will automatically come your way. It would be fantastic if it worked that way, but sadly, we all have to work a whole lot harder than that to attract business and be successful.

Here are 10 ways that might help make your business more of a success in 2016.

  1. Make a plan. Plan your business goals and how you are going to ID-10070652achieve them. Having a good business plan forces you to look at the feasibility of your business – what will work and what won’t work. It makes you focus on the important and essential parts of your business, your next steps, tactics and strategies
  2. Be organised. Complete a ‘to do’ list every day. This will help you keep on top of things that need to be done now. As you complete each task, tick it off – not only does this give you a sense of achievement, it ensures you don’t forget anything
  3. Analyse your competition. Look at what your competitors do. Why are they successful? Look at the price, quality and customer service that your competitors offer – why will potential customers choose your products or services over those of your competitors? Are there any barriers in place that may prevent potential customers from choosing your products or services?
  4. Know what your customers want…not what you think they want. ID-100282581What do you your customers like about your products? What do they currently buy from you, why do they buy from you and do they give you repeat business? If you’re not sure of the answers to these questions, it might be worth conducting a short survey to your customers and asking them. Give an incentive to reply, such as 10% off their first order of 2016. And a further 10% off if they recommend a new customer who buys from you. The more you know about your customers, your competitors and the business you’re in, the more likely you are to be successful
  5. Provide great service – delight your customers! There have been oodles of books written about customer service and delighting your customers. Some of them advise that you delight them no matter what – I even read somewhere that one company gave a refund to a customer who complained about their tyres….and they didn’t even sell tyres! That’s taking it a bit too far. In order to satisfy your customers, you must deliver exactly what you promised to….to delight them, service must exceed expectations. It really is that simple. Do what you say you will, give your customers what they want (solve a problem they have), and thank them for their custom, inviting them to contact you if you can help them further
  6. Measure everything you do. Whatever action you take as a result of planning your business goals, ensure that you factor in a way to ID-10099989measure whether that particular goal and actions have been successful. By measuring as you go along, if you find something that is not quite working, you can tweak it so it works well. List what needs to be measured, for example, how many people read your Facebook posts or how many comment on a post. Then look at ways to improve this – it might be you monitor your posts and see what kind of post is the most successful and then figure out why. If you have success, shout about it! Your customers will feel reassured they are dealing with the right person
  7. Market and advertise. Marketing your business is about planning the future of your business. What tools will you use to promote your business? For example you could…
    -Join a business networking group and talk to people at every opportunity, giving out business cards
    -Direct marketing – brochures, flyers, sales letters
    -Online – website, blogs, articles (give advice, become known as an expert)
    -Social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest etc.
    -Advertising – print media, business directories, ads in magazine and online
    -Trade shows/markets/craft fayres
  8. Budget. I guess that this one is pretty obvious. You need to know ID-100263887what you can and can’t afford to do and plan accordingly. At the very least, it’s a good idea to have business cards – maybe flyers and definitely think about Social Media and your online presence, such as a website.
    Can you do some of the promotion yourself or do you need to outsource it? And look at what kind of advertising you can afford.
  9. Learn from your mistakes. We all make mistakes and when you are running your own business, you will undoubtedly make several, especially when you first start up. The trick is to learn from your mistakes. If you make a mistake, own up to it – this creates a culture of openness and honesty in your business. Find out why and how the mistake happened and correct it. If you find you can’t correct it, put plans in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If you can’t work out why or how the mistake happened, google it – chances are someone else would have made that mistake in the past and they might have published a solution! Once it’s sorted, move on – don’t continue to dwell on it
  10. Stand out in the crowd. Starting a business is easy, but staying in business is harder as you have so much competition these days. To stand out in the crowd, you need to do all of the above! Create a great ID-10037281experience for your customers; know what your customers want and give it to them; find solutions to your customers’ problems; position yourself as an expert; be different from your competitors and shout about how you are different; shout about your success; give excellent customer service; give special offers to customers who recommend someone new who buys something or uses your service….and above all, be yourself, smile and enjoy running your business – it will show!

I hope these points will help you in your quest to make 2016 a successful year for your business. If you have any more tips, please share them, I’d love to hear from you.

One final tip, if you can’t do everything you want to do yourself, don’t give up, get help.

 

Images courtesy of 1) Ambro 2) David Castillo Domenici 3) Stuart Miles 4) Metrue 5)Stuart Miles 6)jscreations at FreeDigitalPhotos.net