Mea Culpa

One thing about the Internet, when you suck it’s right there for everyone to see.  Frankly, this has been a terrible blogging week.  There have just been too many things going on.  For starters, the weather here in the heartland has been awesome.  It’s been in the 70s with sun most of the time.  I haven’t been able to resist putting some serious (for me) miles on the bicycle.  It’s been a great chance to catch up on my podcast listening but it’s seriously cut into my writing time.

It’s also been a week of strange computer issues.  I can’t get onto Facebook and repeated requests for tech support have gone unanswered.   Then there’s TweetDeck.  I love TweetDeck.  It’s a neat way to access your Twitter feeds and frankly it’s spoiled me.  So, when a new version of the program came available, I jumped right on it.  Unfortunately, the new version doesn’t work on my machine.  Like the Facebook issue, I’ve tried several times to get help from TweetDeck tech support with no success.

None of these things is an excuse for not providing better content this week to you, my faithful readers and I promise to do better in the future.  But it does show how easy it is to get caught up in day-to-day stuff and get distracted from the important things.

But it also shows that social media isn’t the only thing in life.  Maybe it doesn’t hurt to step away once in a while to smell the roses, to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, or to curse the gremlins that sometimes live inside our computers.

Let me leave you with something neat before we head into the weekend.  I received a notification this morning that KMZU Radio is following me on Twitter.  I tweeted them a thank you message and got the following message back:  Thank You, too, Mike Buckley! May the BLESSINGS truly Be! Have a great day.”

What a great, positive message.  We can all use more blessings and this one was greatly appreciated.  Another lesson learned from an unlikely source. 

To all of you, may the BLESSINGS truly Be!  Have a great day and weekend!

PS.  I spent a lot of time in my car during my days as a traveling salesman and I fell in love with small- to mid- market radio.  Just for fun, here’s a KMZU TV spot.

Step Away From the Computer

This blog focuses on small business, quality, and social media.  We try to provide an equal balance of all three.  But as I look at the various blogs, podcasts, twitter streams, and other social media that I follow I’m noticing that there’s way too much coverage of social media.  I mean, how many posts about using Twitter in your small business can you read anyway.  My apologies for contributing to this glut of redundant information.

Today I’d like to offer a short, simple piece of advise for your business.  Close this page, get up from your chair, and go find a customer.  If you’re in retail it should be easy.  There’s probably a customer under your roof as you read this.  If you don’t operate out of a storefront, you may have to do a little more.  You may have to make a phone call.  You may have to actually leave the building.

As I write this many of you are past the half-way point of your work day.  Set the paperwork aside and actually communicate face-to-face, or at least by phone with another human being who might  buy your product or service or refer you to someone who will.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a big believer in using the internet, especially the web 2.0 tools, to market your business.  But you can fall into a viscious trap if you spend your whole day staring at a computer monitor.  Life is all about balance.

That’s it for today.  I’m outta here.

A Special Note for Real Estate Agents

Mining the Store is a podcast for all small business owners so we usually don’t get industry-specific.  But it would seem that our last post might have particular relevance to those in the real estate business.

We all know that this is a difficult and confusing time for potential home buyers and sellers. It seems like every day we’re either being told it’s a good time to buy/sell, or a bad time.   Wouldn’t it be great to have a reliable source of information on this volitile market that affects so many of us?  Wouldn’t it be even better if that source were you?  Imagine the listings and the referrals you might get if you were considered the expert in your market.

It’s not hard to do.  Build that database of customers and prospects and use it to inform them of what’s really going on in the market, not just nationally, but right in their own back yard.  When they do decide to buy or sell, or when their friends mention that they’re considering buying or selling, who do you think they’re going to call?

Think about it.

Small Business Email Marketing

I’ve written on this topic in the past, but it’s so important I think it’s worth revisiting.  As I write this, I’m printing a coupon I received via email this morning.  It’s from a company that emails me often and I look fortward to their messages.

Here’s the thing.  It costs virtually nothing to send email.  You’re already paying for the bandwidth whether you use it or not and you don’t need expensive software.  In fact, you probably have what you need on your computer already.

There are two ways you can use email to build your business.  The first, and probably most effective method is the newsletter.  It’s also the one that requires the most work and discipline on your part.  If you decide to send out a monthly, or even weekly newsletter, you have to be prepared to meet the schedule.  As the “king of the procrastinators” I can promise you that your newsletter will fail very quickly if you don’t keep on schedule.  Unless you (or someone on your staff) is willing to commit to a regular schedule, you might not want to go the newsletter route, at least not yet.

The other option is irregular email updates, done on an as-needed basis.  What’s “as needed”?  It’s something that goes out when, and only when, you have something to say.  For example, to promote a sale, an exciting new item, or an event.  While it may be tempting to use email as a jump start during a slow period, if your communications don’t offer a value to the reader, either in the form of a special sale or valuable information, he or she will soon start hitting the “delete” button every time your name shows up in the “From” field of their email client.

I’m shocked and amazed at how many otherwise excellent business people don’t maintain a customer database with email addresses.  Your customers are your most valuable asset.  Why would you let them decide when you’re going to have a conversation?  That’s what you’re doing when you don’t have their contact information.  To reach them, you’re either going to have to run an expensive ad, or you’re going to have to wait until they come to you.

I think the reason why email is so poorly used, especially by small businesses, lies in the idea that a marketing messaged is somehow “junk” or “spam”.  If that’s what you think, get over it!  That’s step 1 in a successful email campaign.  Spam is an unsolicited email promoting something you aren’t interested in.  It’s sent to a purchased list of email addresses with no regard to the person’s interest in the product.  A solicitation from a total stranger to buy a product that “enhances” some body part or other is spam.  Gardening tips from the neighborhood hardware store who got my email address from me is something of true value.  (True value-hardware store.  Get it?)  It’s something I would open and read.  If the mailing included information on a sale on grass seed, or reminding me to get my lawn mower sharpened before grass-cutting season starts, so much the better.

If it’s ok for your dentist to contact you twice a year to remind you it’s time for a checkup and cleaning, it should be ok for your auto repair shop to remind you that it’s time to get your car ready for winter and summer.

So stop thinking that you’re bothering me by sending helpful, informative messages.  And make sure everyone on your staff understands this or the next step just won’t work.

Step 2 is to build your customer database.  Every single person you deal with, whether they buy anything or not, should be asked for their email address.  This is where step 1 becomes important.  If you or anyone who works for you has a negative attitude about the messages you’re sending out they won’t ask for the contact information.  On the other hand, if they’re really excited about your email campaign, they’ll be enthusiastic about making sure no one is left out. Asking for contact information must be part of everyone’s job description.

To recap, your email campaign will be successful if:

  • Your mailings offer something of value to the customer.
  • You and your staff understand that you’re sending out valuable information, not “spam” or “junk”.
  • You get contact information from every single customer and prospect for your database.

That’s it.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s not brain surgery.  You don’t even have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express.

Back Up Your Social Media

It’s a beautiful day in the Heartland so I decided to take a break and wash my car.  While I was cleaning off the muck I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The Podcast Sisters.  The episode in question is number 069.  There are no shownotes on the web site, so if you want to hear it,you’ll have to download the audio via iTunes or you can find it at the Blubrry Podcast site.

Anna Farmery and Krishna De are discussing the topic “Is It Too Late to Join the Social Media Revolution.”  In the leadup to the title discussion the ladies bring up an interesting point that’s worth some serious consideration.  As you know, I”m a serious advocate for the use of small media tools by small business.  But as we make our way through this difficult worldwide  economy (Anna is in the UK.  Krishna is in Ireland.) we have to be careful of how much of our information resides solely on social media sites.

What would the effect be on our business if one of these sites were to go out of business.  Your network of 3,000 twitter contacts won’t be much good to you if twitter suddenly goes away, unless you have the information backed up.  twitter is particularly vulnerable since they sell no ads.  But there’s no reason to think that any site, with the possible exception of Google, is 100% rock solid.

As we transition more and more of our business activity to third-party sites, it might be a good time to look into the possitility of exporting your contact lists, friend lists, etc. to your own hard drive, just in case.

They’re Talking About You

Friday I wrote a post, Word of Mouth, where I praised Holiday World Amusement Park, Santa Claus, IN, for great customer service.  Rather than use high-margin soft drinks as a profit center, they use them as a perk for their customers.  Soft drinks and other beverages are free, both at the amusement park, and at the adjacent water park.

Just a couple of hours after I posted the article, I received a comment from Paula Werne from Holiday World’s PR department thanking me for the “love” and pointing out the parks also offer free sunscreen, free parking, free innertubes at the water park, and free ponchos when it rains.

Obviously Holiday World isn’t leaving their on-line reputation to chance and you shouldn’t either.  Using free tools like “Google Alerts” you can become instantly aware when someone mentions you, your business, or any other topic of interest on the web.

By following her business’ name Paula was able to build on my positive comments by adding facts that I didn’t know.  Even more important, if my comments had been unfavorable, she could have joined the conversation, turning a negative into a potential positive.

People are talking about you on the Internet whether you know it or not.  Shouldn’t you be part of the conversation?

Small Business Television

sbtvHere’s a resource you might find useful.  It’s called Small Business Television, or sbtv.  The site features a daily set of news highlights related to small biz along with a library of short video programs covering everything from Wellness in the Workplace to the best businesss to start if you’re an outsized baby boomer.

I haven’t looked at everything yet, but I’ve bookmarked the site as a good reference tool.

A free membership to SmallBiz Central hooks you up to other members-only areas of the site.  I’ve joined myself and I’ll let you know how that works.

A Brand Called You

As regular readers know, my iPod passed away in a tragic lawn mower accident a while back.  My thoughtful children went together and bought me a new one for Christmas.  But between the destruction of the mp3 player, Christmas, “retirement” and some other things too numerous to mention, I’m way behind in my podcast listening.

That’s why I was listening yesterday to episode 209 of Anna Farmery’s “The Engaging Brand“, dated December 19, 2008.  Normally I wouldn’t publicly admit to being so far behind, but I wanted to bring this episode to your attention.

The Brand Called You by Peter Montoya

Anna’s guest was Peter Montoya, author of a book called “A Brand Called You“.  As you can tell from the title, it’s a book about personal branding.  [Note:  I haven’t read the book so this isn’t a book report.  I’d like to hear from anyone who has read it.]

Montoya made some excellent points in the interview and I want to share a couple of them with you.  He suggests that you specialize your product/service to fit your chosen market.  For example, name an American manufacturer of high-end motorcycles.  Or, name a national chain of gourmet (?) coffee shops where people like to gather and linger over their double-chocolate mocha lattes with double diet steam sugar-free milk.  Or simply name your favorite search engine.

Chances are most of you said, in this order, Harley Davidson, Starbucks, and Google.  Those are brands that are specialized to fit their market place.

Next, build a relationship with your customers.  The combination of specialization and relationships equals your brand. When you look at it that way, it’s fairly simple.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute.  I can’t afford to spend the money to become a Starbucks.”  Maybe not, but you can build a brand in your local market that’s equally recognizable in that market.  In fact, if you haven’t done that, you’d better get started right away because there may be somebody else in your area who’s looking to build the same brand that you covet.  And it’s always best to be first.

Another thing that Montoya stresses is the importance of a web site.  People are surfing the net for information before they shop.  If they don’t find you, you’re out of the race before you even start.  You site doesn’t have to be fancy.  You don’t need a lot of expensive effects.  All you need is a site that gives your potential customer the information she needs to drive her into your business.

Rather than take this any further, I suggest you listen to the podcast and hear directly from Montoya.  The podcast runs just about half an hour so you can easily listen to it while you eat lunch.

Have a great weekend!

Five Things to Expect in 2009

fortune_tellerThey (whoever ‘they’ are) say to start every blog post with an intriguing headline; one that will draw the reader to the post like a moth to a flame. That same ‘they’ will also tell you that people like to read predictions. And, everyone knows that you like lists, So, “Five Things to Expect in 2009” should be a winner.

But, here’s the thing. I don’t have the faintest idea what to expect in 2009 and I’d say the so-called experts don’t either. I stumbled onto one of the expert predictions on another blog. “Ahha!” I thought, this should be something my readers would want to see. But, frankly, the post wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on. With the exception of changing the dates to 2009 and throwing in the “R” word once-in-a-while, the post could just as well have been written in January, 1999 as January, 2009.

There are just too many unknowns, too many uncertainties to make blanket predictions of what the next twelve months hold for small business or any business for that matter. But, I don’t want to be left out and I definitely don’t want to disappoint you, so here’s my list of predictions for 2009.

1. The harder you work this year, the more money you’ll make. The correlary would be, if you don’t work hard this year, chances are that you won’t make much money. There will be some exceptions, but I believe that it’s generally true. [Disclaimer: Note that I said “make” money. Lottery winnings, lucky picks at the track, financially advantageous marriages or the death of a wealthy relative don’t count. However, if one of these does occur, be sure to contact me.]

2. Whether you’re a one man/woman operation, or the biggest company in your field, the cost of a blog, podcast, FaceBook page, or twitter account is exactly the same. You CAN compete effectively by using these tools. In fact, the social nature of web 2.0 make it easier for an individual or small business to make an impact using these tools.

3. If 6 % of the population is unemployed, then 94% are employed. Unless they’re selling products and services specifically geared to job seekers, companies who ignore the six and go after the ninety-four will be the most successful.

4. If unemployment remains at relatively high levels, a lot of very educated, experienced, well-trained people are going to be looking for jobs. Many of these people who might never consider working for a small business under normal circumstances will be a little less picky. They’re also likely to be more inclined to work on a pay-for-performance basis. [Hint: I know someone with decades of experience in retail and manufacturing who’s available on a contract basis. See the contact information in the left-hand column.]

5. Barter will become more important in 2009. Whether it’s through a so-called barter exchange, or it’s just two guys who meet at the coffee shop on the way to work, exchanging products and services will be a popular alternative to spending hard-earned cash. If I trade you $100.00 worth of consulting service for a $100.00 widget, we both come out ahead getting what we need at a wholesale price. [Note that Mining the Store is not advocating that you try to avoid paying taxes on the exchange. That would be wrong! Check with your accountant.]

6. Finally, here in the US we have a new President who made a lot of promises on the campaign trail that he won’t be able to keep. The trouble is that it’s hard to say what changes will actually be made. So, here at Cliche City we recommend that you hedge your bets, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and remember that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Seriously, there’s money to be made in a recession. It’s a little harder than usual. It will take more time and more work. But 2009 has the potential to be a year of great opportunities.

Stay tuned!

Selling Is For People

So,
it’s your last blog post.  After nearly 700 posts, how do you go out with a
bang?  I’ve decided to pass along some insights from Steve Jeffery, the Senior
Vice President of our Home Sewing Division.  We were reminiscing about days gone
by and reflecting on how different things are today.  But one thing hasn’t
changed.  People buy things from
people

 

Nick
Tacony knew that.  We all know that.  The best ad in the world doesn’t mean a
thing if you don’t sell something to the person who comes in the door.  The sale
happens when one person convinces another person that the first person’s product
or service is worth more than the cash the second person has in his/her pocket. 
That’s all there is to it.

 

When
Steve was in the retail business he was a great believer in advertising.  He ran
ads every week.  But he didn’t stop there. His entire store was pre-programmed
to take advantage of the traffic that came into the store.  He told me that he
used to re-hang his ceiling fan display almost every week to make it easy for
his sales people to walk the customer through the selling process.  It was a
smooth flow from the advertised model through the up-sell models and
accessories, right to the cash register.  Sure it was a lot of work.  But it was
work that paid off in sales and profit.

 

And
when they got to the register, there were the impulse
items
, waiting to be added to the sale.  A retail sale is like a stage
performance.  All the right pieces must be in place to have a successful
outcome.  Can you imaging a Broadway play where there was no script?  There were
no props?  No one rehearsed?  With some slight exceptions, every single
performance of a successful production is essentially the same as the one
before.  There’s no room for ad libbing.

 

We live
in a new and exciting world!  As I’ve pointed out on this blog for almost
three years, the new forms of electronic communication level the playing field
between the “big box stores” and the independents.  Blogs, podcasts, social
networks like Facebook and MySpace, and mini-blog sites like twitter are free for you to use and you can
buy extremely targeted advertising to reach just the people you want to reach. 
Considering the short time it’s taken to develop these tools, I can’t imagine
what’s going to be available to you in the coming years.  All I know is that it
will be exciting for those who chose to take advantage.

 

One of
the famous sales trainers, I think it was Zig Ziglar, said “You have to treat
the customer so many different ways that she has to like one of them.”  That’s
the key.  The level of competition today is at a level unheard of just a few
years ago.  Instead of losing a sale to the guy down the street, you can lose a
sale to someone half way around the world.  You have to be sure that the experience of shopping
with you provides value beyond just the merchandise in the box
.  If
you do that, you’ll make not just a customer, but you’ll make a friend.  And
that friend will be excited to tell her other friends about you.  And when those
other friends come in and find out that what they’ve heard is true, you’ll be
building a constant stream of prospects and repeat customers that will get you
through any economic downturn.