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Small Business Ownership: What Message Are You Sending?

What are your actions as a business telling your customers?  Are you sending the message you want?  As a business owner, it is easy to push through tasks without giving them much thought.  With a never-ending to-do list, and constant crises to deal with, it is hard to find time for the mundane chores that come with business ownership.  However, rushing through tasks and making small mistakes can have big implications.  Let’s take a look at some business signage I’ve seen recently:

New Beginings
(look at this closely)

The business name is “New Beginnings”. Too bad the owner doesn’t know how to spell their own name. What does that tell you about their attention to detail?

Fur Boughs for Sale

This is one of my all-time favorite signs, as I imagine a Far Side© cartoon with an animal walking around with FIR boughs wrapped around their shoulders, as a FUR would be.

Okay, I’m going to get on my soap box for a moment. Please, please, please run spell and grammar check on everything. For important documents, ask an independent party to review for readability and understandability (I’m reviewing a client’s documents this afternoon to see if a layperson understands them).

Here’s my favorite tip,

Are You Guilty of Astroturfing? Boost Your Business With Customer Reviews

Amazon received some bad press recently when an online editor suggested that a book about the telecom industry was the victim of “astroturfing”, receiving fictitious bad reviews on Amazon (See it here). Large sites that depend on customer reviews, such as TripAdvisor,  employ systems to crack down on these overly glowing reviews from seemingly “real” customers. Algorithms flag suspicious reviews which are customer reviewsthen reviewed by real live human beings.

Small business owners understand the importance of positive on-line customer reviews but it can be pretty scary to ask for them. Over and over I’ve heard owners say “I’m going to have my sister/neighbor/best friend write a review for me!” They are so excited about this brilliant idea, their run-around of the task; I just hope that they don’t hear me groan.

I get that it’s scary to ask clients and customers to write a review about your business: what if they say no? What if they write something bad? But what if they say something wonderful? It’s like that saying “you’ll fail 100% of the time that you don’t try (ask)”.  To make it easier, try these techniques:

  • Ask for reviews on your invoices or customer receipts; many national stores do this now – often coupled with an incentive, which you should NOT do.
  • Ask “Were you happy with your service today?” that reminds them that they were happy with you.
  • Ask every customer to write a review. Asking needs to become a habit for you and your staff. Put yourself in the position of wondering “was this customer happy enough that I should ask them for a review?” and you’ll find yourself distracted from attending to the customer in front of you. If every Target check-out clerk can ask on behalf of their behemoth employer, don’t you think you can ask for your own business?
  • Yes, you will get some poor reviews and some “eh” reviews. When I see a poor or mid-level review mixed with glowing reviews, I tend to think that reviewer is probably never happy and it makes the reviews in general more believable.
  • Respond to reviews. Thank customers, say something about their visit, or let customers know that you’ve mended your ways, if necessary. Be authentic in your responses and true to your brand.
  • Google+Local is the review site of choice, but don’t discourage customers from writing a review on other sites such as Yahoo, Yelp!, or Facebook. Whatever site is easiest for them to use is the site for them to write their review.
  • Automate the process by sending every customer a follow-up email with step-by-step instructions on creating a review.  www.DemandForce.com is a great tool for this and gives you the opportunity for another customer touch.

It may seem easier to ask your best friend for an online review but in the long run, your business will be stronger by asking everyone for a review. Simplify the process and you will grow, in every sense of the word. No astroturfing necessary.

The Lure of the Better Berry, or, How to Meet Your Business Goals

Ahhh, it’s berry picking season. I visited my favorite organic berry farm yesterday to pick the final blueberries of the season. Peter, the book-loving farmer who I could chat with all day, directed me on where to find the best remaining berries. “Stay to the left, the first few bushes in the lower field; you’ll get 4 pints from those first two bushes alone.”

business goalsThose first two bushes were loaded, but there seemed to be good berries in the row to the right. Before I knew it, I was dead center of the lower field, picking one berry at a time rather than handfuls. How did I manage this?”, I wondered.  By always looking for that “better” berry, just as I’d done and seen others do in business as well.  It’s easy to see someone else’s success or another great idea only to get distracted; before you know it you’re completely off course. More often than not, taking your eye off the ball, your ball, also keeps you from meeting your goal.

  1. Define your goal clearly and specifically. My goal was not “to pick blueberries”; my goal was to pick at least 5 pints in less than the 40 minutes I had. Other days, my goal was to enjoy the quiet and sun as I picked berries.  In business, a common goal is “to increase revenue”.  An example of a more specific and clear goal is “to add $15,000 a month in service revenue from XYZ program, with $5K coming from existing customers, $5K from referrals, and $5K from new customers/new program.”
  2. Benchmark your progress towards your goal frequently; know exactly how you’re doing compared to plan. I wanted 5 pints in 40 minutes; if I didn’t have over 2 in 20 minutes I needed to reassess.
  3. Compare your original strategy to your actual progress. It wasn’t until I looked up from the blueberry bushes, and looked to the left, to realize how far off course I’d gotten. At that point, I actively chose to redirect my energy and go back to the left side of the field.  If you find yourself off course, decide where you really ought to be and go there. 

Meeting business goals is actually pretty similar to picking berries: know what you’re after, stay focused to fill your bucket, have fun while you’re doing it, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.