Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

Facebook’s Acquisition of Instagram and Small Businesses Value

Facebook announced earlier this week that it is buying the photo-sharing application Instagram for $1 billion. My mind went straight to calculating the value per employee; too many zeroes to do in my head. Turns out to be around $83 million dollars of value per employee. Intrigued to say the least, I started digging to see what made Instagram so special and how small business owners could apply the same principles to build value.fbinstagram

The first thing I learned is that Instagram customers are incredibly loyal, almost cult-like.  The application is easy to use, works very well and adds functionality that didn’t otherwise exist (cool filters).

Lesson: Give your customers ease – whether in using your service or in product functionality; excellence; and provide unique products or services, not the same old thing they can find around the corner (today, around the corner means anywhere around the globe).

The photo sharing app fills a void – the mobile market. Facebook is often criticized for its mobile interface; Instagram recognized that hole and filled it.

Lesson: Look for voids in your marketplace; walk through your industry’s typical customer experience from the customer’s viewpoint; what elements are missing? Where does the customer need to make a leap, or do some extra work? Fill the void and make your customers’ lives easier. You’ll increase loyalty and become that “why didn’t someone think of this sooner?” company, which increases company value.

Instagram founders decided early on (a whopping two years ago!) to be really good at one thing: mobile photo sharing. They stripped productivity out of a previous application to focus solely on a cool app allowing mobile users to share and edit photos.

Lesson: Make a conscious decision about what your company is all about and do it with excellence. Instagram is a one-product company but you can have many products or services focused on an experience; Wal-Mart has millions of products but the focus is the same for all:  low prices, wide selection. Decide and act in line with that decision.

30 million users have chosen Instagram and now Facebook has chosen them, as well. They must be doing something right; select at least one lesson to apply to your business. Let me know how it grows.



 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

The Big Picture in Small Business Competition

Car sales is an interesting business. One dealer sells the exact same large ticket item as the next, yet most of us have strong preferences for one dealer over another; small business competition is high.  Since it’s not the product that makes the difference, it has to be everything else. Interesting, when the investment in the product is so high.


Every business has “competition”; on the other hand, none of us has competition, because no one else provides the exact same experience as we do. Those nuances in how we provide our product or service are our strengths; they are the reasons our customers and clients will choose us over alternatives. Understand your strengths and you’ll attract more ideal customers more easily. Here’s a simple exercise to help you get a clear picture in your mind, which you can then translate into your marketing and branding:

  1. Who do you think of when you think “small business competition”? Go to their website and look at the pictures; what’s the overall impression you get from the pictures? Who is the customer they portray? Write down one or two words or short phrases.
  2. As objectively as you can, now go to your own site and view the pictures. What story do your pictures tell about your business and your customers? If you don’t have pictures (fix that!), read customer testimonials you’ve received and look for oft-repeated words, phrases, or ideas. Write down what your pictures say about your business.
  3. Compare the two.

The differences are what makes you stand apart and are the reason your ideal customers and clients selected you. Your pictures tell a story, they tell readers how you are different. A client was stressing about new competition the other day, so I did this exercise. The pictures told me that these two businesses were night and day! The “competition” pictures were of individuals; my client’s pictures almost all had several of his customers in the picture, his customers were high-fiving, laughing, enjoying being with each other. Clearly, one of my client’s strengths is the community built amongst his customers.

Rather than reacting to your competitors’ messages, identify what separates you from them. By doing so, you will clarify your strengths and you will never suffer at the hands of so-called competition again.


 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Mega Millions Jackpot; Small Business Ownership

Americans are lining up to buy tickets for the Mega Millions lottery drawing tonight, estimated at $500 million. As in half a billion dollars. That’s a pretty big return for putting a dollar bill on a counter and asking for a ticket. I think most of us realize that winning is a LONG shot but all too often I hear of business owners looking for a big return without much more effort than buying a lottery ticket. When I look through e-mail campaigns I’ve received just this week, I could have been lured by these lottery-like promises to get rich “easily”:

 I’ve done all the work for you….

 …make fabulous money and be amazingly successful! 

How to Make Your Business – and Yourself – Rich & Famous!!

I wish I could promise all of my clients similar results, but the fact is that your success depends in large part on you and your efforts. Business ownership is rarely easy, but when it’s done “right”, it is full of ease.  Understanding your personal strengths (the ones you were born with and can’t help but BE and DO), defining your ideal customer so that you would recognize them on any street anywhere, and an incessant attention to your customers’ wants and needs takes some effort. With that clarity, though, your business and your success becomes simple, a matter of following the roadmap you’ve created.

If you’re tempted to buy in to one of these quick rich offers, ask yourself these question instead:

  • What business growth opportunities exist for me right now?
  • Can I describe my business’s strengths in 30 words or less?
  • What action can I take this week to step up the attention I give to my customers?

Invest in your business ownership, and your livelihood, by adding clarity and focus. You may not get the same thrill as when you give the clerk a buck in exchange for the dream of $500,000,000, but I can promise a higher likely return. Winning the lottery is fun to think about, but with odds estimated at about one in 176 million according to lottery officials, I need to get back to work.


 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Does Apple Love You; Buying Behavior

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Apple Computer is in hot water. They are being charged with inhumane treatment of workers in their Chinese assembly plants. I’m guessing that the staff is scrambling looking for alternative assembly solutions but their biggest problem is convincing users and the general public that they care about the Chinese workers.

The buying public looks at data but, in large part, makes purchasing decisions based on their emotions. Anyone who’s ever had buyer remorse understands this all too well; you’ve made a purchase only to realize later that you overspent, didn’t need the product, or you didn’t get the elements you really needed. “What was I thinking?” you say. The truth is, you weren’t thinking. Your emotion made the purchase and left logic out of the decision making process.

As a business owner, it’s imperative that your customers believe that you care; you do that by understanding what emotions are ruling their buying behavior. Apple has built a strong brand around being the company whose products you love to integrate into your life. Their commercials and ads tug at your heartstrings (and, incidentally, your pursestrings). Now, the public will be viewing Apple ads with skepticism as they never have before. They’ll think “If Apple doesn’t care about the lives of their Chinese workers, do they care about me?

I often ask my clients to put themselves in the shoes of their buying customers: what is that your customers really want? It most often comes down to emotion – they want to feel part of a group, they want to feel special, they want to be loved. It really does come down to that basic emotion. On this Valentine’s Day, let your customers know that you care, about them and about their values.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish each and every one of you business success, prosperity, peace of mind and personal satisfaction.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Holiday Forecast; Improve Your Customer Experience

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Economic experts forecast a 3% growth in holiday sales this year, more for on-line retailers. That’s great news! But remember how averages work – some businesses will grow more than 3%, and some will grow less. How do you make sure that your business is one that gains; improve your customer experience. 

The simple answer, of course, is to have something that consumers want. The truth, though, is that consumers have many, many choices and some of those choices come with big corporate marketing budgets behind them. Although that can be an advantage in some aspects, if we look at the other side we find their weak spot. Big is, well…not small; not personal. Small businesses have something that most large retailers don’t have AND that customers really want: the personal touch. Chain stores may have official greeters, but do they know your name? Do you recognize them and look forward to seeing them or hearing their recommendations?

There’s a local toy store that I gladly visit and probably pay more for products because the owner recognizes me and she can recommend products with a few questions about the child receiving the toy. She makes my shopping easier and during the holidays, everyone can use a little more “ease”!

If you’re a retailer or a service provider, make your customers’ shopping experiences easier by painting a gift-giving scenario. Show them who your products or services are for through your displays. On-line? Even easier.  Ask a happy customer if you can show a video or pictures of them either using or talking about the product or service.

Small businesses can have an enormous advantage over big stores during the holidays. Find your strengths over larger stores and leverage them. Go ahead – take more than 3%; I won’t mind if the corporations gain less.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

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.