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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Build a Business by Networking, Here Its Tips

business-by-networkingAsk any entrepreneur and they’ll tell you that successful businesses are based on strong relationships. Some are built one relationship at a time. But scaling a company takes a lot more than LinkedIn endorsements. It’s about taking the time to build relationships with the people you work with  — customers, vendors and mentors  — so that as your company grows, you’re well suited to grow your network with it.

# I know a guy who knows a guy

Unsurprisingly, your existing community of supporters can be a great resource for a new business. Moral support and word of mouth are incredibly valuable, but you might be surprised by the ways in which your existing network can lead to a big breakthrough.

The idea for Tuggo toys struck as my family watched our dogs excitedly try to play with a bowling ball. In true bootstrapped fashion, my parents’ basement was my first workshop. Once the neighbors noticed my two boxers, Harley and Hailey, playing with prototypes in the yard, I shared the story with anyone who seemed interested. When it came time to find a facility to build our products, my friend’s next door neighbor had just moved back from a job in China’s plastic industry and he helped us find the perfect production partner.

# Look for learning opportunities

Some of the best entrepreneurial advice I’ve received is to see everything as a learning opportunity. While it’s incredibly important to learn from your own mistakes, learning from other people’s mistakes may save you a few bumps and bruises. Seek out advice and find a mentor, either online or in your community.

At the end of the day, no matter how different their industries may be, most businesses share the same goal: success. I grew my network and found much-needed guidance by joining the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and an organization called Vistage, which connects CEOs to network and brainstorm. You can learn a lot about building and running a business by talking to other small business owners. I invested in branding materials and hit the road for trade shows on the recommendation of a more seasoned entrepreneur and my company’s growth exploded as a result.

# Take trade shows seriously

Trade shows can be stressful, but you can get a lot out of them. They may not all be glamorous, but shows provide a unique opportunity to quickly forge countless relationships with a very targeted audience. Even smaller events offer the chance to meet new customers, contacts or vendors; it’s just a matter of finding the right events to attend in your industry. Much like most networking, you get back what you put into a trade show. Learn from informative sessions, scope out partners and competition on the show floor and appeal to individual and corporate buyers once you start setting up booths of your own.

We took 500 early, handmade sample Tuggo toys to a pet expo in Nashville. At this point we were running a tube through plastic balls and melting them to form a seal. When we sold out, I knew we had a good idea on our hands. After establishing our production line, we filled bigger orders at larger shows. We were invited to compete for PetSmart’s Innovation Station awards after selling out at a big show in Las Vegas. The outcome? Our toys are on shelves across the country.

# Bring on help to build your brand

While it’s particularly important to catch people’s attention and make a strong first impression at trade shows, it’s a widely applicable lesson. Effective branding and marketing are a must-have for any growing business. Unless you’re a trained marketer and/or graphic designer, you should invest in strategic counsel and professional design services for a logo, business card, website, packaging and any collateral design. You can do all this without breaking the bank, too.

“Good old fashioned” networking is great, but the best part of a global economy is the ability to work with people you may never meet, around town or across the globe. I work with a distributed team of partners I trust, but haven’t met them all face-to-face because I found them online. My marketing consultant lives nearby and we meet up to plan campaigns, but I found a freelance graphic designer that I can afford and love working with on Fiverr. He and I have been working closely together since I started the company — he made my logo and now knows exactly what I want as I start describing a new flyer or banner graphic. Just like a face-to-face relationship, it’s one built on mutual trust and admiration. I even sent him a new computer a few months ago as a thank you. I’m also working with content writers across the country to build up a blog next. It’s a lot easier to find help on a budget now that anyone, anywhere can sell their skills online to build a business of their own. Expand your network and use it to your mutual advantage.

# Create an edge through personalization

If you invest the time and energy required to build lasting relationships for the backend of your business, it should be intuitive to build similarly strong relationships with your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have a one-man selling operation or a full-fledged team, there should be a strategy in place that centers around getting to know customers. Adopting new tools can make it easier, too. My team uses Zoho for customer relationship management, but there are plenty of great CRM solutions on the market for solving the same problem. Your software choice isn’t nearly as important as the way you use it though.

We sell dog toys. What that means is that our customers aren’t exactly our users. We recognize that reality in our communication and our collateral, and it pays off. We don’t just get to know our customers, we get to know their dogs too. We take the pets’ names and breeds down with all our other notes so we can ask how Zeus, the in-house terrier at Pets on Main, is enjoying the test kit of toys we sent when we follow-up. A professional but personable approach and personal touches go a long way to build trust with new and potential buyers.

If you want to see your business grow, go out and introduce people to it. Building a broader network is the best-tested, most cost-effective solution to almost all of the challenges associated with scaling a company.

Trick for Getting More Sales

Every small business owner wants to make more sales. But sometimes, coming up with ways to do that seems impossible. Most small businesses don’t have much of a sales process or a plan to achieve the increased business that they want. So, how can you make your cash register ring? You can use these five campaigns to attract new customers, get more out of current customers, and get back lost customers:

# Customer reactivation campaign: It’s easier and more cost effective to sell to a current customer than to get a new one. A customer reactivation campaign is simply a systematic way to contact previous customers and get them back on board. When you’re experiencing a slow period, plan a campaign to target customers who haven’t returned in awhile. For example, send a postcard, letter, or email to customers who haven’t purchased from you in 30, 60, or 90 days. Your goal is to win them back as a customer.

# Customer appreciation campaign : The goal here is to reward your loyal customers. You could send them a BOGO (buy one, get one) coupon. Or you can send a handwritten note inviting them to a special event or exclusive hours not available to the general public. You don’t have to appreciate all your customers at once. You can segment your customer list and reach out to them a little at a time. For example, you could have Accountant Appreciation Day or Firefighter Friday for customers who are accountants or firefighters.

# SMS/text campaign : It’s easier than you think to use short message service (SMS) texts and send targeted messages and coupon codes to your customers. A survey conducted by the UK Direct Marketing Association found that 1/3 of US consumers would rather receive offers on their mobile device via text message, than via email, mobile app, or voicemail. And in some cases, the redemption rate for mobile coupons is more than 10 times the average for a paper coupon. It is important to get written consent from your customers before sending them SMS messages. You should also keep aware of all regulations governing SMS text messages.

# Frequency campaign : Your goal here is to do something to increase the frequency of customer purchases. Rewarding customers for purchases is one way to go. AC Nielsen polled more than 29,000 consumers in 58 countries and found that 84% were more likely to choose retailers that offered a loyalty program. They also found that consumers spend 46% more with businesses that have loyalty programs on average. Discounted or free products are always a popular perk for customers. For example, a car wash could give customers a card to track each wash and after four paid car washes, the fifth one is free. Remember to design your campaign using powerful rewards and incentives that encourage frequent visits and increased spending.

# Referral campaign : Get your customers to refer their friends and colleagues. Potential customers are much more likely to trust recommendations from their friends and family members than any marketing you do. In fact, Nielsen research found that 84% of respondents found those recommendations the most trustworthy form of advertising. Why not harness that power by planning a marketing campaign to drive referrals? Research shows that referred customers are likely to spend more money than nonreferred customers. Referred customers also have a 16% higher lifetime value. You can use social media to increase the effectiveness (and visibility) of your campaign.

If you want your business to succeed (and who doesn’t?), you need a plan to make sure you’re getting the sales you need. These five campaigns are a great alternative to crossing your fingers and hoping customers buy.

Know the Sign of Losing a Customer

Landing a new customer is hard—and it’s expensive. Sprint pays $315 to acquire a customer and many of the big financial firms pay close to $200. Hopefully your costs won’t be that high but once you get the customer, the last thing you want to do is lose them. That’s why you have to watch for the signs of an impending breakup and take steps to mend the relationship early.

# Complaining

Sometimes you hear that a complaining customer is actually a good thing because they’re engaged in your company. While that might be true in academic circles, business owners know that people have better things to do than call you when things aren’t working. They get annoyed if they have to spend part of their day trying to get something working.

If you find that one of your customers is calling more frequently and the problems seem to be relatively small, that could be a sign that they’re unhappy with your business. As with any complaint, fix it fast and give them over-the-top service. Don’t make them wait, and for your larger customers, be personally involved in the resolution process.

# No Response

A complaining customer is bad but a customer that says nothing is even worse. Maybe you sent an e-mail, texted, or called but got no response. That’s a really bad sign and one that should be rectified right away. If calls and e-mails aren’t working, making a trip to the business or job site is the next step. A customer who is ignoring you is likely in negotiations with somebody else.

Of course, you shouldn’t let things get to the point of no response. For larger accounts, communicate with them often and for the smaller customers, find reasons to create touchpoints as well.

# The Comparison Game

How often do you hear something like, “The other provider does this but you don’t.” Clearly, your customer is looking at other companies to service them. If that’s the case, it’s time to go back to the sales process and listen to what they want, renegotiate your deal, and make them happy again.

Be warned—this is not a time for defensiveness. Put yourself in the place of your customer. Somebody is probably charging them with finding the best service for the lowest price. Be a partner in that process.

# Unsubscribes from E-mail Lists

Marketing e-mails quickly get annoying when a person’s inbox ends up overrun with them but it’s definitely worth looking into if a client unsubscribes from your e-mail communication. First, make sure you’re using a program that allows the person to give a reason why they’re unsubscribing. If they don’t provide a reason, make a call and find out if everything is ok.

# Quotes the Contract

As soon as your customer starts sounding more like an attorney and less like a customer, there’s a problem. If they’re looking at the contract and quoting line items, they’re clearly unhappy. Instead of getting into a discussion about what the contract does or doesn’t say, ask them more personal questions. Are they unhappy? What is the lack in service that is causing them to look at what they’re entitled to?

Once you find the truth, assure them, and remind your employees that you’re a business that surpasses the terms of the contract. They will always get more than the contract states and if there’s a problem, they should bring it up right away rather than figuring out what they’re entitled to.

# Organizational Changes

If your customer’s company is bought by another company or your main contact leaves, there’s no reason to believe that you will lose the account but you should be proactive about introducing yourself and taking the new decision makers through your sales process that stresses your value over your price.

If you wait for them to contact you, it might be too late. Situations like this should also remind you of the importance of keeping strong relationships with your customers. If you don’t know of a change at a company you do business with, by the time you find out, it could be too late.

# You’ve Quit Investing in Them

They say that you should keeping “dating” your spouse even when you’re married. That’s certainly true in business too. You worked hard to get them—and it was expensive, but it costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire than to retain. That means that the money you spend to keep a customer is far less, so make the investment. Take them out to lunch, invite them to an event, send them marketing materials, and continually follow up.

# Bottom Line

The rules of personal relationships often apply to business relationships because all of us are human. We want to be valued, noticed, and respected. We want to know that our opinion matters and that we’re the type of customer who shouldn’t expect any bumps in the road when it comes to customer service.

Customers still value strong service along with a great product but that includes cultivating and maintaining the relationship. By staying on top of the relationship, when problems arise you’ll hear about them before the customer is in the place of making a decision to stay or leave. As the old cliché says, sometimes the best defense is a great offense.