Tag Archives: business

Life is Yours to Waste

20 under 40 headshot - 2013It seems about once a year, a great video shows up in my inbox and challenges me to STOP and take a moment to make sure my juevos are intact.

This video, called “This is Water” narrated by David Foster Wallace, reminded me that we all have a choice with how we perceive the world around us. The only variable is whether we have the guts to make the choice to be happy.

As a serial entrepreneur, I have learned a lot about myself and people in general over the years. The first thing I tell someone who’s interested in starting a business is DON’T! If that doesn’t deter them, I ask them WHY they want to start a business. The answers astound me sometimes.

“I want to open a sandwich shop,” a good friend said. My reply: “If you’re great at making sandwiches, then make sandwiches for your friends and family on a nice Saturday afternoon – don’t open a sandwich shop!” Owning a successful sandwich shop has VERY LITTLE to do with whether you make good sandwiches. You have to find a location, negotiate a lease, borrow money for equipment, hire and train staff (or work 18 hours per day), advertise, buy produce, deal with spoiled produce, deal with the health department, get a point of sale system…and you haven’t made a single sandwich yet!

There’s nothing wrong with working for someone else – some people get paid to taste ice cream all day! If in second grade someone asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, and the answer was “ice cream taster,” everyone would have laughed. Who got the last laugh?

My brother said it best to me, “Alex, the difference between you and most people is your capacity for pain.” It took me a minute to appreciate this compliment (at least I think it was a compliment), but he’s right. I thrive on multitasking, I love to build things. I enjoy putting ‘systems’ in place to grow a business. I not only LIKE the pain of running a business, I REQUIRE it to be happy. I know this about myself, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Life is YOURS TO WASTE. Yes, you have a choice – and that choice should be based on what will give you joy in life, not on being afraid.

I’ve screwed up many times in my life, more than I care to admit, but even during those tough times, I took comfort in the fact that I tried my best and gave it hell. No regrets. I challenge you to do the same.

Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Business

20 under 40 headshot - 2013I’ve been a business owner my whole life. I owned one of the first web development firms in San Luis Obispo. I started what later became the second largest virtual tour company in the country. I sold that to what is now the second largest newspaper group in the country, and got a chance to try my hand at the newspaper business.

I grew an IT company from 15 employees to 40 in less than 2 years. And I’ve provided consulting to countless business owners over the years. Bottom line: I’ve seen a lot. People often ask me what key factors I look at when considering my involvement in a business, so here they are:

1) Risk vs. reward

What do I get for my sweat equity? Can I turn a little money – and a lot of hard work – into more money?

2) What’s the income potential?

Can this make me the kind of returns I want?

3) Recurring income

Do I have to fight for income each month, or do I build up recurring income the longer I work at it?

4) Am I excited to be a part of it?

I love technology, I love helping business owners. I want an excuse to NEED the new iPhone.

5) Freedom with my time

Do I have to open my doors each day at the same time? Can I take a vacation without the business falling apart?

‘Ooohh, Shiny!’

alex-headshot-revised3I love new, shinny toys. I love to upgrade. I’m an early adopter, and have to have the latest and greatest…

I’ve been a business owner my whole life, and have a much larger list of what I’ve done WRONG than what I’ve done RIGHT. I’m constantly obsessing over how to grow my business; do I need more advertising, is the messaging right, will I get a higher open rate if I sent simple text emails instead of HTML, and on and on.

It’s easy to lose sight of business fundamentals as we’re approached by new opportunities to spend our money, uhem…’invest in higher ROI and more measurable small business marketing solutions.’ I’ve tried them all. Some work, some don’t…but few things have stuck around over time. When I need a good laugh, I open up the scrapbook and take a stroll down the ‘advertising/marketing’ expense column of my P&L and reminisce about all of the dollars I spent trying to grow more dollars. Nice.

Then I had lunch with a buddy of mine years ago, and when I expressed my frustration with this schizophrenic world of advertising/marketing, he looked at me with a calm grin on his face and said “Alex, the key to growing your business is relationships. You need to make more of them each day, and invest in the ones you’ve already got. Simple as that. If you stayed in touch with everyone you’ve ever done business with, what kind of impact would that have on you right now?”

There’s me: deer in headlights. So simple, and obvious…dammit! But that has little to do with the shinny gadgets and widgets I love to spend money on. Now what!?!

At the core of every successful business is a good CRM (Client Relationship Management) tool – a way to help organize and manage those relationships that are the life blood of business growth. Different industries have different solutions, but the premise is the same: know who your customers are, and treat them as an important part of your business growth by investing in a relationship with them.

  This is not an easy thing to start, but once you’ve made the investment and committed to making it a part of your growth strategy, you’ll never run your business the same way again.

How Mobile Marketing Can Help Your Business

You may have seen the statistics – one study claims that more than 80% of small businesses that invest in mobile marketing see increased business as a result – but how can you go about capturing some of those gains yourself?

Small Business Computing recently looked at a few companies that are engaged in mobile marketing to find out.

Ron’s Auto Repair Center of Ames, Iowa, uses Yodle, a service that helps small businesses with mobile-optimized websites, listings on Google, Yahoo and Bing maps, and paid-search services across multiple desktop and mobile outlets. The service doesn’t require much sophistication to use. Using a unique tracking number, Ron’s Auto Repair can tell where calls come from and see how many of them are a direct result of online and mobile marketing spending. The service has so far been worth about $9,000 in new sales a month, the business estimates.

Rok Bistro of Sunnyvale, Calif., uses FanMinder to send out marketing messages to all channels, including Twitter, email, texts and Facebook. Mobile coupons have turned out to be a good marketing tool for Rok Bistro. The coupons, which are trackable through FanMinder, allow the restaurant to see how many people click on the offer and redeem it at the restaurant. When a customer shows the server a coupon on his or her mobile device, the server simply clicks a button to redeem it.  In the restaurant, customers can also scan QR codes or send a text message to get an immediate discount and sign up for the Rok Bistro mailing list.

At a minimum, all businesses should have a mobile-optimized website, and make your website mobile-friendly by placing your location and contact information in a prominent place. Clarity, simplicity and speed matter most for mobile users, so make sure it’s clear what you do and how you can help customers. And monitor mentions of your business on Yelp and other sites that can influence consumers.

Adapted from Small Business Mobile Marketing Strategies That Work by Vangie Beal at Small Business Computing. Follow Small Business Computing on Twitter.

Asking Successful Power Questions

What questions do you ask prospects during your sales presentations?

In Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Sales, one of the sections I like the most is the one on power questions. He goes in depth on how to engage your potential client with questions in a way that no one else is. These power questions will make you stand out among others.

When you are trying to close a deal, you need to be able to make the potential client stop, think and engage with you. That’s what power questions do.

What Gitomer says is true: “You become known by the questions you ask”.

Here are Gitomer’s 7.5 power question strategies known to result in success:

1. Ask the prospect questions that make them evaluate new information

When you think about it, the goal is to get the prospect to think outside the box and break away from the normalcy of their day. You want to ask them questions that no one else is asking. They probably have sales people coming through their door every day, so how are you going to break away from the monotony of sales questions and really impress this prospect?

2. Ask questions that qualify the needs of the buyer

Getting a good understanding of what the prospect goes through on a daily basis is so important. It’s about getting them to actually acknowledge their own needs and really break down to the core the specific things they want to accomplish. That’s what qualification is all about. Anytime you can get the prospect to be very clear about their needs and goals, you can hold them accountable for those goals later on down the road.

3. Ask questions about improved productivity or profits

This is where you are getting the prospect to really think about their day-to-day. The idea is to get a feel for the operations of their business. It establishes the relationship and the environment that we want to create with this prospect. Sometimes they will share information that really shows you what kind of business owner they are or what type of boss they are, and that will really help you with the sale.

4. Ask questions about company goals or even personal goals.

Imagine you’re a business owner and someone sits down with you and asks you, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How many locations do you hope to have 5 years from now?”  Those are questions that will make you stop and think. You don’t have an immediate response to those questions because no one else has asked them. Even though those questions may not have anything to do with you or your business directly, they are the kinds of questions that build that relationship with the prospect. It demonstrates that you really care.

5. Ask questions that separate you from your competition, not compare you to them

You don’t want anyone to think that you are the same as, or even just a little bit better, than your competitors. You want prospects to think of you as entirely different than the competition. We can accomplish this by asking the right questions. You can’t force a buying environment–it needs to be created with the participation of the prospect. Make sure your questions are a whole lot different than what other sales people are asking.

6. Ask power questions that make you customer or prospect think before giving a response.

Questions that make your prospect stop and think  prove that you’re getting through to them. Going back to the question “Where do you want to be in 10 years?”, this is the type of question that  they don’t have the answer on the tip of their tongue. No one has asked it before, so they can’t just spit out some automatic response. They really have to stop and think about it.

7. Ask power questions that create a buying atmosphere, not a selling one.

Power questions expose the prospect’s needs and get them to shop YOU. You are asking them questions like, “What do you like about our service?” After you ask a question, be silent! Get them to say what they’re thinking. The silence exposes their feelings and their shopper mentality. You get them using the creative side of their brain, exploring your product, and you just sit back and let them talk.

7.5 A critical success strategy is to enhance your listening skills.

As the customer is giving their answers to your BRILLIANT questions, write them down.  Writing your customers answers proves that you care, preserves your data for follow-up, keeps the record straight, and it makes the customer feel important.

When the customer sees that you are actually taking note of the things they are saying, you build the relationship and create the buying environment.

Keep in mind, none of this is stuff that will come naturally to you. It takes practice and it takes preparation, but these are very important elements that you absolutely MUST be hitting in your sales presentations.

Leveraging Customer Feedback

No matter what type of business you’re in, you will always receive feedback from customers. Many businesses take the time to listen to customers and collect feedback, but not all know how to respond to that feedback and leverage it to better their business. It’s important to determine the proper protocol for responding to that feedback from customers.

With SMS marketing, the systems in place often allow businesses to receive text messages from customers with feedback. Customers will say exactly what is on their mind (not always good), and we must be monitoring these incoming comments for positive feedback!  Customers may leave feedback on other channels as well, for example by calling, emailing, posting on social media, etc.  Businesses should have a general understanding on how to manage their own PR and respond to and utilize those comments in the proper way.

I’ve outlined some strategies on how and when to respond to customer comments, as well as how we can leverage them:

What Messages to Respond to:

Positive Feedback

  • Obviously businesses can’t respond to EVERYONE who leaves positive feedback, so there’s really no need to respond.
  • Businesses can, however, show their appreciation for certain pieces of feedback (for example on social media) with a quick “Thanks for your feedback!”
  • Save positive comments to share with prospects.

Negative Feedback

  • Only respond if you can do it promptly–a delayed response may cause confusion. Responding to customer feedback 3 months later is pointless–the time has passed, the opportunity was missed.
  • Always offer to point the customer to your business’ customer service phone number.
  • In SMS marketing, if you receive an opt-out request:
    • No need to respond–simply delete that customer from the list.

When Responding to Feedback

  • Identify who you are.
  • Try to avoid ongoing dialog back and forth.
  • Address the need/question in one message, if possible.

Leveraging Positive Comments

  • Demonstrate customer demand for rewards.
  • Have a process in place to understand where customers could be finding problems in their dealings with your business.
  • Use screen shots from time to time to provide an element of value in your emails to your prospects.

Obtaining feedback is one thing, but knowing what to do with it AFTER you receive it, is what will really affect your business’ long term success. By embracing your customer feedback, you can achieve transparency into customer buying behavior and gain insight into future buying behavior.

Successful Loyalty Programs vs. New Groupon Rewards Program

The “loyalty” aspect of our service is what has really fueled a lot of the interest we’ve been getting recently. There has been a huge spike in interest in SMS and other mobile marketing services since the beginning of 2012. And, for the past few years, the Groupon model has been relatively popular. The concept of social buying and heavy discounts was very compelling to small businesses that were looking for ways to drive business. However, we saw some backlash with this model.

The deep discounts and one-time buys are not ideal for the goals and needs of certain businesses. I’ve seen about 60-90% of business owners say they will never do another Groupon again. So if you look at the business market and see that most businesses will not use Groupon again, then how does Groupon have any kind of future?

We always knew that the No. 1 fail point of Groupon was that they had no client retention model. We knew they would eventually have to evolve into a loyalty company—and they did when they came out with Groupon Rewards.

Now, the company is distancing itself from small businesses. They realized their model failed to deliver loyalty, so they started offering a lot of other type of products. Now their focus is on “rewards”, which they obviously did out of demand in the marketplace. But, many businesses dislike Groupon because although they can offer great discounts to customers, they aren’t able to get their hands on the list of people who bought the Groupon. That list is important in building loyalty and personal, engaging interactions among customers.

At SMS Masterminds, we have taken the time and energy to build a very campaign-based and service-based program. We understand the concept of loyalty and how it relates to the needs and opportunities of small business marketing.

There are several elements of a loyalty program that absolutely must be included for the program to be successful. And guess what—Groupon has incorporated virtually none of them. Here are some of the must-have components to a successful loyalty program:

Personal Relationship Building

Whatever system you use for your loyalty program should be one that rides the trends of the loyalty marketing industry and the demands of consumers. Consumers are demanding relationships—they want to feel important and buy from people that they like. If a brand can create a personality and get people to like it, that brand will win over customers. It’s about making an effort to make the customer experience personal and engaging.

Engaging Ongoing Messaging

A loyalty program needs to have consistency in its touch points. We are in a very fast-paced industry today and people expect instant gratification. With our loyalty marketing program, consumers are constantly engaged—receiving text message updates and rewards for checking-in on the Loyalty Rewards Kiosk. With Groupon Rewards, there is no engagement. It’s a system that tallies up totals, and who knows when you will receive your reward.

Timely Push Technology

You want to be able to PUSH your message out there. In order to continue that personal relationship with consumers, you must be able to reach them and provide them with something of value. Push technology is so important in marketing—and that’s why mobile is so big right now—because being able to push out your message and almost INSTANTLY reach consumers is unbelievably powerful.

In-House Engagement Element

You need to have something in-house that people can engage with when they walk into your business. There needs to be something they can do, touch, see, feel—whether it’s a table tent or some other form of signage or a Loyalty Rewards Kiosk conveniently located at the point of purchase—so customers can see, in that moment, how many check-ins they have so far, how many rewards they’ve earned, etc.

Habit Forming Consumer Use

A loyalty system needs to teach your customer how to buy. A successful program can help them develop habits that they will continue to act on over time. Consumer buyer habits are one of the most critical elements of any analytics because understanding what your customers are doing and helping them further mold their buying habits will directly affect your bottom line.

Social Media Integration

It’s 2012. If you are still aboard the anti-social media “I don’t see how it will help my business” train, then you should probably get off at the next stop. You can no longer turn a blind eye. Social media is out there, it’s big, and you can’t deny the success that many businesses have using it to promote brand awareness. A system with elements of loyalty, brand building and consumer engagement should absolutely include social media to round off the entire experience.

If you’re in the marketing industry, you’re going to have people ask you about the differences between Groupon and other loyalty marketing programs. Be prepared to answer those kind of questions by being informed.

Anyone can buy a full-page advertisement in a newspaper, but it’s what the ad says and how it looks that makes the difference of whether it works or not. It comes down to service. When we see other companies providing a technology-only solution, it comes up short in terms of what expectations should be. Value is the key, which is why our system has been built the way it has and how it has remained sustainable among all the other variations that are out there.

Restaurant Industry Is Leading the Pack in Mobile Adoption [INFOGRAPHIC]

The restaurant and food industry is embracing the mobile movement more than other business sectors, according to a new infographic.

DudaMobile, a service that makes websites mobile ready, found that restaurants and food services from pizzerias and bakeries to food trucks take 28% of the total percentage of small to medium-sized businesses that have a mobile-friendly site.

This category is far more advanced than other industries looking to reach out to smartphone users, including professional services such as locksmiths and attorneys (16%), health and wellness including spas and salons (10%), travel and tourism such as hotels (8%) and automobile/transportation (6%). Retailer was number six on the list (5%) for small to medium-sized businesses.

DudaMobile also noted that nearly 20% of visits to a mobile-optimized website result in an immediate call to the business.

The infographic also noted that 70% of smartphone owners use their device while shopping. In addition, about 51% of business travelers use mobile devices to find out information while on the go.

For a full look at which industries are embracing mobile, check out the infographic below.

Article Source: http://mashable.com/2012/06/14/mobile-adoption/

5 Tips for Getting Customer Testimonials

No matter what business you’re in, customer testimonials are critical for sales because no one can sell better than a satisfied customer.

Case studies and testimonials help get your prospects to really empathize with what your business is doing and understand your services in a real world context.

Think of Apple’s commercials for the iPad. You don’t see them going into detail about gigabytes, chips and pixels. They strive to show you what the experience is like. And that’s what matters to your prospects—the experience they will get from your service.

Prospective customers don’t need to hear about the nuts and bolts, but rather how your product or service is going to benefit them. There’s no better way to do that than telling a story—and there’s no better way to tell your business’ story than having a customer talking about how your service benefited them.

If you had a 20 second video testimonial from a customer that you could play on your iPad when you walk into a sales meeting, do you think you’d close that deal? Absolutely.

You probably have tons of customers out there who speak very highly of you to others, so why not try and get that feedback in a written or video testimonial?

Well, the problem is no one likes to ask for testimonials. However, you’d be amazed to see how willing people are to help when you ask for it—and when you ask for it in the right way.

Here are some tips that will help you avoid some of the anxiety that comes along with asking for testimonials:

Ask for Feedback

Instead of asking for a “testimonial”, position it as asking for feedback on your business’ services.

Say, “Would you mind providing me with some feedback on your experience using our services? I’d love to hear what you have to say.”

Then, once they give you their feedback, you can ask them for permission to use their quote in a testimonial.  For example you can say, “That’s great! Do you mind if I quote you on our website?” or “Do you mind if I forward your feedback to our prospects?”

It’s less invasive and aggressive than asking someone for a testimonial. Plus, leveraging the positive feedback from customers should give you a huge confidence boost when you walk into a business and try to close a deal.

It’s Not THAT You Ask, It’s HOW You Ask

When you ask for a testimonial, ask the right questions in order to elicit the response you want.

Ask questions like, “How have our services changed the way you engage with your customers?” or “What would you tell a friend who was thinking in investing in our services?”

Prompt the customer to say exactly what a prospect would want to hear.

Ask for Permission

Permission is key. Just because someone gives you positive feedback does not mean you have permission to use it in any way you want. You never want to get into a situation where your customers find out you’ve been quoting them on your website or in published documents without their consent.

You probably know the quote, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Well, that isn’t necessarily true in this circumstance. If for some reason the person doesn’t like the way you phrased something or thinks you took something they said out of context, that will directly affect your credibility to that person.

You don’t want to have to ask for forgiveness of a customer. By the time you do, it may already be too late.

Don’t Be Afraid to Rewrite

Sometimes customers may submit written testimonials that need a little bit of tweaking. There may be grammar issues, awkward wording or bad punctuation. You certainly don’t want to publish a less-than-perfect testimonial because it will make both you and the customer look bad.

Feel free to rewrite testimonials appropriately using similar language and wording, but make sure not to take anything the customer said out of context.

Also, make sure to get the go-ahead from the customer on the rewrite. Just let them know you cleaned up the quote they sent you and have them approve it before you publish or send it anywhere.

Give Back When You Receive

When someone gives you something like a great testimonial, find a way to give back to them.

If your customer is a business—go on their Yelp Page and write a review about them.

Whatever you do, make it personal and make it from you.

Lack of Staff, Strategy, Top Obstacles to Mobile Marketing

Smartphones now account for almost half of all wireless devices in use by mobile users and with that, the adoption of mobile marketing programs continues to gain strength. Even so, there are important challenges holding businesses back from executing the programs, including a lack of resources and a well thought out strategy, according to a new survey from StrongMail.

Some 45% of respondents have adopted mobile marketing with 57% executing the programs for 12 months or less, 29% for one-to-two years and only 14% for three years or more.

The most popular forms of mobile marketing are mobile websites (70%), mobile applications (55%) and QR codes (49%), the survey found.

The top obstacle is a lack of strategy cited by 37% of the businesses, followed by a lack of resources and staff at 22%, and “not appropriate for our business” at 19%.

Mobile marketing budgets remain a small fraction of overall interactive budgets, with 54% of businesses allocating 5% or less to mobile programs. Nearly a quarter of businesses reported less than 1% allocated to mobile. A lack of funding was cited by 12% of respondents as the obstacle in executing mobile programs. On the positive side, 55% report increased budgets over the past year.

“I don’t think that the market is really fundamentally sure what they want to do with mobile marketing and that’s been the case with mobile for a long time,” Kara Trivunovic, vice president of agency services at StrongMail, said. “The proliferation of smart phones and devices has forced marketers to look at it from the standpoint of rendering an engagement. The flip side is, what do you want to do with that as a marketing or communication channel and that’s where marketers are getting stuck. They are not sure how consumers will feel about it and what’s the measurement of success.”

Even so, 59% of respondents believe that a mobile program could help them increase sales, 52% said it could improve customer service while nearly 50% of respondents reported that a strong mobile program would increase brand awareness. Forty-five percent said the programs could help acquire new customers.

While marketers are integrating mobile into various components of their campaigns, this survey focused on the state of integrating mobile into email programs.

Some 43% of businesses have achieved some level of integration between their email marketing and mobile marketing programs, but with mobile landing pages (32%), mobile number capture at email sign-up (25%) and mobile optimized templates (22%) being the top areas of focus.

Only 27% are running cross-channel, lifecycle marketing programs that include mobile messaging. Similarly, only 29% have used mobile response data to optimize offers in email or other channels.

Methodology: The global survey was conducted in April 2012 with more than 800 business leaders.

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