JoAnn Laing's Blog - All About Small Business

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All About Small Business
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Satisfy Customers and Generate Sales

Sat, 06/05/2021 - 16:24

People, like butterflies, are emerging from the pandemic lockdowns.

During the pandemic many people changed their living habits, became isolated, more concerned about hygiene, and purchased more things online, and perhaps gained weight.

Besides purchasing more items online, they also broke other shopping habits.  Fortunately for small businesses new ones are developing.  Most immediately, there is going to be a period when buyers will experiment with new buying channels to fit their emerging lives.

Smart small businesses leaders will see this dynamic as an unparalleled opportunity to add new customers and welcome back old ones.

As early surveys show, consumers and businesses are eager to buy.  They have pent up demand and also new fashion, food, and hygiene needs.  Small businesses need to step-up their game in their local and online stores, making both more user friendly as shoppers seek new venues.

Consumers and B2B buyers have also learned to look for different ways to satisfy their needs.  Thanks to various aid programs, they have more money to spend and reasons to do so.  And they are not limited to what, where and how they previously bought.

Fashions for the office have changed, requiring wardrobe additions.  Grooming has become more demanding as has the foods people eat which are changing.

In the new era of socializing, people want to: look well turned out yet comfortable; order the best food and beverages for these activities; update their abodes to meet new lifestyle and for others who come visiting; and in general lead different lives.

Small businesses need to spruce up their local and online stores to draw the attention of these new and former shoppers.  Once in their stores proprietors need to concentrate on four area to compete in this new economy: curation, personalization, immediacy and now.  Plus beyond sight and sound, local businesses can add to their inside edge by being able to appeal to the senses of smell, touch, and taste.    

Let’s look at each area and consider the added sense advantages.

Curation – yes, curation can be done online; but in person it can be so much better.  Make it easy for your former and new customers to shop.  Put together kits of your products such as complete outfits, ingredients and recipes for meals along with decorations and beverages (perhaps provided in partnership with other stores), and essentials for body/home/transport make-overs.  By customers not only seeing your offerings with accompanying sound, they can more fully experience them with smelling, touching and perhaps tasting.

Personalization – of course, personalization can be done online; but by seeing the responses of your customer you can immediately refine and sharpen your personalization while adding to your knowledge bank their likes and dislikes.  Remembering and using names is important, as are colors and preferences.  Providing samples of products to try can lead to greater sales.

Immediacy – a light, very brief touch on the shoulder or elbow can provide familiarity without being too intrusive.  After months of isolation, people crave contact of friends and family.  A friendly, but not overly friendly, shop keeper who smiles and adds just the right touch can become a more trusted source of products and services.

Okay, you might think this might be creepy; but consider the success of airline attendants in 1st or premium class who make their passengers feel at ease with these same gestures.

Now – online can provide next day and often delivery in a few hours…for a price.  Stores can do better by having the products available now for an outfit to wear, a meal to prepare, a personal or home project to complete that day.  Many people put off activities until they are pushed for time; local stores can meet that last minute challenge.

Above all, view this period as one of opportunity.  Be smart and draw the consumer and businesses to your local and online stores to gain long-time customers and greater sales.

Is Your Supply Chain Causing Product Availability Problems?

Sun, 05/09/2021 - 17:58

Small businesses power themselves to profitability by superior service and immediate gratification that give them the edge over bigger competitors.  Not meeting product availability is rated one of the highest causes of customer defection, according to experts.

Yet, forty-four percent of small businesses reported temporary shortages or other supplychain problems in March, according to a recent survey highlighted in The Wall Street Journal.

You know how critical it is to get customers what they want, when they want it.  As a business owner or manager, you need to accomplish this task in the lowest cost, most efficient way possible, without sacrificing on quality.  That is why supply chain management is critical to the success of your business.  Yet two-thirds of small business owners and managers do not have full visibility into their supply chains, which is how you get your parts and products from point to point.

When building your supply chain consider:

  • Supplier relationships – search for suppliers that are cost-efficient, reliable (have product available when you want it), and easy to work with; monitor their performance; and build a partnership with them.
  • Ethics – before forming a partnership with your suppliers talk about ethics, human rights, sustainability and other issues that are important to you, your employees, and company.  Make sure you and your supplier align; this positioning can help to strengthen the relationship and help to set up a long-lasting partnership.
  • Risk management – proactively manage supply chain risk, be ready when supplier disruptions happen.  Keep up-to-date on what is happening in the marketplace due to weather, economics, social, political and other changes; these can and often do impact your business and its supply chain.  Also, consider your risk due to events such as industrial unrest, product recalls, safety scares, etc.

To strengthen your supply chain, consider:

  • Doubling or tripling where you source your critical components and offerings; if one supplier or avenue of delivery has trouble delivering, you have a back-up or two.
  • Sourcing products from the US, or same hemisphere as it is often to easier to move goods north and south as opposed to east and west.
  • Bartering with others to get the components or offerings you critically need.  Have business partners in addition to your suppliers; other businesses to stay informed, have other resources, and perhaps obtain supplies and products you need.
  • Putting in place penalties to keep your supply chain going with suppliers; if the suppliers does not deliver or is late it is going to cost you money, time and even customers, so ask for assurances backed with non-performance clauses.  On the flip side, you might put in incentivizes for your suppliers that deliver during times of strife. 
  • Digitizing your supply chain to have maximize insight into where your components or offerings are in real time and when they are expected to arrive will make your life as a business owner or manager a bit easier.

With your small business advantage imperiled by a supply chain disruption, it may be time to pre-plan responses when customer expectations are not met.

Here are some pre-planning strategies to consider:

  • Learn as early as possible if your product shipments will be late or even cancelled.  Knowing a problem could exist enables you to have alternatives available.  For retailers, the anticipated busy fall season makes them extremely vulnerable.  Already, some apparel shops are reporting delayed shipments.  Remember, suppliers are going to make every effort to keep their biggest clients happy, not their smaller customers.
  • As soon as you know products will be late, notify your customers.  If you have taken deposits, offer to return them or preferably provide a credit.  Experts believe a majority of clients will leave their deposits in place.  If you have used the deposits to fund your own purchases, keep a running score and notify your factoring agent and/or bank.  Secure an additional line of credit to insure you have enough capital to weather the supply disruption.
  • Develop alternative product fixes for clients.  One way is to offer to lend them refurbished product until their new products arrive.  Another is to do what New Jersey bridal shop owner did.  When the distribution disruption delayed delivery of wedding gowns, she lent bridesmaids dresses she used as display models and refunded the deposits.
  • No matter how angry or abusive your customer becomes, always have a smile on your face.  Be sympathetic to their plight and concentrate on their problem not yours.  Remember, the customer has needs and at the moment he or she really doesn’t care about your problems.  Above all, do not minimize their plight.  You will never know the full details, so remain in concert with the customer trying to solve the problem created by your failure to deliver what you promised.
  • Provide a business credit to your customer(s), if possible instead of a refund; the former will more likely get the customer to come back perhaps sooner and spend money with you, with the latter you may never see your customer again.
  • A sales agreement represents the promise by one person to do or provide to another person something of value.  Despite all the legalese in the sales document, this transaction represents explicit trust on both sides.  With fewer customers, small businesses need to keep that trust for as many buyers as possible.  Doing this when events happen out of their control, they must act to keep that trust.  Having a plan in place is the first step.

Supply chain disruption happen in all size businesses.  Your best bet is to prepare for them, active swiftly when they happen, and keep your customers.

Successful Marketing Stunts Can Boost Your Campaigns

Sun, 04/11/2021 - 00:07

Generating attention and ultimately sales are what marketing campaigns are all about.

Any element that acts as a megaphone multiplying mentions of the company’s product or services adds to the campaign’s success.

Marketing stunts have proven to be the burst of energy to campaigns.

Have you thought of boosting your marketing campaign?

Well thought-out marketing stunts can generate lots of publicity for products and brands.

Particularly in today’s world, if not properly conceived and executed, a marketing stunt can backfire. In companies need to protect the trust built with customers when considering any marketing stunts. Here’s two examples of two stunt cases generated by well-known larger companies; one worked and the other seems to have broken trust plus caused brand confusion.

Pulling off a successful marketing stunt can turn into a positive viral wave such as in 2018 when IHOP teased that it would change its name to “IHOb” as part of a marketing campaign for its line of burgers; the result in the company sold four times more burgers after its campaign.

Recently, Volkswagen had a negative experience when it claimed it was changing its name in the U.S. to “Voltswagen” in a nod toward its heightened commitment to electric vehicles.  Here the stunt failed because at a time when America is grappling with a misinformation crisis, is it acceptable to mislead reporters and the public as a marketing strategy?

In Volkswagen’s case, it didn’t play well, especially since the company admitted guilt to having tricked us before*.  Volkswagen’s decision to lie about the nature of its announcement marks a breach of trust that could undermine the automaker’s reputation.  Plus, customers became confused by the brand and began asking if diesel cars were still going to be available.

When considering a marketing stunt, as a business owner or manager there are three things to consider.

  • Are you brave enough to risk all you have done in the past generating trust? 
  • Surrounding your stunt is your message so good it would be properly understood and trigger your audiences’ positive emotions?
  • Is your communication channel efficient enough to reach your target customers, is your timing right, and is your tone of voice reflecting your idea as it should?

If you decide to go ahead and try a marketing stunt to differentiate your brand is a sea of other brands and in the hope of boosting your business, please consider some of these important elements to ensure the outcome is successful as possible.

Know your audience – get to know your audience on a personal level.  Consider how your stunt impacts them. Are you being funny, provocative or thought-provoking? Whatever you are doing, make sure that your target audience is on board and understands your message.

Design a bold maneuver grounded in research – a marketing stunt, without research, is based on intuition and designed for shock value; but it may not resonate with your audience(s).  A bold maneuver, or marketing stunt grounded in research, is still gutsy and requires risk, is more likely to succeed in attracting the attention and affection of your ideal audience(s).

Trigger a core emotion, if possible – a marketing stunt should tap into a core emotion to make it successful and effective.  The key to a successful stunt is the emotion you are looking to target needs to coordinate with your brand or project.

Use the right content strategy -stunts can be effective with the right content strategy surrounding them. Start with a vision for the story you aim to tell, beyond the initial audience reached, and planning for what content needs to be deployed and captured. A stunt can have a much longer tail if photos of audience reactions, social media reactions, etc. are captured and distributed quickly to relevant media outlets.

Add value to your brand – make sure that whatever you are doing adds value to your brand.  Usually, it is a waste of money to pull a stunt for the sake of getting short-term attention.  Only do a stunt if it reinforces your brand.

Ensure the stunt does not cheapen your brand – driving sales is can be tough in our current market, and a well-designed marketing stunt can increase brand awareness and sales. However, be careful and make sure that your stunt stays within your branding and does not lessen or hurt your offerings.

Have a PR plan in place – having a PR plan in place is imperative.  You want to be talked about in the best possible light.  If you are able to get a marketing stunt into the mainstream news, it is good opportunity for your business and brand to expand.

Tie your stunt to a larger campaign – marketing stunts can be very effective, but only if they tie into a larger, long-term brand message or campaign.  A stunt often can be short lived, over as soon as it starts.  Bit, if you tie it into a long-term brand strategy, a stunt can spike your brand message and bring it to a higher level.

Get it to go viral – the goal of pulling off a marketing stunt is getting it to go viral.  However, there is no specific formula as to what makes something go viral.  Often, it is a random and organic phenomenon that happens.  In general, focus on understanding and addressing the problems and/or interests of your target audience(s).

Make it visually engaging – today, marketing stunts must be visual so as to engage the hearts and minds of the desired target audience.  Consider using video in executing the stunt and in recording your audience reactions.

Time it right – timing can play a critical role in the viral nature of a stunt. If you opt for an occasion-based day, the creative idea has to be compelling for the brand to own the occasion.  Otherwise, the originality and the authenticity of your stunt take precedence. Be unusual to grab attention, but make it relevant.

Consider using the #Challenge format – marketing stunts often take the form of #challenges.  The keys to creating a viral challenge are to know your audience, put it on the right platform, and partner with an influencer who is popular with both your audience and users on that platform. If you can pull off all three, your #challenge could sweep the nation and go viral very quickly.

Embody the brand’s central narrative – a marketing stunt is effective as long as they are an authentic extension of the brand.  When they truly exemplify the brand and its overarching narrative, the stunt becomes a creative storytelling device that generates media coverage and buzz.  Make your stunt simple and brief; if your stunt is too elaborate or takes too long to get from the brand essence it may not resonate with your audience(s).

Pay attention to detail and manage risk – attention to detail and risk management are, by far, the most important things to consider if you are planning to pull off a marketing stunt.  Analyze how and what you are about to very carefully.  Consider your audience as well as what going on in the world at large.  You want to make sure that you do not offend anyone.

Marketing stunts can be brand positive.  If you are willing to take the risk, plan and execute it so it has the best chance at success.

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* Volkswagen admitted in 2017 that millions of its diesel cars had polluted the earth above acceptable standards and paid more than $30 billion in penalties throughout the world.

How to Move Your Business Forward

Mon, 03/08/2021 - 14:47

This past year with the pandemic was one of disconnection, isolation, perhaps numbness and desperation.  With multiple vaccines rolling out, there is hope for moving forward in a different way. 

Recent past blogs highlighted Trends and Opportunities (January 2021)­ and Ask for Help (February 2021).

To be successful, HOW you move ahead is important.  You need to listen well, create a positive company culture, as well as be empathic.

The starting point is listening.

To ensure and accelerate growth in today’s and tomorrow’s environment it takes humility, authenticity and vulnerability.  And the starting point is listening.

Listening is participative; you need to be all in and fully present.  When we give others our full and undivided attention, we let them know that they really do matter.  We are interested in what they have to say and who they are.

These days, we all need to listen more closely and attentively to our employees, customers, vendors, partners and others.

With so much noise and so much that needs to be done, taking the time and effort to listen may seem counterintuitive, but this really is the time to listen with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

Foster a positive company culture.

Organizations need to find ways to improve engagement, retention and performance to move forward.  Creating a positive culture for your business helps.  Here are a few ways to make your workplace a happier and more dynamic place to work each day.

Flexible and remote working has become more prevalent due to the need for social distancing.  For businesses that can adapt to the needs of their employees, the outcome is positive.  Businesses see a greater result in terms of culture and employee retention.  

Transparency is key in any organization, but particularly now that access to information is so important.  Being transparent with your workers helps to encourage innovation and builds trust among the team, both in the company and in fellow employees.  Further, transparency helps to develop a culture of honesty that is critical to success and happiness in the workplace.  Make sure everyone has access to common information to keep them working from the same page.

Be more open to staff requests.  And adapt and understand the need for work-life balance.  Whatever it is that your staff needs to be happy, stress-free and productive should be something that the business considers important, whether that’s updated training, remote working or flexible hours.  While not all requests can be accepted, it’s important that employees feel able to ask and discuss their needs with their employers, without fear of being told no without consideration. 

Not all aspects of fostering a happier company culture need to be immediate; sometimes, it can be hugely beneficial to have something to work towards in the future too.  One way of doing this successfully is to plan a celebration that everyone in the company can look forward to and enjoy together. 

Communication is of paramount importance with so many business challenges (and opportunities) at the moment, as well as staff members working from numerous locations.  Remote management demands plenty of regular feedback so that everyone can work on projects efficiently, while still enjoying autonomy, so make good use of email, phone and video technology to ensure that interactions are regular and thorough. 

Further, make sure that not all of the check-ins are business-related; remember to listen thoughtfully, let people know they can come to you to discuss issues and keep virtual meetings as ‘in person’ as possible.  This will help to maintain great relationships within the workplace and ensures that your company remains a fun and friendly place to work.

Empathy reigns supreme as businesses move forward. 

While some businesses seem to be starting from scratch, others are transforming to be relevant and responsive in today’s business world; yet at the same time we all remember how it used to be. 

We need to develop approaches that blend empathy and usefulness.  So, imagine what you will miss; perhaps services, community, spontaneity, among other things.  Then think about what you will need to proceed, such as patience, confidence, creativity and more.  Then transform your efforts to anticipate and honor what is needed, to be of use.  Finally remember, we all are trying to emerge from the pandemic; please think in terms of unity, rather than suffering.

We can move forward by allowing ourselves the grace to acknowledge the fear and discomfort.  Recognize that we have always been pursuing new benchmarks in business, challenging ourselves to be more efficient or more innovative.

We still have the capacity to do that and, perhaps more than ever before, we have a better sense of the emotions of those we are trying to serve.

Let’s hope these suggestions of listening, fostering a positive company culture, and empathizing help you to move your business forward.