Posts Tagged ‘Growing Your Business’

Front-Line Failures; Improving Customer Service

Rushed service; errors; and long sighs. Could this be your customers’ experience with your business?

Over the weekend I visited my hair salon, and this is the customer service I experienced. My 20-minute appointment started 20 minutes late. The esthetician was obviously rushed and forgot a couple of things until I reminded her, which led her to sigh. I was irritated and frustrated. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and said “you seem stressed” and waited to see how she responded.

She told me how her employer wasn’t giving her enough time with each client to give the level of service she wanted to provide. She felt like she was short-changing customers, and she was frustrated because her work was not meeting her standards, and a level of service she thought she was hired to provide. She felt pretty confident that the salon would not earn the business of two bridal party consultations because the salon’s service, touted as high end and “something different”, was in fact no different than any other salon yet at a steeper price. I no longer felt irritated with my service, and encouraged her to ask for a meeting with the salon owner to sort it out.

On-going, two-way conversations with employees can prevent lost customers, improve customer service and further business growth. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some questions to get started:

  • Do you have what you need (time, resources, tools, education) to do your job as well as you would like? What further tools would help?
  • Have you noticed other services or products that our customers are asking for or would like?
  • How can I help you do your job better?
  • What can we do as an organization to make our customers’ lives better?

Your employees are likely at the front line with your customers.  Once your staff understands that you want to hear from them, your employees will pay more attention to the customers’ experience and get better at listening to customers. Ask your employees regularly for their input; it shows you have faith in your employees and makes conversations easier. Set the stage early with every new employee; ask for their input after the first week while they still have a fresh perspective. Let them know that you will regularly be asking for their input and want to hear from them.

I’m interested to visit the salon again and to see if anything has changed; I hope that service will be better. If not, this customer-focused employee will most likely have left out of frustration and that amounts to wasted time and energy on the business owner’s part. Open conversations with each of your employees on a regular basis will prevent you from losing customers and from losing talented staff.

Lessons Learned in Building a Website

I recently re-built my website and, as I do with most big projects, I created a “Lessons Learned” when the site was done. Here are my top lessons learned in building a website:

  1. Building a Website

    Building a Website

    SEO (search engine optimization) is important, but #1 should always be reader value and ease ofaccessibility. If you break this down, there are actually two lessons in here:
    1. SEO is important. A website has two audiences – human readers and search engines. To be the most effective you need to write to both audiences because the audiences depend on each other. Without effective SEO, human readers won’t find you. Without human readers asking to find your site, the search engines won’t care.
    2. Once your human audience finds you, it’s your content that will keep them there (or not) and have them coming back and eventually, becoming a customer. Make sure that your content is well organized, timely, and meaningful to your audience.
  2. Be deeply involved. Your company’s website is a representation of YOU. Your vision, your values, your message must shine through. If your site is created mostly by a consultant with minimal input from you it will look like, well, a consultant’s site. For small businesses to succeed on line, your passion, your business values, your core strengths need to be obvious. Can site readers answer “what makes this business different from its competition?”? If not, dig a little deeper.
  3. Build a baseline level of knowledge about SEO, search engines, and site construction. You need to be able to converse about the site during construction and understand how the construction decisions will impact the end result. Before I took a week-long SEO and website class, I was a bit clueless, honestly. As a result, I relied too heavily on others making site and SEO decisions for me. While I certainly can’t build a site myself (nor do I want to!), I know what questions to ask and when to ask questions.
  4. Learn first, then construct. I made a mistake in not fully understanding WordPress categories and tags and caused myself many extra hours in re-tagging. Ouch.
  5. Find “The Best” for learning and resources. In trying to correct my tags and categories mistakes, I searched and searched for information. If I had followed the advice of one social media “expert”, I would have incorrectly categorized all 198 blog posts of mine a second time. Luckily, I kept digging to find the top two authorities and learned the correct answer.
  6. Work with a site developer that you trust and enjoy. I drove my developer batty every time I said, “no, that’s not quite the right color” and “Can you explain Permalinks again, please?”. She answered my questions and worked with me until I was 100% satisfied. Be clear about your experience and expectations up front and decide what you can live with and without. Ask for references and speak to them.

I’m pretty darn happy with the new site, but what really matters is what you think! Send me an email and tell me what you like and don’t like about the re-design.

If you are building a website or struggling with your company’s branding, let me know. Perhaps a 30-minute free consult is all you need to move forward.

Create Black Friday Magic; Small Business Marketing

black-fridayBlack Friday; Small Business Saturday; Cyber Monday; and the latest – Giving Tuesday. Some business owners are feeling a bit frantic, wondering, “How do I capture some of this business?” Rather than sitting on the sidelines wringing your hands, you can end the year strong with some brain power applied.

Ask a devoted shopper why they leave a warm bed in the wee hours of the morning and chances are they say something like “It’s fun being out there with other crazy shoppers!” or “There are some great deals if you get there early!” The magic of these marketing events for customers are the sense of belonging created; being part of a special group, a scarcity mentality and the fear of missing an opportunity. Rather than trying to fit into one of these marketing days, focus on the human needs they address and your business can capture some year-end traffic.

  1. Sense of belonging. Everyone likes belonging to a club and feeling included. If you’re a B2C business, consider a holiday open house with refreshments for “special guests” (everyone!) and their friends.
  2. Scarcity. For the same reason parents want to be the first at Target to get that limited edition toy. Customers will flock to your business if they believe there is a limited supply. Advertise special offers for the “first fifty” (this one can backfire – choose wisely) or a discounted, yet valuable, service available for a limited time.
  3. Opportunity. Part of Black Friday’s magic is the sense that the greatest deals of the year happen on this day, and if you miss it, you’ll have to wait another year. For B2B businesses, consider assembling a package of services or products that are available only during your year-end.

Finally, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and now Giving Tuesday exist only because someone said they exist. You can do the same – announce your special day or event and, with proper planning, create your own small business marketing magic.

A Step at a Time; Growing A Small Business

A few years ago we vacationed in Puerto Rico. One of the highlights was visiting the El Yunque National Rain Forest and climbing a 600 foot waterfall. We hiked a few miles, then, roped together in case of a sudden rainstorm, we climbed to the top of a waterfall looking for foot holes and places to grab. Our guide convinced us that it would be worth it and he was right; the water was cool, the view amazing, and we enjoyed a sense of accomplishing something we didn’t know we could. I’m sure that if I had heard the guide tell me his plan, I would have said “Oh no, that’s not for us. That’s too rigorous.”

Growing a small business can often feel the same as this experience; we are often in new territory, we don’t know what to expect, and we’ve heard some pretty scary stories about the adventure. A common reaction is to pull back, to say “Oh no, that’s not for me.” Instead, hire a guide (talk with SCORE, a coach, or a trusted friend experienced in business) like we did in the rainforest to encourage you, help you find places to grab onto and pull you up, to remind you what it is you’re working towards, to create a safety net – just like the rope was to us in case of rain. It’s helpful to have a long term vision, but keep focused on the next step – define the next action you’ll take and make sure it’s in line with where you want to go.

When you hear yourself say “I can’t do that” just ask yourself what the next step would be and take that one. Go for it – you might just surprise yourself about what you can accomplish.


– Helen Dutton, Business Coach



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Push Through Assumptions to Reach Success

I had a conversation with a business owner the other day, and she was telling me how the results she wanted weren’t going to happen. The talk went something like this:





Therefore, failure.

“Whoa, back the train up”, I said. “I heard some facts in there along with a pretty big assumption.” I waited for her to acknowledge and defend the statement but she was so convinced about her story that she couldn’t even identify the assumption at first. To her, every statement was an irrefutable fact. We walked through the story and discussed alternatives to her assumption and found evidence that those alternatives exist, although not for her. We then looked, and found, avenues for those alternatives to occur in her business (surprise!). Once we found different paths she was able to create a new story that went something like this:





Therefore, success.

Let me give you a concrete example from another client:

I have gained new clients from past events, prior to the recession.

My competition has had recent events with large turnouts.

My recent events have had low turnout.

I can’t get new clients from events anymore (assumption).

Therefore, I must not be any good at events anymore or I’m not going to get new clients anymore (your failure statement of choice).

It’s obvious when we see it in writing. So guess what your assignment is :)?

If you’ve been struggling to reach a goal, or the next time you hear yourself say “I can’t….” or “It won’t work to…” write down all the reasons why you can’t or why it won’t work – at least ten. Get up and walk around for five minutes. Next, as objectively as possible, decide about and write “fact” or “assumption” next to each statement. If you struggle, ask someone else to do it for you.

Once you’ve identified assumptions, get creative and imagine alternatives; if you’ve seen the alternatives occur, that’s even better. Choose an alternative path to your goal that seems most likely, a timetable, and take action. I can’t guarantee success with every alternative but I can promise progress.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach



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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.