Focusing on What’s Important

At the end of year, it’s normal to recall recent accomplishments and situations, before moving on and assessing what’s around the next corner.

Highlights of the past twelve months are numerous for most businesses and in our personal lives.

A few months ago, an omission on a printed piece produced for a client was an unexpected and unfortunate oversight. The mistake necessitated an apology to several people, offered quickly and with sincerity. The need was to owe up to it and then mentally move on, with the commitment to slow down and be precise to attain perfection. Beleaguering the bad accomplishes nothing.

The opposite occurred when Lawton Gallagher was instrumental in designing and implementing a recent inaugural event for a client. The result exceeded expectations and served as a successful public awareness effort that impressed stakeholders and attendees. At that point it was time to stop, acknowledge the success of the effort (not always easy to accept congratulations), and set a new course to find ways to improve upon it moving forward.

My take-away lessons from both experiences is the reminder to take some in stride, learn from the certain gaffs that punctuate owning a business, and do better next time. Equally important is to know when to stop and soak up the well-deserved praise that comes your way!

Logging these incidents and outcomes for reference – both positive and negative – helps keep a healthy perspective, not only in business … but in life.

What Your E-commerce Business Should be Doing Today

In the ultra-competitive e-commerce world, businesses that go above and beyond in customer service rise to the top. What are ways to do this? And what trends should your e-commerce business be aware of heading in to 2020? E-commerce sales are growing every year and globally, sales will reach nearly $4 trillion in 2020. Yes, trillion. How to ensure a sliver of this fruitful pie? Here are just a few tips on what your e-commerce site should be doing today.

·      Exceeding customer expectations. Find a way to personalize the shopping experience. Especially as consumers enter the holiday shopping season, if the purchase is a gift, how about reviving the handwritten note for a more personal feel? Is your business offering free gift wrapping?

 One local specialty food company made their holiday packaging stand out by printing a   scenic, seasonal photo and affixing it to the top of the box. This brought the northern Michigan holiday feel to customers, who saw this photo immediately, and then   opened their box to a handwritten gift card sitting atop the contents. Also included in this gift package were recipe cards for the products in the box. Now can Amazon deliver that kind of personalized service?!  

·      Free Shipping. If it’s possible to cut costs elsewhere, consider what is becoming a standard offering to online buyers.

·      Utilize Social Commerce. What is social commerce? It’s using social media as an advertising tool. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are just a few of the platforms that can be leveraged to help reach customers through product and service promotion. One quick way to generate some buzz for your business is to offer a free product or discounted service to those who share your promotional post on social media. 

·      Free or no hassle returns. Another service that is becoming standard is the no-hassle/free return. Returns happen and are part of doing business. Consider a return another opportunity to provide great customer service. Don’t hide return information on your website; make return information available in your website’s footer, a feature that appears on every page. To include here as well – business contact information.

Blog It! Ideas for Your Business Blog

If your business has a website–and whose doesn’t– you likely have a page to post blogs. Fresh content is important to keep people engaged, as well as share information about your business and the latest technology or trends. They also serve to show people why they should be doing business with you and not your competitors. So how to keep the ideas for your blog flowing? If you’re stuck, we’re hoping these ideas will help, as shared in an Entrepreneur magazine article, “Need Ideas for Your Business Blog? Here’s 50.”  

Share Successes. If a customer gives you a great review, ask for permission to turn that testimonial into a blog post.Your business can claim to be the best, but what business doesn’t say that? Also, use the blog to ask for other customer stories.

Link the News to Your Business. Are current events affecting your customers?

Run a Google Alert on certain keywords related to your business or industry to find relevant news items to discuss.

Compile a link roundup. If you notice several interesting opinions on a topic, you can pull them together into a single post of the best ideas.

Talk about trends. Convey authority by talking about things that are evolving in your industry. Informative blogs are always well received.

Post a video. Create variety with a video post. You can give a sneak preview of a new product or show a promotional event.

Review a book. If you’ve read a book you think customers might like, why not share?

Review a product or service. This shouldn’t be one of your own products or services or a direct competitor’s offering, but rather a related item your customers might want to learn about.

Go behind the scenes. Give readers a photo or video tour of your plant, customer service desk or the backroom of your store.

Create a contest. Offer a prize for the most interesting customer suggestion or use of your product.

Take a reader poll. SurveyMonkey makes this easy. Or you can simply set up a poll on your business Facebook page and draw readers to “like” your page.

Read all 50 ideas here: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223023

The Extra Mile

In this era of record employment and “help wanted” postings everywhere, it strikes us that customer relations in this climate is more important than ever. Not infrequently, those who work in service businesses like restaurants, overlook basic primers in customer relations. A smile, timely communication, some hustle, and a simple “thank you for the opportunity to serve you…” go a long way toward leaving a lasting impression with customers. They also can contribute to the size of the tip.

This was brought to mind recently when reading this blog post by Seth Godin (seth.com), ageless online marketing whiz and author of a gazillion treatises on the art of selling yourself, services and products. It’s a short read, but worth it…

The $50,000 an Hour Gate Agent

Conventional CEO wisdom is that top management is worth a fortune because of the high-leverage decisions they make. But consider the work of Wade, an unheralded AirCanada gate agent. Yesterday, I watched him earn his employer at least $50,000 while getting paid perhaps .1% of that.

The microphone was out of order, but instead of screaming at the passengers, he walked over and spoke directly to the people who needed to hear him. On his own, he started inquiring about the connection status of a family of four. He could have cleared the standby list, closed the flight and told the four that they’d have to find another way home. Or, he could have saved them their four seats, which would have flown empty if they hadn’t been filled. Instead of either path, he picked up the phone, organized other staff to find and expedite the family and get them on board.

And then, in an unrelated bit of valor, he tracked down a lost wallet and sent his #2 to fetch it from where it had been left–getting it to the plane before it left. Most of all, in an era when loyalty is scarce, he probably increased the lifetime value of a dozen wavering customers by at least a few thousand dollars each.

Krulak’s Law states that the future of an organization is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home. Unfortunately, management and a lack of trust get in the way of the work environment you’ll need to build to earn the human, dedicated work of the next Wade. Hopefully, the airline will put him in charge of their horrible website next. But I’m not optimistic.

Where is your Wade? What are you doing to make it more likely that he or she will bring magic to work tomorrow?

Social Media Tips for Small Businesses

Is your business harnessing the power of social media? Some believe only big brands benefit through social media channels but the opposite is actually true. Social media is key to a successful online marketing campaign. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the thought of how best to manage your business’s social media presence, we offer Four Top Tips:

  1. Spread the Word. Let people know your business is on social media by sending a short message through your email list and asking for likes. Hang a poster or two inside your shop mentioning your business is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. People will follow small businesses on social media, as special offers and discounts are often shared this way. Think up your own special promo and offer it through your social media channel. Be sure to track results!
  2. Update Accounts Regularly. Set a posting schedule of 3-4 times a week and stay current. Aim for a mix of interesting and fun content, as well as special offers and promotions. Share special mentions your business receives in the media or what’s new in your industry.
  3. Hold a Contest. Ask people to share a post and choose a winner at random. Hold a photo contest, asking for photos related to your business or service. Social media marketing aims to engage audiences, so getting them sharing, liking, and participating in posts is key in growing your following.
  4. Share Trending Posts. Inform your audience about topics that are new or trending and related to your business. Share a related business’s post and comment or ask for thoughts. Did you see an image on Instagram that your audience would love? Regram the photo and tag the original creator of the post. This is a great way to engage your followers by offering great content without taking a lot of time to create it.

Be sure to track how well your posts perform. You may find images do better than videos, or vice versa. Maybe a particular time of day or week see the most engagement. The key is to jump into the social media arena, even if you start slow by simply spreading the word that your business is there. Once that’s been done, post, post away! Social media is here to stay and is an effective marketing tool– use it to raise your business’s visibility.

Quick Marketing Tips for Your Small Business

When you’re running a small business, there is so much to do on a daily basis that marketing can often fall by the wayside. Yet marketing is essential in letting the public know about your business, services, and products. What are the best ways to reach those consumers who can help your business grow?

            Here are a few tips to streamline your marketing efforts.

·      LinkedIn will grow relationships, particularly if you provide business to business services (B2B). Promote your company news through LinkedIn, and recognize the importance of building relationships. Direct people back to your site from LinkedIn to capture leads and potential buyers.

·      SEO and Instagram work well for small shops, like boutiques and specialty stores. 

·      Budget a small amount and give Facebook ads a try. There’s no denying the power of social media when reaching out to possible customers. 

·      Email marketing still works – and is one of the most effective ways to stay top of mind with potential buyers. Utilize free email marketing tools, like MailChimp and Constant Contact.

·      Consider adding pop-ups and forms to your website to entice customers. Free trials and giveaways are popular methods in capturing email addresses. Once you’ve built up an email marketing list, customize purposeful campaigns that educate about your product, offer discounts, and welcome new subscribers.

 Keeping these points top of mind can help to ensure your marketing efforts are successful.

Media Pitching 101

“That’s unusual…and interesting.”

“Hmm…wish I knew more.”

“I don’t hear that every day.”

These are the thoughts you want a journalist to have when you’re looking for media coverage.

A media pitch is simple to do and can even help you hone your message. What’s most interesting about your business? What are you doing differently than others? Look for a special angle or interesting spin to try and make your media pitch as fresh and interesting as possible. If you’ve heard of the “30-second elevator pitch” you have the right idea already.

Ask yourself a few questions:

·     Newsworthy?

·     Why?

·     Specific media interest?

·     Best media contact method?

When pitching print in particular, check editorial calendars. These are typically posted online, and preview in advance what topics will be covered, some even up to a year. And if a journalist is intrigued by your pitch, you’ll get valuable exposure for your business through media’s expansive reach. The best part is, it’s free.

Media pitches can be done by phone or email, but despite how busy you may be or journalists actually are, it’s always better to speak to someone rather than just sending an email. Check online media sources to find the right contacts to pitch to. Target those who cover education, community, or business­– whatever makes the most sense for your product or service. Deliver your pitch with enthusiasm. If you’re not excited about it, why would anyone else be? 

Getting your business media exposure is one of the best ways to raise awareness with the public. Don’t feel intimidated when reaching out to media­–they’re always looking for news and content to cover. Novel ideas, new ways of doing business, or ingenious products will generate interest. Knowing what you know now, what are you waiting for?!

Customer Service Still Counts

How much do you value customer service? Whether it’s a smile from the check-out person at the grocery store, or recovering a call back from a business the same day you call, customer service impacts our perception of a business.

            There have been times when I’ve not even been greeted when I walk into a store. I also purchased an item­–during the most recent holiday season– at a nice little downtown shop, only to have the person behind the counter not speak even once while the transaction occurred. No “Thank You,” no “Happy Holidays,” nothing. Not a single word!

            Do those experiences make me want to return to those places? I’m sure you know the answer. And if those were your own personal businesses, how would you feel to know the people working at and representing your store can’t be bothered to open their mouth and say and simple “Hello!” and “Thank You!”

            Customer service doesn’t have to be a major or expensive investment, though it has been for many well-known companies. They were willing to make the investment and it paid off.

            Here are a few anecdotes as read in a recent blog post by Seth Godin called “Your Customer Service Strategy.” Godin is an American author and former dot com business executive.

            When Tony built Zappos, he invested in having his customer service people spend hours on the phone with customers, rewarding them for going to great lengths to create memorable interactions. It created a billion dollar shoe store.

When Fedex was building relationships with busy businesspeople who would become the backbone of their customer base, they answered the phone on the first ring, every time.

When Apple needed to save the Mac from Windows hegemony, they installed experts at the Genius bar and encouraged them to spend the time needed to humanize a traditionally inhuman interaction.

Tesla saw that Ford and GM were working to increase the profits that their dealers would make on service. So they chose to seek to make no money at all on service, using that as a key marketing message to their luxury audience. It’s cheaper than TV ads.

            Take a few moments to think through your strategy for customer service in 2019. This is one of the easiest things to fix for a small business, but also one of the most common smart business tenets that is abused by unthinking or unmentored staff (and obtuse owners).

Customer service matters. As I do, people will remember how they were treated when interacting with your business. Will it be a good memory? Or will they avoid your business in the future? Even worse, will they share their bad experience with others? It’s in your hands now to decide, because ultimately, the customer will determine the success of your business.

The Gift of a New Year

Another year has ended. As is often the case, we look back with nostalgia and recall the year’s best. Northern Michigan experienced an incredible summer, which started early and lasted into September. Anyone who says summer was short didn’t get out enough!

            Simultaneously at year’s end, there are thoughts of the year to come. Despite any wistful thoughts about 2018, the time is at hand to look ahead. 2019 arrives with promises of starting fresh. It is the time for resolutions, though for best results they should be reasonable. Advice articles on keeping resolutions suggest setting specific goals within reach. For example, instead of a broad statement like, “This year I’ll get in shape,” a better approach is to think, “This year, I’ll run a mile without stopping.” Other advice is to be patient with one’s self. We all know the line, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Persistence pays off. Don’t give up easily if your resolution proves to be a challenge. Start new and try again. And keep trying.

            The blank slate of a new year is exciting. New opportunities abound – books to read, classes to take, movies to see, trips to plan. Try a new recipe or craft. Getting out of one’s comfort zone brings unexpected benefits. Are we ever done learning about ourselves and the world around us? Hopefully the answer was “No.” Make a phone call to an old friend, or anyone who has been on your mind. Volunteer for a favorite cause. Allow yourself to be a student again, whether it’s literally by taking a class or just by resolving to keep an open mind about the world.

            Most importantly, approach 2019 with a spirit of gratitude. Even when feeling overwhelmed, stopping to write a short list of good things from the day can keep life in perspective. For us Northerners, that list may include something as simple as “The sun shone today.” We can all be grateful for that during the winter!

            We enjoyed 2018 and wish it adieu.

            Happy New Year. We hope you make it a good one.

Tips for Safe Online Practices

Tips for Safe Online Practices

It’s the season for happy holidays, yet hackers are always out there raining on the seasonal parade. To this end, we’re sharing vitally important information shared with us by our longtime collaborator, Al Steed of Advanced Computer Solutions.

            Al notes that Citrix users received an email, coming from Citrix Share File, requesting a password reset. Please know – this is a legitimate email. Aiming to be proactive, Citrix intended to minimize risks and their email notification was far from the norm. But as we know, these are not “normal” times. Protecting one’s business and giving the best service to customers is always a priority, no matter what time of year. 

            If using Spotify, be aware that a phishing email is being spread, trying to hijack login credentials. This phishing email uses a fake hyperlink. The consequent page appears identical to the legitimate one. Use caution when at any site asking for confirmation of log in credentials. You just can’t be too careful these days.

            Al also informed us that the Strategic Security Survey performed by Dark Readings states most organizations are not prepared for negligent users. These will be the main sources of date breaches, even if the person is unknowing. A negligent user is defined as those who click on anything and everything and forget to take the utmost caution on the internet.

            How to prevent negligent users, insidious hackers and harmful phishing emails? Educate your employees. KnowB4 Security Training can help greatly in this area as it teaches methods to safely surf the net and use email.

            Keep it happy for your business this holiday!