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 (, 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!

Antrim County Attractions

In our gorgeous region of northern Michigan, there are many options to make it a day to remember. From sightseeing, nature walks, small towns and art galleries to eateries and brew pubs, consider yourself lucky to have such a variety of great choices!

            In Antrim County alone, you’re sure to find many things to match your interests.

A lovely 20-minute drive north from Traverse City on US 31 brings you to the picturesque town of Elk Rapids, located on Grand Traverse Bay. Prior to entering the city center, you’ll see Twisted Fish Gallery and Sculpture Garden on the left. A true destination, plan some time to visit the moose and wander their flowering gardens and outdoor sculpture. The gallery is full original fine art, everything from jewelry, glass, pottery and metal works to representational and abstract art by local and nationally recognized artists. This is the perfect place to take care of gift-giving needs and to pick up something special for yourself.

            A short ride from Twisted Fish Gallery takes you to scenic downtown Elk Rapids, where one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants await. Bring comfortable shoes and a beach bag– you can walk along the river and falls in town to Veteran’s Memorial Park. Shoot hoops or relax and watch the kids play – this park also includes an expansive, sandy beach.
            The town’s Walk of Art Sculpture Park, part of 15-acre Day Park on South Bay Shore Dr., is not to be missed. You’ll find an easy hike through woods and dunes while experiencing 30 pieces of outdoor art.

            Foodies should check out Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen or the lakeside Riverwalk Grill and Taproom, both on nearby Ames St. in Elk Rapids.

            Venturing north of Elk Rapids you’ll begin driving along Torch Lake with its clear, crystalline waters. Pull over for views, photos and a dip.

            If you’re looking to sample some of the area’s craft beer offerings, you can’t pick a better place than Short’s in Bellaire. Located on N. Bridge St. in downtown, plan on a sampling flight to find your favorite of the many creatively-named, delicious beers. Like it sweet? Don’t miss Soft Parade or Strawberry Short’s Cake, while IPA lovers will enjoy Huma Lupa Licious with its five hop varieties. A varied menu and sodas for the kids make Short’s a family-friendly place where you can buy a six-pack to go!

            After all the activity, take some time to unwind – nature lovers will enjoy Grass River Natural Area, a nearly 1,500-acre nature preserve along the Grass River in the heart of Antrim County. There are seven miles of maintained trails and a 1.5 mile boardwalk to get you into the heart of this gem. It’s open year round, dawn to dusk.

            Finally, be sure to relax and enjoy it all. No matter what season you visit, the views are stunning, the people friendly and the memories are just around the corner, waiting to be made.


Sailing Into Fall

It occurred to me while night sailing recently that as summer glides into fall, we change our perspective to focus on the immediate needs that arrive with the new season.

            When the moon shines on the bay, we can only see the few things that are illuminated- a swatch of water and a faintly lit, shadowy shoreline. There is a similarity in transitioning to fall, in that we now need to focus on the necessary routines that must and do occur each autumn. Getting kids back to school and starting up their sports and other activities are major events. There is often a rededication to work as well, prioritizing tasks and projects that may have been postponed due to vacations and the active summer months.

            The brief and often over-scheduled summer now settles down, and many fun distractions go away. No more parades, weekend festivals or days at the beach. There may be a slight sadness or disappointment as summer slowly becomes fall. And yet, who doesn’t love being cozy in sweaters, enjoying seasonal treats like warm cider and watching the colors change?

            There is a comfort to routine- we know what we need to be doing and when. Though some may find that limiting, to others it’s a relief and freedom of its own kind. Knowing what we have to do allows for scheduling in things we want to do. This is no longer a summer free-for-all, with an abundance of choices that we often feel rushed to include. Summer feels like a short season, and when we know the weather will change, each day the sun shines is the day we need to pack in as much as possible. Right? But it tends to be a headlong rush, leaving us breathless and a bit exhausted.

            Then there’s fall…cuddling up with a good book on nights that begin earlier, turning up the heat or lighting a fire, and planning for the seasonal events of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

We get the kids back to set bedtimes, put dinner on the table at a regular hour, and resume following a favorite sitcom. There’s a lot to be said for catching our breath, and recalling great summer memories while pulling fall’s shawl in close.

            The only catch about routines is not letting them define us, and making sure to keep spontaneity alive. Shake up your routine by taking a new class­ – maybe cooking or wine tasting. How about a workshop or training you’ve been meaning to do to improve work performance or get up to speed with social media, for example? And if you didn’t get a chance to pay a visit to one of the many lakeshore towns, autumn is the perfect time to seek out fall color with a little day trip. Another great nighttime activity to embrace the seasonal shift: mousing for big brown trout on the Manistee or Pere Marquette rivers.

            Just because we’ve embraced the inevitable change of season, remember to make time for something special, like a little night sailing!

Embracing Brief and Breathless Summer

It seems that suddenly, a busy summer has descended upon us. It’s a season we long for when winter is wearing white (and wearing on our nerves), and the heat of summer days are hoped for in the blustery and mercurial spring season. So alas- summer is here!

            Despite being full of potential activities, from parades and outdoor concerts, to enjoying beaches and parks, have you ever stopped to do…nothing at all?

            In doing nothing, we can tune our senses to what exists around us in the moment. Sit on your deck, patio or in the yard and revel in the joyous colors of garden flowers and plants. Relax on a beach with your eyes closed and hear…seagulls, the laughter of children, waves breaking on the shore. Feel the breeze and savor the warmth of sun on your skin. In tuning some senses out, others come to the forefront.

            When was the last time you sat outside and simply looked around at the sights? Be transported, even for a few moments, by the sight of the breeze ruffling a tree’s leaves or the calls of circling birds.

            Doing nothing isn’t actually a counterproductive idea, it’s a life-affirming one. A deep breath can lead to a release of stress and the endless thoughts of what we “need” to do. I recently joined a friend for a session of sunrise yoga on the beach. It was a beautiful morning with not even a chill in the air due to these hot summer days. Arriving at the beach, we first enjoyed our coffee and the moment was ideal for taking in the silvery calm of the bay and gazing at the slowly coloring sky. Looking up, not a cloud was in sight, just a fresh morning blue. A family of Canada geese strolled by, with several downy-feathered babies flapping their little wings. The sweet sight of nature’s young flexing their wings brought forth amused smiles.

            Though not a regular practitioner of yoga, the prolonged stretching, holding of poses and deep breaths lend themselves to the practice of being in the moment. Calming the mind and mood can start the day off in a positive direction, centered and ready to face the activities and challenges a day can bring. My sunrise yoga experience had me focusing on: the feeling of muscles stretching; the giggles of the brave girls who took a morning dip in the water, and the coolness of the sand as I buried my feet in it. These experiences were brief in duration, yet enduring – a grounding simplicity that puts the focus on your physical body and the environment surrounding you.

            Let it fall away ­– any worrying, any re-plays of recent events or mental shuffling through the to-dos of the day ahead– even for a brief moment. It’s those moments that can then propel us to get through our work and errands, until the next time we can sit on the beach, feel the warm summer breeze on our skin and do…nothing.

            Nothing that is, but be in the moment.