Are These Crucial Steps Missing From Your Marketing Plan?

independent business owners

An independent business owner proudly displays his products at a local event.

As an independent business owner, you have to do everything in your power, and then some, to help your business compete in a world where easily-accessible chains are on every corner in nearly every city throughout the U.S.

And you might think you’re already doing all that you can, but… are you really? We’re betting there are three really crucial steps you might have overlooked that could help further your business this year, and well beyond.

Take a look at the steps below and make sure you put them into your marketing plan today because independent business owners deserve to be seen, heard, and making sales all year long!

1. Get Extroverted

If you feel most at ease at home with a good book, it’s time to break out of that shell. As a small business owner, you’ve probably already realized the power of networking. But connecting with your community on a personal level is worth so much more.

Get a booth at farmer’s markets, seasonal events, and any other festival in your area where local businesses and the community intermingle.

Selling your items at marketplaces like these makes the statement that you are independent and you are a part of the community. (And, hey, you can still read that book when you get home!)

2. Talk Their Ears Off

One of the best ways to jump on the local first bandwagon is simply to highlight the fact that your business is locally owned, independent, and an integral part of the community.

Basically, if you fit this bill, you’ve got to shout about it. How often do you discuss the fact that you’re a small business owner in a sea of corporate chains? Or what about the fact that you and your fellow independent business owners are working together to change the landscape of the local shopping community?

Let your customers know how important it is to support the local economy, and what your role is in it. Whether you include it in your blog, monthly email blasts, or simply in your regular conversations with customers in-store, never stop touting the message of what it means to support local.

3. Give A Little

independent business owners at a local event

Taking part in local events, as well as educating consumers on the importance of shopping local, are two key components of staying forefront in shoppers’ minds.

If you want your customers to care, you have to show them that you care too. When you need work contracted out, go through a local supplier. When a local event needs a business sponsor, volunteer.

However you can show your support for the local community, do so, and they’ll return the favor. Local Michigan business owner Chris Lampen-Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports, sponsors local ‘fun runs’ regularly in an effort to stay connected to the community, and he raises awareness about his own business in the process.

And of course, join a local business association in your area.

“Being part of Local First connects me and our employees to other people that care about West Michigan and our local economy,” said Lampen-Crowell.

The Shop Local Movement Is Growing

When you follow the above steps, you’ll be doing your part to get your business as much exposure as possible, while furthering the shop local movement.

According to a recent article by CNN Money, local business associations are picking up steam and getting noticed. (Which is a great thing for all independent business owners since they exist to keep local businesses thriving.)

In fact, CNN states that more than 150 local business associations now exist across the country and are spreading the message of shopping local out into the public. And as it turns out, most consumers care deeply about their local communities and economy.

Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says that even during the recession, many consumers made the conscious effort to spend at locally owned businesses.

This shift to a local first mindset is fantastic news for small business owners, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be doing your part to help it grow even further.

When you think about it, consumers who frequent local establishment aren’t your average consumers. From unique products and excellent customer service, to the knowledge that their purchase will reverberate through the local economy in innumerable ways, there are many reasons that motivate shoppers to go local.

So take the time to relate to them, and share your story of being an independent business owner every chance you get to give your business more than a fighting chance at staying profitable for many more years to come.

Independent business owners: How will you further your success this year?

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The Worst Boss Ever: How to Lose an Employee in 10 Days

The worst boss ever

In the movie Horrible Bosses, the main character is so uncomfortable by his boss’ constant sexual harassment that he conspires to have her killed.

Being the boss is both a blessing and a curse.

Sure, you get to make your own hours, along with all of the rules, but you also run the risk of being looked at as the biggest jackass in your employees’ lives.

A perfect example is the movie, “Horrible Bosses,” where the three main characters hate their bosses so much they conspire to kill them.

In the movie, “Office Space,” the main character tries to take the entire company down because he finds his boss, and working environment, to be that mind-numbingly awful.

Yes, these are extreme, fictional examples, but it goes to show you just how important your actions are as a boss.

Treat your employees well and you earn their respect. Treat them like crap and you’ll become that ‘worst boss ever’ talked about in horror stories to their friends for years.

Ready to learn how to avoid being hated by your employees? The following is what NOT to do as a small business owner, unless you really do want to lose your employees in 10 days.

Day 1

When you bring your newly hired employee into your office, make it a point to tell them how much you value teamwork, even though you expect them to work in complete silence.

Tell them how vital they are to the operation of the business and that there will be plenty of chances to grow, even though you fully expect your employees to remain in their current positions from now until the Second Coming.

Finally, explain the way raises work, omitting the fact they have been frozen for the last couple of years, and will remain that way with no end in sight.

Day 2

To ensure things run smoothly, give your new employee’s supervisor the day (or two) off so there is nobody available to train them.

To ease the burden of having to train the employee yourself, just give them busy work, like making phone calls, despite the fact they were hired to do a job that has nothing to do with making phone calls.

When they run out of phone calls to make, give them other people’s work to do as you sit in your office and read up on all that’s happening in the world on CNN.com.

Day 3

You wisely decided to give the supervisor an extra day off so they could relax and you could concentrate on making personal calls all day. Plus, you can’t get enough of the “One Pound Fish” video on YouTube so that keeps you much too busy to train the new employee.

Day 4

The worst boss ever, Bill Lumbergh

The classic hated movie boss, Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, mmkay?

With the supervisor back to work and the new employee’s training formally beginning, decide that this is a good day to get away from the office to go play a round of golf with your other boss friends.

Sure, the work you did the last couple days was minimal and your employees could use your help, but you’re the boss and you’ve earned this!

Day 5

Spend the entire day checking up on the new hire to see how they are doing and if they “like it here.”

Day 6

When your new employee asks you a question you know nothing about (because you haven’t actually had a hand in any of the duties performed in-office), just pass the buck and tell them to speak with their supervisor. (Do this A LOT)!

Day 7

After you have your second-in-command fire an employee via text because you don’t believe they called out to attend a funeral of a friend who died suddenly, (they did) you force more work and responsibilities onto your new hire than was originally discussed.

The employee is rattled due to lack of proper training, but who has time for that when you have a lunch date to get to?

Day 8

This is most likely when the employee first begins to wonder if you are, indeed, the worst boss ever. You are impervious to the shift in attitude… after all, you pay them, so that alone should secure their loyalty, right?

Day 9

The worst boss ever meme

Promising and never delivering — a surefire way to lose your employees in 10 days.

Since the new hire can’t work quite as fast as the veterans, deadlines fall by the wayside, work begins piling up, and complaints come rolling in.

Naturally, you’re upset and can’t for the life of you fathom how this could happen… and on your golf day nonetheless!

Frustrated, you have a closed-door meeting with your new employee’s supervisor. After 15 minutes of asking them what’s going on, and, of course, taking your frustrations out on them because you don’t like their answers, you tell them to go have a 15-minute closed-door with the new hire.

Then, you do the only thing you know how… call and apologize to your clients while blaming your employees for the mistakes.

Be sure to promise that you personally will ensure things get done before spending the rest of the day ensuring someone else ensures things get done.

Day 10

Bad news, not everything has gotten done, and stress in the office is at an all-time high. Even worse, your new hire has befriended the longtime employees and has learned that they’ve been duped all along.

You take swift action, though, by calling a closed-door meeting with the new hire.

This is not because you realize what’s going on (you’re oblivious to everything that happens in-office, remember), but it’s to tell them they are not to work past their scheduled time anymore because you don’t want them to even think overtime is a possibility. (Even though they were just doing it out of necessity and to make a good impression on you).

You’ll be asked then about the possibility of a raise since they are doing more than they agreed to when they first settled for much less money than they wanted based on the “raises” you promised.

When that happens, just lie again and say “We’ll discuss that during your 90-day review,” and then never have another formal review ever again.

Truth Is Stranger (and Sadder?) Than Fiction

While this sounds like fiction, it’s based on actual things I’ve experienced while working at a small business. And to say I’ve personally worked for ‘the worst boss ever’ is, sadly, more than accurate.

As a small business owner, it’s important to remember that simple things such as being honest and compassionate, leading by example, and paying attention to what’s going on with your employees can go a long way toward securing the team you value, while being valued yourself.

Plus, when you’re a likable boss, you don’t have to sleep with one eye open.

Share your ‘worst boss ever’ story below!

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4 Ecommerce Lies That Will Sink Your Small Business

small business ecommerce

Refusing to adapt to changes in customer shopping patterns can sink your small business. Don’t let this happen to you. Embrace ecommerce and get more customers!

Ah, the lies we tell others and ourselves… “I’m definitely going to the gym at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.” “I’m never drinking again.” “I loved your play!”

And while those little lies can be great at saving our relationships, no one is helping him or herself by lying about their own career.

This is especially true of small business owners who haven’t joined the exciting world of ecommerce.

Countless small business owners are turning away from a new age of shopping by lying to themselves about how they simply don’t have any use for it.

Well we’re not going to listen to your lies anymore. Not to get all lawyerly on you, but we’re ready to argue until the sun goes down that ecommerce is one trend that simply cannot be ignored.

If you don’t want your small business to sink, make sure you’re not telling any of the 4 ecommerce lies below!

Lie #1: My Business Is Already Doing Great

So things are going well and you don’t want to fix what isn’t broken. But how did things become so great? Because you adapted, learned, and gave the market what it wanted, and figured out the formula for success.

Resting on your laurels is not the answer, nor is simply doing more of the same. A forward-thinking business owner is always trying to figure out which trends have the mass appeal and longevity to warrant an investment of time.

Your business may be doing great today, but will that same formula that resulted in success work in two or three years?

The key to success in business is adaptability, so it’s imperative to take advantage of the trends that are moving the economy forward, and that trend is ecommerce.

Lie #2: My Customers Aren’t Shopping Online

Now you’ve done it. This may be the number one most ridiculous response small business owners tell themselves when explaining why they don’t need to sell online.

Allow us to shatter this white lie with the hammer of truth.

According to a study by Invesp:

  • 68% of online shoppers are between the ages 31-44
  • 64% are between 45-54
  • 68% are between 55-65

And according to a study by CMO.com, the second quarter of 2013 marked the fifteenth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth in U.S. retail e-commerce sales, and the eleventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth!

Think about this: The customers you have today may not be your customers tomorrow. Since small business owners can never be too dependent on return business, it makes perfect sense to always be courting new business.

Being online means that your return customers can buy from you easily, and new customers who are simply doing an online search for a product can find you as well. If you don’t sell products online, you’ll never be able to court this massive contingent of shoppers.

Lie #3: I Don’t Have Time

small business ecommerce boat

It’s time to abandon your sinking ship of lies before your small business goes down with it!

I’m too busy to sell products online. It takes too long to upload photos. I have too many items!

We’ve heard every variation of this lie, and none of them hold up. Yet, this might be your answer for many things because the truth is, most small business owners are incredibly swamped.

Running a business is no easy task, especially if you’ve built it to the point where you’re consistently busy.

But with the abundance of website builders and ecommerce marketplaces that make it easy to create and customize your own online store and sell products online within minutes, this argument simply won’t work anymore.

When you can build your online store quickly, and add products at your own pace, it makes sense to begin working it into your regular routine.

Maybe you won’t have your complete inventory online within a week, but you will have established an online presence in an increasingly online world. Invite customers to visit your store for more options, and add every new item you get to your online store.

Lie #4: It’s Too Expensive

Another popular fiction is the one about ecommerce being too costly. This may have been the case a few years ago, but today there are a multitude of options for selling online that work for every budget.

It’s simply a matter of researching the best options for your small business, and committing to selling online.

Change can be difficult to embrace, and even harder to work into an already busy schedule. But the fact is, ecommerce is here to stay. And small business owners no longer have the option of staying offline when their competition is already invested in ecommerce.

So do your research, allocate some time, and make the commitment to getting online, and your business will respond in extremely positive ways.

Has your small business invested in ecommerce yet?

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Why You Should Steal Chipotle’s Management Style

Chipotle Management Style

Why has Chipotle’s management style been such a success?
Find out and learn how you can put it to work for your small business today!

A recent article on the Mexican-style food chain Chipotle revealed a startling secret: as it turns out, they know more than just how to build a massive burrito.

In fact, they are absolutely obsessed with managing the heck out of their employees. And I don’t mean micro-managing. Chipotle has instilled a company-wide culture of employee development and promotion from within, which has resulted in some of the most loyal employees on the planet.

And whether you have one or 20 employees, loyalty is something you should value in your team. It can’t be bought or bargained for, but rather has to be earned through fair treatment and displaying enough opportunity to grow.

So what can you apply from Chipotle’s management style to your small business? Settle in with a plus-size burrito and get ready to find out.

See the Potential in Everyone

One thing Chipotle never ceases to do is see the best in everyone. It doesn’t matter if you started as a chicken-grilling crew member or have management experience in the restaurant industry, the culture at Chipotle acknowledges the contribution of each of their employees.

With that in mind, consider every person on your team as an untapped well of potential. And you can access that potential by not only giving them everything they need to do their current jobs, but also by maintaining an open dialogue concerning the things they would like to learn.

The best management style has to include trust and respect, and you can do your part by letting your employees know you believe in their talents and ability to grow.

Let Your Employees Try Something New

If variety is the spice of life, then it’s also the secret to unlocking that vast potential. As a small business owner, I’m guessing you have a lot to get done, and although it can be difficult to loosen the reins, there’s a good chance that your employees would love to try their hand at something new.

Thanks to Chipotle’s management style, where an employee starts and where she ends up have nothing do with each other; all that matters is how dedicated an employee is to making the customer’s experience great. And when this kind of dedication is proven, employees are allowed to take on new and different tasks.

The thing is, you never know what your different employees could excel at until you give them the chance to try. And there really is nothing more powerful than the self-motivation that arises when a person feels they are given more responsibility.

Give Them an Incentive to Stay

An employee can quit for any number of reasons, but it should never be because they feel stifled working for you.

Even if you simply don’t have the opportunity for immediate growth, and the job your employee is doing is exactly where your needs lie at the moment, you can still do your part to be inclusive when discussing future plans and trying to understand their overall life goals. Just having this conversation will do wonders for their work satisfaction, because everyone wants to feel that they are contributing to the overall success.

Your employees already love your small business; now you just have to make them love helping you build it into something even better. Your business isn’t just your products – it’s your people, and by adopting an open and inclusive management style, you can foster the kind of employee loyalty that will push your small business to new heights of success.

As Co-CEO of Chipotle Monty Moran said in his interview with Quartz,“The foundation of our people culture, on which everything else stands, is the concept is that each person at Chipotle will be rewarded based on their ability to make the people around them better.”

When your employees want to make your small business better, there’s no limit to how much your business can grow.

What lessons will you take from Chipotle’s management style?

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4 Ways to Reward Your Employees on a Tight Budget

How to motivate employees cartoon

While funny as a cartoon, having this attitude toward your employees in real life can have detrimental effects on your small business. Image via iplaceconnect.com

Have you ever worked for someone who refused to acknowledge or reward your contributions?

You know, the type of boss who expects you to work around the clock for subpar pay, discourages employee friendships (and overall happiness), and maybe even tells your coworkers that he “can’t stand the sound of your voice”?

No? Well, I do. But luckily those days are long gone.

Still, I can’t help but think back and wonder how that boss just didn’t get it. How could he expect top-notch work from employees he mistreated?

Whether you have money or not (he did), when you refuse to make your employees feel valued, you lose their respect – and their loyalty.

Yet, how do you show your team you appreciate their contributions when your budget just doesn’t allow for raises, bonuses, or even cash incentives?

There are actually quite a few ways you can make it clear to your team you value their work without adding to your overhead, after all, your business has to make money if it’s going to stick around.

So if you want to know how to motivate your employees while on a budget, keep reading for some great, affordable tips that’ll show your employees how much they matter to your business.

(And if you’re wondering, my voice is perfectly normal — if I do say so myself.)

1. Congratulate With a Comp Day

When your employees go above and beyond, one of the most popular ways to reward them is by giving them a comp day.

As Cherish Hope Reinwald, owner of small business, Life in the Moment, puts it, “A simple way to show appreciation is by letting someone have a day off of work. Ultimately, this does cost money, but the rewards of an employee who feels appreciated and who will give 110% is worth it.”

Of course, this means you’re paying for a full day’s work, while receiving no work in return… so if this is not an option for you, I have a couple alternatives to suggest:

  • Let your employees choose between arriving a couple hours late or leaving a couple hours early.
  • Give your employees a “slack-off hour” to do with what they please. (Browse Facebook, read a book, take a nap in the backroom, snap a bunch of work selfies, and so on).
  • If your employees normally get a half an hour for lunch, reward them with a full hour. If they normally get an hour, add an extra 30 minutes or another full hour to it.
  • Let your employee take an extra, unexpected break to get an errand done, meet a friend for coffee, or simply relax. Be sure to tell them why. (E.g., “Because I’ve noticed how hard you’ve been working lately, I wanted to reward you with… “

2. Motivate With Free Food 

As we all know, whether you bring your lunch to work or go pick something up every day, it can get very pricey. So if you’re not sure how to motivate your employees, treating them to free food here and there can be a great incentive.

Your employees will love and appreciate being given any of the following suggestions as a reward for a job well done:

  • Take your employee out for lunch to celebrate their achievement.
  • If it’s your whole team, order pizza from a local restaurant. (Look up promo codes to save money.)
  • Bring donuts or bagels in the morning.
  • Give your employee a gift card for a local restaurant.
  • Surprise your team with treats. (Ice cream sundaes, cookies, brownies, etc.)
  • Let your team have an in-office happy hour. (Bring beer to the office for a celebration along with some cheap apps like chips and dip or a cheese-and-crackers tray.)
  • Take your team out for happy hour. (Look up a local business online that offers great prices on drinks and apps.)

Entrepreneur Jordan Green says this tactic has worked especially well for his company Blurrv Media Inc. “We do a monthly pizza-and-cake day where we celebrate individuals for their contributions.”

He says the free lunch and dessert, along with recognizing team members for specific achievements, makes his employees feel valued.

“I believe in creating workplaces which foster a sense of accomplishment and fun. Our managers are trained on positive feedback, so we are always complimenting and rewarding our teams.”

3. Surprise With a Rotating Prize

how to motivate employees meme

This apathetic attitude can often be attributed to a work environment where employees feel undervalued. Don’t let this happen at your small business!

Adding an element of surprise to the rewards you give out is a great way to keep your employees motivated and feeling valued.

Plus, by changing up the rewards you offer, you’ll get to amend the value of each by how high, or low, your budget is at that time.

  • Gift cards are always appreciated, whether you can give $5 to a local coffee shop or $100 to the employee’s favorite store. Since you choose the denomination, this is a perfect reward for a business owner on a budget.
  • Pick up a few scratchers for the employee(s) you want to reward for a fun surprise.
  • If your team normally has to dress up for the office, reward them individually or as a whole with dress-down days.
  • Have a movie day during your slowest time complete with provided soda and popcorn.
  •  Give a personalized certificate the employee can hang in their office or at home.
  • Announce specific accomplishments of individuals during a team meeting or via email.

Eric Warren says that gift cards work particularly well for his company, eBizWebpages. He notes, “We select an employee of the month who gets a $10 gift card for iTunes, Amazon, game network, etc. Winner’s choice.”

Paul Serwin, owner of Business All Star, agrees. He says, “Low-value gift cards or scratch cards can be great incentives to recognize employees and boost morale.”

4. Reward Based on Individual Personality

When it comes to rewarding your employees, it’s important to remember that not everyone is going to like, or appreciate, the same things.

And when you reward them based on their personality, you show them that you’ve taken the time to learn what would personally motivate each individual to reach their full potential.

Rebecca Quinn, a small business success adviser, adds some insight to this valuable point. She says, “It is a best practice to find out what employees prefer and what motivates them. Some people actually are demotivated and embarrassed by being singled out or publicly recognized.”

She continues, “For example, different people prefer quiet recognition, monetary incentives, time off, company bonding time, family events, etc. While one employee may love to attend a company picnic on Saturday, this is a hardship for others with various obligations.”

Yes, learning how to motivate your employees on an individual basis will take some time. But when you give rewards on a more personal level, it can strengthen the bond between you and your team, as well as deepen your employees’ commitment to your company.

There You Have It!

You may not have much extra money to work with right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that your employees are still hard at work for you.

Luckily, all of the suggestions above can be amended to fit any budget, which means you have no excuse for refusing to acknowledge your employees’ contributions any longer.

Remember, a happy, appreciated team is a productive one, and that is something every small business needs to continually grow and move forward.

Share: How do you motivate your employees?

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Why Your Business Must Embrace Ecommerce This Year

embrace ecomerce

Ecommerce has changed everything – and here’s why you should embrace it with open arms.

If you have an internet connection, you’ve probably noticed everyone and their mom talking about ecommerce lately.

How to operate an online store without paying an arm and a leg; what’s the best way to ship products across the country; how inclusive should your return policy be?

A small business owner could spend all day going over the issues when trying to decide if he or she should enable ecommerce capabilities for their business.

But we think the answer is clear. Selling online is the next step in the evolution of shopping, and allows small business owners to more easily compete with large, corporate chains.

Need more convincing? Here are our top 10 reasons you should embrace ecommerce like your great-grandmother at a family reunion.

1. The opportunity to sell more products

Unlike a booth at a farmer’s market or the shelves of a retail location, an online store is absolutely limitless. You can list as many products as you like, and it will only make your shoppers happier. What’s more, a diverse, large product line will result in attracting a wider range of customers.

2. Get in front of new customers

As a small business owner, you know firsthand how difficult it can be to get new customers to visit your store. But when you have an ecommerce site for your business, the customers come to you. Once you’ve listed your products on your website or online store, finding customers is simply a matter of using the right keywords in order to be found through online searches.

3. Stay competitive

Besides creating quality products, small business owners must keep up with their competition, which means taking advantage of technological advances and trends. If you’re the last store in your area to start selling online, you’re missing out on valuable market share.

4. Gain valuable market research

It’s hard to learn much from a customer who walks through your store, looks around, and leaves without making a purchase. But an online store is much more telling.

With an e-store, you are able to track which products are the most viewed by customers, which pages they visit most often, and which pages cause the highest exit rates — making this information very valuable to anyone with an ecommerce business.

5. Sell your products 24/7

Long after you’ve switched off the lights and called it a day, your online e-store is still hard at work. Sort of like a dream employee who never takes coffee breaks.

6. Improve your social media profiles

Ecommerce provides a direct link between social media posts and sales. While not every one of your posts should be about your products, posting images with links to the corresponding product page on your website can now become a regular piece of your social media strategy.

The greatest power of social media is the simplicity and instantaneous gratification it provides shoppers. Linking the ultimate time-waster (social media) with your online store is a match made in digital heaven.

7. Only make what has been ordered

For craftsmen and artisans, it’s sometimes difficult to judge how many products to create for in-store displays or seasonal markets. And lugging around pieces that just won’t sell is a drain on your time and resources.

But when you sell online, you only create what there is demand for, and are able to better judge which products are most popular with your customers.

8. Make more money

Should this be number 1? One of the most effective ways to sell more products is to make it incredibly easy to buy your products. And right now the easiest thing in the world is shopping online.

Let your customers browse, customize, and order at will. You’ll be surprised at how greatly your profit can can increase, simply by selling online.

9. Increased feedback from customers

Online reviews have gone from the realm of angry rants to credible business reviews. You can’t avoid them. And if you start selling online, you’ll see a lot more of them through your social media outlets and the contact form on your site.

The good thing about feedback, questions, and reviews is they allow you to connect with your customers and understand what they want from your business.

10. Get new products to market faster

Selling online is the simplest, fastest way to get new products in front of many people. A new product can be posted on your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts, all with a link back to your e-store. No more waiting for customers to come in your store and take notice. With ecommerce, it’s incredibly easy to show off your new items.

11. Bonus Reason: It’s easier than you think

Low-cost, high quality ecommerce solutions for your business are becoming more accessible everyday – so it’s time you made the commitment to start selling online!

Do you have ecommerce capabilities for your business?

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10 Ways to Make Your Customers Love Your Business More

customer satisfaction

Want to make your customers’ hearts soar? Use these tactics to shoot customer satisfaction through the roof!

We can talk all day about sales tactics, social media, and SEO. But as a small business owner, you know that the real key to customer satisfaction is love.

Not the chocolate-and-hearts-all-over-your-notebook kind of love.

We’re talking about the kind of loyalty and devotion a happy customer feels toward their favorite locally owned business.

The relief they feel when they know they’ll get great customer service and a tailored experience at your store is the foundation of repeat business.

So wouldn’t it be great if all of your customers felt this much in love with your small business?

If you want loyal customers, then you have to make the first move.

Start incorporating these ideas and tips to increase customer satisfaction, and encourage your shoppers to show you the love.

1. Teach Your Employees the Art of Friendliness

Encouraging your employees to give a more personalized experience to patrons will do wonders for your repeat business. Whether you run a coffee shop or a suit-tailoring business, customer experience is the number one factor in determining whether a person will return to buy your products again.

A friendly greeting and a simple ‘How’s your day?’ can make a customer feel more valued. Encourage your employees to engage with repeat customers and new ones alike, and always put helpfulness before anything else. And if your business is solely online, make sure your site is simple enough to navigate, and make it clear that a customer can call or email if they have any issues.

2. Reward Repeat Customers

This is an easy one. Maybe your reward is a free item for every 10, like a coffee-shop punch card. Or maybe offer a 10% off coupon with every $50 purchase. Whatever you do, make it known that when a customer invests in your store, you will invest back in them.

3. Support Local Charities

Giving support to local charities and non-profit organizations is simpler than you think. And because you are a business owner, your impact will be greater than an individual donor.

The best way to do this is find a charity that speaks to your interests, and let them know you’d love to work with them. Chances are, they’ll be thrilled to hear it.

If you have a physical store, offer the organization use of your premises to hold an event for donations.

If you’re online-only, let your customers know that on a certain day, a percentage of every purchase goes toward the charity.

The charity will love you, and the many people who also support that charity will love you too.

4. Give Farmer’s Markets a Try

customer satisfaction

Selling at farmer’s markets isn’t just for farmers anymore!

Farmer’s markets constitute one of the few early-morning activities where everyone is actually in a good mood. They are also unique ecosystems of sellers and buyers, many of whom have known each other for a good while. So get in on these positive vibes and apply for a spot at your local market this year.

Selling at a market will allow you to court an entirely new set of buyers who will be more willing to have a leisurely chat about your products than your average customers.

You’ll get immediate feedback, and hopefully make a few sales, all for a very low personal investment. Also, you might be able to barter some of your products for farm-fresh vegetables.

5. Share Your Story

Don’t be afraid to get personal with your customers. After all, people want to buy from other people, not faceless organizations. Start by making sure your ‘About Us’ page on your website is updated with not just the products you sell, but your personal back story, and what led you to open your small business.

This also extends to what you can post about on your Facebook fan page. Posting behind-the-scenes shots of you hard at work, or your employees getting your store ready for the day, will make you and your business feel more relatable to customers.

6. Make Yourself an Accessible Owner

The thing about small businesses is there aren’t a lot of layers between the customer and you. Even if you have employees and don’t need to be at your store all the time, make it a point to meet as many of your customers as you can.

Customers want to meet the person behind the products, and will feel more confident about buying your products if they feel they know and trust the owner. Share your email on your company cards and website, and personally address as many customer inquiries as you have time for.

7. Get Seasonal

Shopping and the holidays go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so make sure your business reflects current trends no matter what holiday it is.

Getting seasonal doesn’t mean you have to change your product line. Rather, try offering a short-term offer to customers, or simply decorate your store for the holiday. Whatever it is, acknowledge the festive atmosphere, and maybe throw in a few fun seasonal contests along the way.

8. Invest In a Good Website

Do you get irritated when you can’t find what you’re looking for on a business’ website? So do your customers.

Great websites don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming; a simple WordPress site will allow you to share all of your information with customers. Make the website simple and clear with your address, hours, and contact information highly visible. And be sure to write an excellent ‘About Us’ page.

9. Offer Online Sales

customer satisfaction

The secret to a thriving main street is a variety of locally owned businesses that know the importance of not only selling in-person, but also online.

The nature of selling has changed, and everyone knows it. At this point, offering online purchasing is expected by your customers, and if you don’t offer it, they might just find a business that does.

But luckily for you, online sales are no longer the realm of giant corporations. Nowadays, options range from personal websites to online marketplaces when it comes to selling products. Look over the options to find out what’s right for you – your customers will thank you with a nice increase in sales!

10. Support Other Local Businesses

Being a savvy business owner doesn’t mean being a cutthroat shark. If all of the independent businesses in your area go under, it won’t do your business any good to be an island. Local businesses do better when they stick together, and you can show your support by giving local referrals and recommendations to your customers and friends.

If the driving force behind shopping local is love, then you’ve got this in the bag. Remind your customers that they aren’t just a number to you, and they’ll pay you back tenfold!

How do you increase customer satisfaction? Share below!

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4 Ways to Make Fulfillment and Shipping Less Painful

order fulfillment

OK – order fulfillment is not the most exciting topic around.
But it’s the key to running a successful online business.

So you want to be an ecommerce star? Just like basketball, football, and soccer stars, this will start with a lot of work. Most importantly, figuring out right away how to handle your order fulfillment process.

Although it can be time-consuming, and sort of boring, planning out a regular shipping routine is a necessary task prior to beginning online sales.

But it’s not all bad! When you set up your own order fulfillment process, you can customize it to be exactly what your business needs, and ensure that you’re only spending as much as you need to.

Once you figure out what works for your business, you can progress to selling more and more products online, confident that you and your customers will be satisfied.

1. Create a Process

First, establish how often you plan to fulfill orders. Daily, weekly, or a set amount of times per month?

This schedule depends on what you promise to customers on your website. Whether you’re guaranteeing a two-week turnaround to send out orders, or offering the option for two-day arrival, it’s up to you to determine your daily business needs and your availability to send packages out regularly.

No matter what, it must be your priority to meet the deadlines you communicate to your shoppers. Nothing turns a happy customer into a potential bad review like having to wait too long to get an order.

Second, figure out how you want to send these orders out. Do you want to go to the post office, or does your carrier offer pickup? This routine must be established ahead of time so that you can process orders seamlessly and efficiently.

Third, establish the weight and size of your items, and figure out the most cost-effective way to package them. This will allow you to add shipping estimates and item descriptions on your website.

2. Tracking & Inventory

However you handle fulfillment, it must be incorporated into your inventory management system, especially if you run both a physical and online store. Items on your website have to accurately reflect what you have in stock or are able to make at a given time.

This can be done with something as simple as a spreadsheet, or something as advanced as an inventory tracking system that works in tandem with your ecommerce site.

3. Use a Locally Owned Mail Store

Not only are you supporting local business owners with this one, but you are also more likely to get more personalized service and bulk discounts. Small business owners who outsource their needs locally end up having a greater impact on their community than those who do not.

4. Communicate Your Policies Clearly

Clarity is the key to successful ecommerce. When customers can’t see products in person, it’s your job to win them over with detail and simplicity. The same goes with shipping. Be very upfront about shipping costs.

And if you’re offering free shipping, make sure your customers can see it plainly on your site (they love free shipping!).

When your customer is finalizing an online order, be sure to lay out the shipping costs associated with each individual item. Also, make sure it’s very easy to contact you directly if they have any questions regarding shipping or the item itself.

Although order fulfillment is probably first on your list of most tedious things, it is the backbone of a successful ecommerce endeavor. You want customers raving not only about your products, but your customer service as well. So give them a smooth, communicative shipping experience, and you’ll have them begging for more.

What are your recommendations for order fulfillment? Share below!

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The Results of the 2014 Independent Business Survey

local first

Business owners from all 50 states gave their input to the 2014 Independent Business Survey. Here’s what they said!

It can be hard to quantify promotional campaigns, especially when those campaigns are as non-specific as “shop local.” But that’s exactly what local first organizations around the country do every day, and we finally have a study that investigates the impact of those efforts.

The 2014 Independent Business Survey is a compilation of data gathered from 2,602 independent, locally owned businesses across all 50 states. It is a joint effort from the Advocates for Independent Business and The Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The study produced a few notable statistics on the performance of businesses in cities with dedicated “local first” campaigns run by independent business alliances, versus businesses in cities that do not.

But what’s even more interesting is that the study also polled the business owners to get their thoughts on the effectiveness of those initiatives. Whether or not these are hard facts, business owners are the people who know their community and customers best, and if they are seeing a positive response, that’s good news to us.

Overall Revenue Increase

Independent businesses operating in communities with a local first initiative saw a 7.0% average sales increase in 2013, compared to 2.3% for businesses elsewhere.

While these results can’t be directly correlated back to the local first campaign, it does illustrate an exciting trend.

local first

Local First Initiatives

Asking a business owner whether they perceive a change in general awareness in their city, or notice a growing ‘support local business’ attitude within their client base, is obviously a very subjective question. But that doesn’t make it any less important to ask.

The entrepreneurs who run small businesses day in and day out will, over the years, begin to notice trends in where their traffic stems from. Their familiarity with their businesses makes them the experts, and it’s worth taking into consideration whether they actually feel a campaign is working or not.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most business owners who live in local first cities think the campaigns are very useful.

local firstA whopping 75% of business owners surveyed noticed some amount of impact upon their businesses from local first initiatives in their area.

local firstWhen encouraging customers to support local business, an increase in awareness is often the first step. So it’s positive that a majority of the respondents did report an increase in what they perceived as public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses.

local firstAmong those business owners who live in cities with dedicated local first initiatives, it’s not surprising that those who actively promote it saw the most positive impact on their business. Active marketing, of any kind, is usually correlated to increased results.

local firstOverall, business owners in local first cities reported an increase in positive customer activity, and generally thought that their customers were more likely to have a ‘support local business’ attitude.

Challenges to Local Business

The survey finished by posing questions regarding the main challenges business owners are facing today, what they viewed as the biggest challenges of the future, and the policies they believe impact their business the most.

local firstIt’s just as we predicted: online shopping is of paramount concern to small business owners.

The increasing popularity of shopping online, coupled with the cost and time required to run a successful shopping site, has many small business owners taking notice.

Luckily, however, ecommerce solutions are popping up every day that help small business owners join the online shopping market.

Local First Associations Bring Positive Change

We might never be able to prove exactly what a Local First campaign will do for your small business; but this study certainly supports the idea that they at least help. Increasing awareness isn’t easy, but it’s the first step to converting a shopper into a local business advocate.

And thanks to the dedicated local business associations in action all over the country, small business owners don’t have to do it alone. And the best part of small business associations is that anyone can start one, even you.

What do you think about local first initiatives? Share your thoughts!

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Why Small Banks Are a Better Fit for Small Business Owners

community banks

Small, community banks are the key to unlocking funds for small business owners.

If you aren’t feeling the love from big banks, you’re not alone.

Overall lending has decreased as the economy continues to recover, and not surprisingly, small business owners are having a difficult time responding.

But even through these overwhelming economic times, one trend remains startlingly positive. More than ever, small, community banks and credit unions are doling out the small business loans in very big ways.

Why are they doing this?

A deeper connection to the local community and an understanding of small business owners seems to be part of the explanation. These institutions are simply more invested in local business than big banks are.

Even small business owners can sometimes forget to go local with their banking needs though, which makes this the perfect opportunity for a helpful reminder.

Small Lending Is Getting Bigger

According to an article in American Banker, banking institutions with less than $10 billion in assets provide nearly 60% of the industry’s small business loans, which means the little banks are carrying more than their weight. (Tweet this stat!)

And it’s not just small banks that are lending more; big banks are lending less. Just look at these numbers:

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s third-quarter 2013 industry data, small-business lending at banks with less than $1 billion was up 3.8% from the previous quarter and 3.0% from the previous year. At banks with more than $100 billion in assets, lending was down 0.8% in the past year and a whopping 9.5% from the second quarter.

According to Kate Maynard, Vice President at Alliance Bank of Arizona, small, community banks are better able to embrace local businesses and grant small business loans because the decision-makers are a part of the community that the bank serves, and not located out of state.

“They have an intricate knowledge of the culture of the local market and can better understand the local business model as it will exist in their community,” she said.

Local Love From Local Banks

Local banks and local business sounds like a match made in financial heaven to us. But just how do community banks, which most people might think only care about the bottom line, communicate this to small business owners?

“Community outreach and support help to bring together local banks and local businesses. Community bankers value the relationships that they develop with business owners and want to see their business succeed and the community continue to thrive,” Kate said.

“It has been my experience that local bankers are not only proud to be a part of a community bank, but proud of the community they live in.”

And just like most small business owners, they are big believers in word-of-mouth marketing.

“Our customers understand and appreciate this and ultimately become our best referral sources,” Kate said.

Keeping the Partnership Alive

Where would community banks be without local businesses to service?

The partnership is beneficial for both parties, and by viewing customers as partners rather than dollar signs, small banks are able to make a real impact on their local community.

Community banking is the backbone of the local economy… community bankers develop relationships with the businesses they work with and truly understand the visions of the business owners.”

Go Local With Your Money

Whether you need a new business loan or just financial advice before taking your next step, make the effort to seek out locally run institutions in your area.

And even if you don’t own a small business yet, supporting local banking institutions is a step in the right direction, as, according to Kate, “Deposits placed into local banks are put to use in the form of loans to other local businesses.” [Tweet this!]

Just as small business owners care about the success and growth of their community, so do small banks. They will generally be more willing to work with smaller-scale loans and are much more accustomed to the challenges facing small business owners.

You already go local for everything from your product supplies to your coffee; it’s time to go local for your finances.

Do you work with community banks? Share your story!

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