Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Your Customers are Asking for It: Market to Them

I sign up to receive electronic newsletters from businesses all the time. At retail stores, I want to be included in sale notices or to learn of new products. At my favorite restaurants, I subscribe to learn of special events or menu changes.

Considering how many places I’ve offered to market to me, I’m continually surprised at how few emails I receive.

It seems that even though businesses may be collecting my information and obtaining my permission to market to me, they’re choosing not to.

Why is that?

The hard part of marketing is getting people to volunteer to listen to you. If people are choosing to receive news from you—send it to them!

Creating an electronic newsletter to email to your address book is easy, cheap and fast. You can do it yourself, you can do it for virtually nothing and you get instant access to your most invested customers…plus their friends and network if they decide to forward your information to anyone.

Wake up and market, small businesses. Your customers are waiting to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recession Panic

This morning's lead stories in both the NY Times and my local newspaper are all about the impending recession, with my newspaper even going so far as to use the phrase "Oregon's '08 recession."

Not such an auspicious time to be launching a retail store or trying to get a new business off the ground. Any other start-ups groaning along with me?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self Employed

I am proud of my decision to own a business.

Think Happy Thoughts: Weekly Affirmations for the Self Employed

Like many people, I struggle with negative self-talk. People who interact with me for even a matter of a few hours notice that I am my own worst critic.

Despite how deeply ingrained this habit is, I have improved. With concerted effort, I am able to quiet the negative self-talk, if not completely replace it with positive messages. (Note: I said “improved,” not “perfected.”) I am better at it today than I was yesterday. I was better yesterday than I was five years ago. I was better five years ago than I was 10 years ago. You get the idea.

As pop-psychology as it may be, the positive affirmation works.

Since they work for me (and millions of other people) in achieving personal goals, I've decided to apply them to my business goals as well. And to share them with you.

For my fellow sole proprietors, business owners, freelancers, aspiring entrepreneurs, CEOs and WAHMs, I offer you Affirmations for the Self Employed. (see above!)

Enjoy…and let me know what you think.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Helping Hands

Reciprocity. Good karma. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. However you want to term it, small business owners helping other small business owners is…good for business.

The goodwill gestures can be as easy as displaying complementary business information at your location, as straightforward as mentioning good services to your clients, or as personal as passing out others’ cards. However you choose to go about it, sharing information is a win-win. Not only do you help another business owner and potentially your customer, but you benefit, too.

What's In It for Me?

By promoting complementary businesses and services, you create added value to your relationship with your customers. When you assist your customers in accessing quality products or solutions, you underscore your commitment to service. You demonstrate your knowledge of their needs, reinforcing that both you and your business are a resource.

Let Someone Else Do the Work

Spreading the word about related business news or offers can also solve one of your problems: having an excuse to “touch” (contact) your customers. Maybe you don’t want to lower prices, haven’t introduced a new product or service lately or don’t have the time to write a zesty, engaging letter to your customers. Let someone else do the work. As long as it’s a referral you feel good about, you benefit from putting it on your letterhead and sending it to your list. Including information from others in your regular newsletter is a great way to keep your materials fresh.

It All Comes Back

And finally—the obvious—when you help other businesses, they may be inspired to help you, too.

Here are some additional suggestions for good business karma:
  • Follow the cafĂ© example: hang a bulletin board and allow other businesses to post messages on it
  • Feature referral-of-the-month business cards at your point of purchase location
  • Note upcoming events at complementary businesses in your print newsletter
  • Introduce a new, complementary small business to your customers in an e-newsletter
  • Offer to share your space for complementary services by sole proprietors
  • Write a letter to your mailing list, including a special offer from a complementary service provider
  • Highlight a valuable service or product by a complementary business on your blog
  • Link to other small businesses on your Web site

This post was inspired by my massage therapist, Amanda, at Miss Fit. Not only does my monthly massage with her make my month (I’ve had to have ongoing massage therapy and chiropractic care for nearly a decade and Amanda stands out as one of the most effective therapists I’ve seen), but last week, she topped it by helping to share news of my new online maternity store to the prenatal fitness class at Miss Fit. Thank you Amanda for reminding me how good it feels to be helped by and to extend help to others.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Make it Right: Fix Customer Problems to Earn Trust and Repeat Business

After weeks of rain and travel up and down Mt. Hood for snowshoeing and sledding, my car was in desperate need of a bath. So when the sun came out Tuesday, I got in line along with many others at the car wash, looking forward to seeing my sparkling, cherry red paint again.

When I got home and out of the car, however, I noticed that there was still plenty of brake dust on my wheels and streaks of dried dirt on the rear window and around the license plate.

“Hey,” I grumbled, “I paid $10 for this wash, wax and rain protection. Where’s my shine?”

As soon as I caught myself complaining, I remembered the sign that’s underneath the green light at the car wash exit. It says: “If you’re not completely satisfied, we’ll happily rewash your vehicle for free.”

I drove back to make good on the offer.

As soon as I pulled in, the attendant smiled and asked, “Is this a rewash?”

When I nodded, he said, “That’s what I thought. We have lots of them today. With so many cars, it’s hard to meet everyone’s standards first time around.”

And, as promised, he happily sent me through the $10 cycle again.

To be honest, if my car wash didn’t have that sign for me to read every time I went through, I’m not sure I would have gone back to ask them to clean my car again. It’s more likely that I’d have gone to a different car wash next time.

But now the business has solidly earned my trust. I will go back without hesitation.

We all make mistakes. And sometimes our performance or products don’t meet customers’ expectations. While most companies and small business will try to right a wrong if asked, many don’t let customers know how important their satisfaction is.

Invite your customers to be happy; it makes them feel good. Communicate your guarantee to them; it earns their trust. And when they take you up on your offer, do like the car wash attendant and cheerfully deliver.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Questions to Ask When Creating Your Start Up Business Plan

When I was writing my business plan this summer for my new store, I included a start-up budget and first year pro forma projections plus five year projected P & Ls. I researched the prices for equipment, supplies and inventory. I padded various line items (such as travel, legal and professional services) with extra expenditures to account for unforeseen costs. I acquired rate sheets for publications and online venues where I wanted to advertise and correlated all the monthly promotional expenses with the marketing plan. Not knowing what sales would be like, I based my estimates on previous experiences I’d had with similar types of businesses (online, niche market, limited advertising), and then rounded down, creating what seemed to be a conservative estimate of initial sales.

But the first month sales were lower than what I thought was my low expectation. So what did I do wrong?

One glaring answer is that I didn’t consult other business owners to inquire about their actual beginning sales. I relied on information from established businesses and thought it was a simple matter of rounding down. What I failed to take into account is that a business that’s been running for 5 to 10 years has a steady, predictable, stable base of customers.

If you’re beginning to write a business plan or are just opening your small business, knowing financially what to expect in the first months and being prepared for it may mean the difference between making it or breaking it.

To be sure that you have enough money to get through the start-up phase, talk to other people about their first days. Find people in non-competing, but similar style businesses and ask them for the nitty gritty details. If I could go back and start over, here are some questions I would ask others:

What were your first weeks and months like after you launched your business?

On average, how many sales did you have in your first week? First month?

How quickly did sales grow? What was the change like from month-to-month?

How long does it take to build sales? How fast will it happen? How slow will sales be?

Was there a point when sales took off? When and why?

Were there any economic, political or other events that affected sales for your business?

If you were me, what would you estimate sales to be for the first 6 months?

And by the way, feel free to answer any and all of these questions for me now! Your comments are always welcome.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More Tips to Promote Your Small Store Online

Last Saturday, I gave a presentation to retail store owners who are interested in using the Internet to bring more traffic to their brick-and-mortar locations, even without having a Web site.

As a follow up to that talk, I have some additional resource to share. Read how other small retailers grow their local stores using online methods and try your hand at some of the online networking sites below.


"Small Merchants Gain Large Presence on Web" (New York Times, 12/3/07)

"E-COMMERCE REPORT: Retailer's Shortcut From Desktop to Store" (New York Times, 9/24/07)

How Small Players Can Win Big Online (E-Commerce Times, 4/1/02)

Mom & Pop on the Web (CNN, 12/4/00)


Additional free places you can promote your store online:





Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Small Business Success Strategies Event

Portland, Oregon area small business owners (or aspiring small business owners) should get more than a tasty meal January 31 when the Portland Business Journal hosts a Small Business Success Strategies Breakfast.

From a restaurateur to an e-marketing and creative services pioneer to a specialty retail store owner, the speakers will participate in a panel exploration of the obstacles they faced, their strategies for growth, and the other discoveries that they found along the way.


Get out of bed early, coffee-up and let's listen to what the experienced have to teach us! See you there.

When: Thursday, January 31, 2008 7:30am - 9:00am

Where: Governor Hotel, Heritage Room 614 SW 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97205

How Much: $35 per person

(Photo courtesy of Portland Business Journal; clockwise from top: Ryan Buchanan, CEO and founder of eROI; Steven Kline, CEO and Owner of Typhoon! Restaurants; Judith Huck, Owner, Classique Floors)

Monday, January 7, 2008

5 Low-Cost Ways to Promote Your Store Online—Even Without a Web site!

Just how important is it for your store to be found on the Internet? Surveys conducted in 2007 reveal that growing numbers of shoppers—one source claims as many as 93%—are heading to their computers before the Yellow Pages or the newspaper when searching for store phone numbers and information. Last year, retailers with Web sites credited online referrals with 12% of their leads. Other industry observers note that while 92% of consumers research products online, 95% of purchases happen in store.

The message is clear: no matter what size store you have or how long you’ve been successfully in business, you’re missing out on sales if would-be customers can’t find you on the Internet.

For this reason, every store should have a Web site of its own. But if cost or time prohibits you from having your own Internet address, you can still use the following strategies to make your store details appear online. If you do have your own Web site, these tips will help boost your search engine rankings and make your site more visible to a wider audience.

1. Post your business information in free directories.

The five big ones are: Yahoo! Local; YellowPages.com; Local.com; Google Maps; and Superpages.com.

WebListings, offered by Intuit (makers of QuickBooks), is a service that lets you manage your listings with four of the above five directories (excludes Local.com). Use WebListings to easily upload your store information to all of the free directories. It also consolidates the directories’ paid listings, so that if you choose, you may add enhancements such as maps to your store, special coupon offers and lists of brands you carry.

2. Advertise your business online in paid directories.

To ensure that your store details show up on the first page of the most popular search engines, consider low-cost paid inclusion in select directories. Citysearch.com, for instance, has pay-per-click programs available that allow you to only pay a small finder’s fee (usually less than a dollar) for each lead you receive from their site. Store owners without a Web site can set up their store phone number as the referral method.

3. Get more from your advertising dollar.

Most of the venues where you pay to advertise your store have corresponding Web sites. For example, every local newspaper has its own Web site. If you place ads with newspapers and magazines, make sure that they include your store information online, as well.

4. Put an ad on Craigslist.

Craigslist has the 7th highest ranking of page views in the world, with more than 9 billion page views per month. Many small business owners use Craigslist to generate the majority of their local leads.

To place your ad on Craigslist, go to http://www.craigslist.org/ and select your city or the one closest to you. Under the “Services” section, click “Small Biz Ads.” In the very top right corner, click “Post.” Again, select “Small Biz Ads” and choose the area that best reflects your market. The next page that opens provides you with a form. Simply type the information for your ad, click “Continue” and follow the remaining instructions. Ads only show for seven days, so for best results, offer readers incentives or make timely announcements.

5. Put gift certificates to your store on eBay.

eBay contains a category for “Gift Certificates.” In it, small businesses sell gift cards or gift certificates to their stores. Sure, no one’s going to buy a gift certificate for its full value, so you will lose money. But you will also be able to showcase your store’s offerings to hundreds of shoppers and the winning bidders just may become loyal local customers.


One caveat about joining the stream of the World Wide Web—don’t expect these promotion methods to open the floodgates and bring a deluge of visitors to your store. Internet marketing itself is a serious and challenging task. That said, these techniques will bring you more traffic—to your Web site, if you have one, and to your store.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Business Inspiration: Begin

Today is the day to begin. This new year is a blank canvas upon which you have the delightful opportunity to paint.

As you do, be authentic. Your greatest accomplishments are the ones that contain the greatest quantity of you.

Be innovative and creative. The challenges you face will melt away when you apply fresh, original thinking to them.

Remember not to take yourself too seriously. You'll climb much higher when you're thoroughly enjoying the effort.

As you move forward, do so with genuine and persistent integrity. That way, the results you create will be results that are actually worth attaining.

Today you stand at the beginning of a grand adventure, with the very real and present opportunity to shape this year into the best one ever. Begin now, take the initiative, and never stop living life according to who you know you are.
~ Ralph Marston

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Seminar Saturday in Portland: Increase Traffic to your Retail Store Using the Internet

If you own a retail store in the Pacific Northwest, have some time on Saturday, AND want to know what you can do to promote your store using simple Internet tools, join me at the Portland Gift & Accessories Show at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.


My workshop program includes:

There’s no doubt anymore that the Internet is changing the shape of retail. Harness the power of the World Wide Web to increase traffic to your store. You'll learn how to take your store online, from listing in directories to building your own Web site.

WHAT: "Bricks & Mortar Belong in Cyberspace: Increase Traffic to your Retail Store Using the Internet"


WHEN: Saturday, January 5 11:30 am-1:00 pm


WHERE: Oregon Convention Center-D 135/136


COST: $15 in advance, $20 on-site



Note: this show is not open to the public. Open to TRADE ONLY. Individuals with no professional affiliation will not be admitted. Proof of business affiliation and credentials are required to gain entrance.

See you there!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ideablob

Here's the Ideablob commercial on YouTube. What's more interesting is searching for the keyword "ideablob" on YouTube and seeing the videos that people have made to encourage you to vote for their ideas.

Ideablob.com Small Business Community ~ Submit Your Idea, Help Others, Vote on the Best

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to launch a new business, consider this opportunity to win prize money to get you started.

Sponsored by Advanta, ideablob.com is an online community where you submit business ideas and receive feedback, advice--and if it's a great idea--lots of votes from others.

The Survivor-meets-Kaboodle voting concept creates monthly winners of the most highly voted ideas. Three months have passed of this contest already, but three more remain! If your idea generates the most votes in January, February or March, you could win $10,000 cash to start making the idea a reality. If you're an Advanta credit card holder, there's an additional 1 million rewards points tossed in, too.

It's similar to what Intuit did last year on it's "Just Start" contest, but with more cash to more people.

Naturally, Advanta "inspired" this idea(blob) to attract people who want to fund small business ventures by opening new credit cards accounts...but I get a kick out of publicity stunts like this.

Check it out and if you post something, let me know and I'll share it here.