How to Use Your Employee’s Benefits to Your Marketing Advantage

Ken-Blanchard-quoteThe corporate world is full of companies that don't treat their employees fairly. We have all heard the stories of employees being denied benefits or losing their jobs for no reason at all, as these corporate entities view their employees as expendable.

Increasingly, however, customers are staying away from organizations that lack the moral framework to treat employees with respect and are now choosing morally sound companies.  Companies like the Dish Network are finding that their treatment of employees is having a direct affect on their brand. This opens up an interesting marketing opportunity for small businesses with a reputation for taking care of their employees. These small businesses can now use this history to attract new customers, as people want to make purchases from companies that take care of their own.

The Power of Advertising Employee Benefits

If you offer things like disability insurance, life insurance, a retirement plan, employee discounts and flexible spending accounts, make sure that potential customers are aware of this. These customers will see that you treat your employees fairly and will, in turn, see you in a more favorable light.

Disability and life insurance are particularly important in this regard, as they provide support for family members should something tragic happen to an employee. If you choose to offer disability insurance, keep in mind that it is very expensive. While this will cost you out of pocket, the public relations that it will gain for you could make it a worthwhile investment.

With an aging workforce in the United States, retirement benefits are becoming much more important. If you can show potential customers that you intend to take care of your employees after they retire by matching their retirement contributions, it can go a long way towards improving your standing with the general public.

How to Get the Word Out

While you are surely doing these things to benefit your employees, making sure the general public knows about these benefits is great for public relations and, therefore, your bottom line.

Start by creating a LinkedIn profile that summarizing the benefits that are available to all employees. Although having this information on your profile could attract new employees, it also makes the benefits that you offer public knowledge. This space also gives you the chance to answer frequently asked questions like “do rehabs take insurance?” or “Will my insurance cover all of that?”

Twitter is another important tool when getting information about your company out to the public. While you should not tweet about the benefits that you offer your employees every day, periodically reminding your followers that you treat your employees well can build goodwill.

Using Twitter also allows you to include pictures of your employees in the workplace, which adds a human element to the benefits that you provide.

In addition to Twitter, more businesses are now using business-based social networks like Foursquare. It is possible to link this account to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, which provides potential customers with access to all of your social media pages.

Foursquare and other similar platforms offer a check-in feature. Through this feature, you can let all of your followers know when you visit a physical location. Checking-in at your insurance provider's offices, at locations that accept your insurance company's plans and at banks where you make employee retirement fund deposits acts as a reminder that you are doing everything possible to provide your employees with the benefits that they desire.

Running a Small Business

The main issue with offering these benefits is that they can cut into a small business’ profits. At the same time, however, treating your employees with respect is a great way to succeed long term in today’s economy, as society is paying much more attention to how these organizations operate. If you can develop a reputation as a great employer in your area, you can use that stellar reputation to attract new customers.


Get The Most Out Of Your Linkedin Profile

linkedin-small-businessLinkedIn has come a long way from it's early days as a job board and networking site for business professionals.

Over the last few years they have become a powerhouse of a social platform.  Today their home page looks more like a business version of Facebook and they are adding more social features on a regular basis.  Out of all of the social networks I use, I find LinkedIn to be the best platform for building business relationships.

LinkedIn has become an important social media platform, and in some ways  is better than Facebook,  especially for business networking and B to B business.  The one clear advantage it has over Twitter and Facebook is that you have real (Twitter has millions of fake accounts, Facebook too) professionals who are actively looking to network and meet new people.

If you are just starting out on LinkedIn and want to learn hot to create a quality LinkedIn profile, or you are want to dust off your profile and get active on LinkedIn again, I’ve included a few tips below to help you get the most out of your LinkedIn account.

Fill out your profile completely

Yes, this seems obvious but most people don't do it.  LinkedIn even gives you a progress bar so you can see how much you have left to complete.  Your LinkedIn profile will rank very highly for your name in the search engines, meaning if a prospective employer types your name into Google, they are very likely to find your LinkedIn profile at the top of the search results.

Use a Quality Profile Picture

Like in real life, people will form an impression of you within the first few seconds of opening your profile page.  No pictures of you on hanging out at the beach.  Your picture will most likely be the first thing they notice and if you don't have one I can guarantee you nobody will take you seriously.  Be sure to use a headshot (not a full body shot) of you smiling, or at least looking pleasant, How To Win Friends and Influence People still applies, even online.

Your headline is important

Your headline goes right below your name and is included in every reference made of your profile on LinkedIn.  Be sure to add your company name and your title too as LinkedIn has a powerful search engine and recruiters and businesses use it to find potential candidates.

Like on Twitter, the first things people see when they view your profile will be your picture and headline.  Unlike on Twitter, no need to get fancy to try and stand out, LinkedIn is still a professional's website and people aren't expecting to see outrageous things in your profile.  Avoid superlatives and corny titles like “Social Media Ninja”.  It just makes you look silly.

Add all experience, not just work history

Most people only add their work history to their profile.  LinkedIn actually let's you add all of your relevant experiences and achievements in it's “add section” tab under your main profile.  In this section you can add volunteer experiences, awards, organizations you work with and a bunch of other stuff.

Be sure to take the time to fill these sections out.  Sometimes your non-paid experiences are more relevant to a prospective employer than your actual work experiences.

Use the “add sections” to supercharge your profile

**Update**  LinkedIn has removed applications/Add Sections and now lets you add multimedia like slide shows directly into your profile.  See the link here for more information.

LinkedIn allows you to add lots of goodies to your profile if you are willing to take the time to do it.  Once you open the “add section”, you will see a list of the items you can add.

Here are just a few examples of applications you can add:

  • Your Twitter stream
  • The stream from your WordPress blog
  • You can host files from
  • Add presentations through Google Presentations or Slideshare
  • Your Amazon recommended reading list

Fill out your summary in detail

Use this section to let the reader know who you are and what you are about.  To benefit both the reader and the search engines, be sure to use descriptive language and  include your name, company and any keywords that best describe who you are and what you do.  Avoid superlatives and include accomplishments.  Like Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said”.

Build quality connections

This is not Twitter, quality is more important than quantity.  The first thing to do is to upload your email contacts and LinkedIn will search to see which of your contacts are on LinkedIn.  It will also search your work history and education to find connections there.

Once you have the connections you know in place, LinkedIn  will start to make sense of your current connections and suggest people to you based on your those connections.  This feature is what makes LinkedIn such a great networking tool as you may find you already have a mutual friend with someone you would like to connect with.

Build a reputation through recommendations

If you do quality work for others, ask them to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn.  Recommendations are a powerful way to build social proof that you are a true professional and someone that can be trusted.

The LinkedIn Request Recommendations tool is a simple way to send a message to a connection asking for a recommendation.  The automated message is pretty generic so be sure to personalize each one that you send.  If it is not a close contact, you may even want to refresh their memory as to the work you provided in the past.

Get Endorsements

Endorsements are a relatively new feature where your connections can give you a quick endorsement for a particular skill with the click of a button.  It's kind of like the Facebook version of a “Like”, except they do it for an individual skill of yours.  While it may not carry as much weight as a recommendation, it still looks impressive when you see hundreds of endorsements on your profile.

Make use of the Updates stream

Usually when a LinkedIn user logs in, they will see a list of updates from members in their network.  Use this stream to add valuable content for the people in your network and to start branding yourself as an authority.

Join  LinkedIn groups

Joining LinkedIn groups relevant to your industry is a great way to further build your authority by using the groups stream to add valuable content.  Also, find the groups where your customers are most likely to join, and join them too.  The quality of groups varies but many of them are great sources for networking if you actively participate in them.

If you are willing to put in the time and effort, starting your own LinkedIn group can be a great way to quickly build a reputation for yourself.  Be aware that managing a quality group is a lot of work and does require a lot of your time.

Create a company page

If you have your own business, LinkedIn allows you to create a company page.  Having a dedicated page for your company allows you to provide additional details about your business like your company profile and specific product information.

LinkedIn as a Social Platform

LinkedIn gives you plenty of tools and opportunity to build your own reputation as well as your business's.  It is a great social networking platform to network and to grow your business. To get the most benefit from it you need to be actively engaged in the community.

If you want to find me on LinkedIn or just give me a virtual high five, you can find me here.



Small Business Toolbox – October Twenty Seventh

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Uptime Robot – a free service that lets you setup up automatic website monitoring.  Easy to use, get alerts via sms, email or social media.

Click to Tweet – free service that let's you promote your Twitter content, letting you add click to tweet buttons that you can embed in your blog posts or other online media.

Don JUan quote-Carlos Castinada

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

Ask yourself the right questions quoteEveryone dreams about starting their own business.  Who doesn't want to be their own boss?  Who wouldn't love to tell their current boss to “get lost, I'm outta here!”.  Just the thought is liberating, though almost everyone who dreams of it will never do it.

Taking the leap of faith, leaving a secure career (is it really secure?) and venturing out on your own is one of the most liberating but scariest experiences you will ever have.  The euphoric feeling of freedom followed by the stomach dropping feeling of “holy shit, I really did it”.

Starting your own business is like having children, you may think you know what it's like, but you really have no idea what it's like until you actually do it.  The excitement and energy you feel as you get closer to making the leap is incredible, you're like a kid on Christmas Eve, nothing but possibilities await you.  But before you jump in with both feet, you need to stop and have a conversation with yourself.

You have to ask and answer some serious questions that could get you into trouble later on down the line if you don't.  While there are many questions that need answers, from my experience, these are the most important one's you need to address.

Why do I want to start my own business?

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to start a business.  From my experience, two of the wost reasons are because you want to make a lot of money or because you hate your job.  When it comes to money, many entrepreneurs made more when they were working for someone else…..and spent less hours doing it.  If you say it's because you hate your job, I got some news for you….you're going to hate your new boss because you can never leave him.  Being your own boss and being responsible for your own destiny is one of the most liberating things that can ever happen to you but it can also be the scariest as you now have no one to blame except yourself.

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ~Steve Jobs

Some great reasons to start a business?  As Steve Jobs put it, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”  If you feel like your work is not fulfilling and lacks meaning, maybe it's time to consider doing something else.  Maybe it's not starting your own business, maybe it's changing careers, but you have that desire to lead a more fulfilling life.  Another reason is that you want to be your own boss, not because you hate your old career, but you find it too restricting working for someone else.  You have big dreams and a major itch that needs scratching.  Maybe you want to create a business that is more in tune with your life and will give you the freedom to pursue other opportunities while still maintaining an income.  You only live life once.

Am I prepared to do the work and make the sacrifices?

You make a lot of sacrifices when you start your own business, more than most people realize.  Having your own business means being on call, at least mentally, 24 hours a day.  At least for the first few years as you are building your business.  It's not like working for someone else where you check out at 5pm every Friday, both physically and mentally, and don't have to think about work until 9am Monday morning.  If you're someone who has to have their leisure time and loves spending Sundays on the couch reading the paper and watching football, starting your own business may not be for you.  Most business owners will tell you that they had to cut out a lot of non-essentials in their life during the first few years.  No vegging out in front of the tv every night, no spontaneous weekend trips.  Building a successful business requires a massive  commitment and you need to be ready for that.

Am I financially able to start my own business?

Don't count on bringing home an income your first year, and possibly longer.  If you are leaving work cold turkey and jumping into entrepreneurship with both feet, make sure you have enough money stashed away so you can live during that lean startup period.  It doesn't matter what your financial projections tell you, during that first year or so you will either not be making enough money for you to draw a salary, or if there is money, it will need to go back into the business in order to keep it going or to grow it to a self-sustaining position.

The pressure of starting a business is punishing enough, feeling that additional financial pressure can break you.  One of the best things you can do is to take that financial pressure off of yourself while you try and build your business.  If you don't have the resources to carry you through financially during that first year, consider starting your business part time while you're still drawing an income from your job.  Work your job by day and build your future at night and on the weekends.

“I’m working full-time on my job and part time on my fortune.  But it won’t be long before I’m working full-time on my fortune… …. can you imagine what my life will look like?” ~ Jim Rohn

Is my family on board?

It's hard enough maintaining a healthy and happy marriage during the best of times.  Throw in the additional financial and time pressures of starting your own business and you will truly test how strong your relationship is.  If you want to start a business and your spouse or loved one is against it, think carefully before you proceed.  Some marriages fail because the additional pressures introduced by starting a business created too much pressure, stress and resentment in the relationship. Starting a business can test even the strongest marriages. If you want to read what it's like being the spouse of an entrepreneur, you should read Meg Cadoux Hirshberg's blog over at Inc magazine.

It's better for both of you to make the decision together, that way at least if things go south, there is no one to blame, there is only each other.  I've seen people with successful businesses with failed marriages because it was one persons dream and not the other's and it drove a wedge between the relationship.  I've also seen couples go bankrupt from a business, but ultimately happy and with a stronger relationship because they went into it together, for better or for worse.

Is this business in-line with my life plan?

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started out was starting  a location based business when my ultimate life plan was to have the freedom to travel and explore life with my family.  Before you go all-in on a business idea, make sure that it supports what your personal life goals are and that your business idea doesn't conflict with it.  If you want to travel and explore the world, maybe a retail shop isn't the best business model to go with.  If you want to be able to take extended periods of time off to pursue other activities, maybe a service business where you are the key equation isn't the model for you.  If you need to be around people, maybe an e-commerce store won't be able to fulfill that social need.  If you don't choose correctly, you could be faced with a successful business at the expense of personal happiness.

Am I prepared to learn?

You don't have to know everything when you're starting out, what you need though is the ability and desire to learn as you go.  Any successful entrepreneur will tell you stories about the idiotic mistakes they made when they were starting out, how little they knew, and how much they thought they knew.  It's really funny when you look back and realize how little you knew a year ago compared to what you know now.  The best entrepreneurs continually learn and improve month after month, year after year.  That's how they get to where they are, they never stop learning.  You don't have to know it all when you start, but you better be able to learn as you go or else you'll have a hard time growing your business because it's impossible to improve a business if you don't improve yourself.

Answer slowly then take action

Asking and answering the above questions honestly will potentially save you a lot of heartaches later on down the line.  Take time to think things through, talk to other business owners and do some self reflection before you move forward.  Doing so will allow you to steam roll your way to building an awesome business because you know you made the right decision.

Small Business Toolbox – October Nineteenth

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Pixsta – Everyone loves Instagram, but many would love a desktop client.  Pixsta provides just that, a free desktop client for your Instagram account.

How Sociable – Measure and monitor your brand effectiveness across the major social media platforms.  Free and paid plans available.

Rollo May quote on conformity

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

The 5 Wrong Questions To Ask When Hiring An SEO Agency

Ask the wrong questions and you'll get the wrong answers.

Most business owners don't know a thing about SEO.  Heck, the SEO world changes so much that many people who work in the industry fail to keep up with the latest changes. Looking for a quality agency to handle your search engine optimization can be like buying a used car, approached with skepticism at best.  If you're a business owner, you've been solicited several times by “reputable” SEO companies that cold call you and spam your email inbox relentlessly. Buyer beware.

Shady seo angency

When you set out to find a person or agency to handle your SEO campaign, you should have a general understanding how SEO works and what questions you should be asking.  If you're not prepared, you could get yourself in trouble.  Here are a few questions you should not ask as well as some suggestions on what you should ask.

How many links per month do I get?

As many as you like sir.  The thing is, links come in various types and of varying quality.  You could be promised a 1,000 links a month. They would be the lowest quality spam links you've ever seen, mostly from countries far far away, but they would still be 1,000 links.  You could also be promised somewhere between 3-5 links per month, but from legitimate websites that are highly related to your industry.  These links over time would start to give you some good authority in the eyes of the search engines.  See the flaw in this question?

A better questions to ask is, “When it comes to link building, can you describe your process in acquiring links and give me some examples of the kind of links you will get for my website?”  Make sure that they use best industry practices and can demonstrate that they will not do anything that could damage both your website and your brand.  Let them give examples of the kind of links they earn for their clients and examples of types of links they will get for you.


Can you guarantee a top place ranking in the search engines?

I can guarantee you a top place ranking as much as a stock broker can guarantee you a stock he sells you will rise in value.  In the end, the only one who has control over the ranking of a website are the search engines.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is lying.   What an agency offering SEO can do is use their experience and best industry practices to put your website in the best possible position to rank high in the search engines.  This involves an understanding of the Technical aspects of your website, Link building and content creation both on and off your website (TLC).

You also have to understand that ranking is done on a per keyword basis and there are potentially thousands of keywords/terms that could generate leads for your business.  Unless a single search term delivers a bonanza of traffic each month, it will unlikely to generate enough business for you in the long term.  A proper SEO strategy involves building rankings for a variety of search terms and building the overall authority of your website.

A better question to ask is, “From your experience, what kind of results do you think we can get given our budget and competition?”.  There are no guarantees, but a good agency (after some research) can give you a reasonable estimate of what your chances are for ranking in the search engine results.

Can you rank me #1 for (1-2 word money keyword)

Everyone business owner wants to rank for their (perceived) money keyword.  The lawyer wants to be #1 for “your city+Lawyer”, the contractor wants to be #1 for “your city+Contractor”.  The reality is that there are probably 10,000+ ways someone can search for what you have to offer and you're focusing everything on only one of them.  1-2 word money terms are easy to wrap your head around, that's why most people use them. They are also very competitive and expensive to rank and going for a key term like this really depends on your competition, your budget and the current state of your website/rankings.  In reality, the people that are most likely to contact you will search using much more specific search terms, one's you most likely aren't thinking about.  For a lawyer in Charlotte an example might be “lawyer in south charlotte that does family law”.  If you specialize in family law and practice in Charlotte, this term is much more likely to convert than “charlotte lawyer”.

A better question to ask is, “What strategy will you use to increase rankings for my important search terms?”  In reality, you probably don't know your important search terms, that's what a good SEO agency will help you discover.  An ideal SEO campaign will get you ranking for a variety of “long tail” search terms in addition to a few select money terms.  A good campaign will also work on building the overall authority of your website in the eyes of the search engines.

Can we setup a pay for performance model?

No.  The ramp up period for an SEO campaign involves a lot of time and work and there are too many variables involved to put forth the work with a possibility of not getting paid for it.  A good SEO campaign involves not only the agency you hired, but the business that employs them as well.  It's a team effort and both parties need to play their “A” game if they really want to succeed at this. There are too many things that an agency could execute as planned on their part but the business owner fails to deliver on their part and vice/versa.  I've had experiences where we needed key information in a timely manner from a business owner in order to deliver on time, yet they dragged their feet for weeks.  For this reason, I am very upfront with clients as to what they will be expected to deliver in order for me to do my job correctly.  In the end, you're still responsible for your business and marketing and need to be a part of the process.

You have to make some sort of leap of faith when it comes to hiring an agency for your SEO.  SEO takes time and if you're not willing to give it, at a minimum, 6 months then don't bother getting started.  Do Pay Per Click instead.

A better question to ask is, “What will be used to measure success for the campaign and how will this be communicated to me?”  Work together to work out what success looks like and then hold each other accountable for moving towards it.


How much does SEO cost?

It's like asking, “How much does a car cost?”.  It depends.  Want to rank high for your small town or the entire state? The work and complexity involved and the costs are much different.  Are you a lawyer specializing in class action lawsuits?  That will be a “little” more expensive than trying to rank your personal organizing services.  Cookie cutter SEO packages like “$300 a month for 20 links and 2 search terms” are a bunch of garbage. Every industry, market and business is different…….it's not a one size fits all type of service.  Only after there is an understanding of your business, industry and competition can you get a reasonable estimate on what an SEO campaign will cost.  Paying $300 a month for an SEO campaign that has no chance of working is more expensive than paying $1000 a month for a campaign that generates quality leads for your business month after month.

A better question to ask is, “For my industry and in this market, what would you estimate the costs to be to run a successful SEO campaign?”  From this point you can probably get a good price range to wrap your head around and more accurate pricing after some analysis.  In the end, it really depends on competition.  If your competitors have been building their website rankings for several years and you're just starting out, you obviously have a lot of work cut out for you.


Do you homework and ask the right questions

Before you even consider talking to someone about an SEO campaign, take some time to understand what SEO actually is and how it works.  Ask the right questions and don't be pressured into anything you're not comfortable with.  The best starting point is to look for a referral from someone you trust or at least spend some time researching online to make sure the person or agency you hire has a good reputation.

Discovering The Strangest Secret

The strangest secretEarl Nightingale was a motivational speaker well known for the classic motivational book, The Strangest Secret.  It was originally recorded in 1956 as a spoken word record and is considered by many as one of the greatest motivational messages of all time.

The basis of “The Strangest Secret” is that all of your potential, opportunity and future success is held in one place, your mind.  Yeah, it's not really a secret but something waiting inside everyone.  Yet most people leave it sitting there their entire lives, waiting for the lottery or some other outside force to rescue them from a life they don't really want to live.

“We become what we think about…” Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

The basis of the The Strangest Secret is drawn from the classic Napoleon Hill book, Think and Grow Rich.  Pretty much any motivational book printed in the last 50+ years is based on the principals of Think and Grow Rich.

When someone listens to a motivational message like The Strangest Secret, two things tend to happen.  One, it's dismissed as corny self help mumbo jumbo and they get on with watching tv.  Or they take the time to listen (less than an hour) and reflect on the message and, as Jim Rohn says – you have the day that turns your life around….the moment when your entire life and future changes forever.

If you've never listened to The Strangest Secret, take a few minutes out of your day and take a chance on finding that moment that changes your life.

Listen to The Strangest Secret


Do You Know Why Your Customers Leave?

Righteous Brothers lost that lovin feelingThere are thousands of books and hundreds of services available when it comes to understanding the mind of your customer and the reasons that they left you.

But in the end, do you really know why they left?

You can have them fill out a survey, ask them via a follow up phone call or just ask them face to face, but are you getting the real reason from them?

I think some will be able to clearly tell you why they left.  It may be because of your prices, the quality of your product or a lack of support.  It's great to be able to get concrete reasons like this, reasons you can sink your teeth into it and make changes based on them.  But the many of your customers may not even know why they left you.

People fall in and out of love everyday.  For years you may have been deeply in love with someone, but over time, those feeling start to slowly fade. Like the Righteous Brothers swooned, “You've lost that lovin' feeling”.  In these instances, there isn't a single event that all of a sudden turned the relationship south, but a slow build up of little things, added up over time, that led to this change.  The reason most customers leave, isn't because they dislike you, it's because they have grown apathetic towards you.  Apathy is your real enemy.

Customers don't usually go from happy customer to unhappy customer, it's usually happy customer to indifferent customer.

Those changes in sentiment are hard to track with surveys and expensive software programs, where every customer is placed into a neat little column, depending if they like you or not.  That's not the way the world works and how people behave.  Your customers may still like you, but maybe not as much as they used to.  And they may not be able to explain why.  “It's not you, it's me” the girl told the heartbroken boy.

Now I'm all for follow ups, surveys and other customer communications where you can get valuable insights on how your customers think about you.  You can gain some valuable information this way.  But there is also a large gray area where many customers won't be able to accurately describe why they stopped doing business with you.  And if pressed, they may give you a reason but it may not be the real reason.

It's often little things, added up over time, that change the way your customer feels about you.  Maybe you're still attentive to their needs, but not as attentive as you were a year ago when they first became a customer.  Maybe they still like your food, but noticed the quality is just a tad bit lower than they remembered.  Maybe you used to call them by name when they came into your store, now you just give a brief smile and polite hello.

Take a look at some of the little things that you used to do to make your customers feel special.  Maybe you'll find some simple ways to bring back that lovin' feeling.


Small Business Toolbox – October Twelfth

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Workflowy – a simple but powerful way to create and organize work flow processes, hence the name Workflowy.  Really easy to use.

Collagerator – free desktop program that lets you create nice looking collage images.  Available for Windows and Mac.

Don Juan quote

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

Be Awesome at Customer Service or Die a Slow Death

Sticky post it note with "Thank You" wording.When you offer no more value to a customer than your competitors do, the only thing you can compete on is price.

As a small business, once you enter that arena, you're done.

How can you compete on price (or anything) with Amazon?  What about Walmart or Target or any other giant box retailer that can undercut you and starve you out until you have nothing left.  You can't, you have to deliver something beyond decent service and decent prices.

You have to deliver an experience.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

You want your customers feeling good about their interactions with your business.  Even after you screwed up and let them down, there are multiple opportunities to make things better and create a loyal customer.

Too often, businesses fail to look at customer service as a marketing channel, even a profit center if run properly.  The support you deliver will determine if that customer buys from you again, tells their friends about you or turns to social media to let millions of people know how your business wronged them like the video below.

My Blendtec Story

My wife recently purchased a Blendtec blender made somewhat famous from  the popular “Will it Blend” series on Youtube.  Let's just say it's not your average blender.  It's definitely not inexpensive and was a planned purchase months in the making.  We were really excited to try out everything it had to offer (it can do a lot) and read through the recipe book, spent a bundle on food from the super market and got ready to spend a week of experimenting.  It broke on the second day.  It sucked, we were bummed out.  It was a Sunday when we called customer support and got a voicemail message, I don't think they provide live support on Sundays.  We left a message describing our situation.  On Monday morning a customer service rep called us back and listened to our story.  She was outraged at the experience we had with the blender and said they would mail us a replacement immediately and apologized.  It arrived the next day via FedEx overnight and they upgraded us so we received a second blender jar at no cost. They turned a potentially negative experience into one where they now have a raving fan who is blogging about his experience to thousands of people.

That's what great customer service can do for your business.

The business that can deliver the best service and support for their products and services are the businesses that will not only survive, but thrive in the hyper-competitive business environment of today.  Delivering excellent customer service and support is what will make you stand out among your competitors.

People have a lot of power in their hands, a few bad reviews can literally ruin your business (if you're small enough).  This doesn't mean that you need to be a butt kisser to every pain in the @ss that walks through your door, but it does mean that you need to take your customer service seriously and understand that too many poor experiences will come back to haunt you.

For the most part, people are generally happy with any kind of decent treatment, you can thank the airline, banking and telecom industries for lowering the customer service bar so low.  But decent service will only get you so far, you need to deliver excellent service.  And this level of service needs to be delivered consistently.

These are some of the things that I feel can make for a great customer service experience.

Say Thank You – These two words go a long way.  Thank your customers for stopping by your store and for making a purchase.  A little surprise like a hand written Post-It note saying thank you when they open their package can go farther than including a coupon or other kind of incentive.  People want to feel appreciated, let them.

Being Positive – Having a positive attitude and using positive language can go a long way in creating a positive atmosphere when working with a customer.  Instead of saying “no, sorry, we don't have that in stock” say something like “we're going to have that in next week, would you like me to put one aside for you and call you when it arrives?”  Keep the experience on the positive side and you'll find your customers responding in-kind.

Follow Up – Whether by email, phone or a hand written note, follow up after the sale to make sure your customer is happy and if they need help with anything.  Provide them with resources they can use to get the most out of your product or service.  Some companies are afraid to reach out after the sale fearing they might open up a “can of worms”.  If you have this fear, maybe you should re-think how you do business and what quality you deliver.  Be proud of what you have to offer and don't be afraid to make sure your customers are getting the most out of their purchase.

Respond Promptly – Have you ever sent an emotionally charged email or voice message and the other person didn't respond? Every crazy thought imaginable enters your mind.  You start playing out sceneries in your mind where the other person is laughing out loud, plotting to ruin you.  Then the next day they call and apologize for the late response, they were out of town. Yeah, all that pain and personal anguish for nothing.  This is how your customers feel when they have a problem and you don't respond promptly, they start telling themselves stories and start gearing up for a potential fight.  Don't let it get to this point, even if you don't have an answer yet, respond immediately and let them know “I'm on it!”

Give Updates – Just like above, if you are working with a customer on solving a problem, don't let them linger too long without communicating with them.  Even if you don't have an answer yet, letting them know that you are still working on a solution and it's still a priority to you will make them feel at ease.  Communication is so important when dealing with potentially sensitive issues.

Let Your Customers Deal With People – Have you ever signed off an email to a customer with, “From your friends at your-business”.  That's all well and good but people want to do business with people, not a faceless entity.  I recommend all customer support communications be signed off with an actual name.  If it's an automated response you are sending, leave the name of the customer service manager or the owner of the business.  People feel much better knowing there is an actual person speaking to them at the other end.

Offer Solutions – Please don't ever tell a customer, “sorry, there's nothing I can do”.  You can always do something, it may not be exactly what the customer wanted, but at least you've offered potential options.  And if you've left your customer service team without the authority to offer solutions to routine problems, then shame on you.  Customer service reps that are solution oriented can often create a very positive outcome (for all parties) from an initially negative experience.

Avoid Passive Aggressive Responses – Have you ever been told by a customer service rep, “I'm sorry you feel that way, our customers are usually very satisfied with our service”.  How this translates to the customer is, “You're the only idiot using our service that doesn't love us so you must be in the wrong here”.  You may not mean it, but avoid passive aggressive responses like this, it can only serve to fan the flames of an already tense situation.  Stop talking when you reach, “I'm sorry”, and start figuring out a way to make things better.

Always Let The Customer End The Interaction – You shouldn't be the one deciding when the situation is resolved, the customer should.  When you think you've reached a successful outcome, ask the customer if there is anything else you can help them with.  Let the customer decide when it's resolved and they are satisfied with the conclusion.

Be awesome at customer service

Whether you're doing it face to face in your little store front or you have a complex support system that services thousands of customers, all of these principals still apply.  The only thing that changes is the system and technology you use to execute it.  If you want to really watch your business grow and your word of mouth marketing take off, look at taking your customer service to the next level.