5 Reasons to Connect with Customers in Person

In person meetingFor many small businesses today, digital communications – email, texting, social media, and others – have completely taken over.  In many ways, this is a good thing. It’s super convenient, efficient and keeps you constantly connected.

But some business owners are starting to wonder. Has it gone too far? These days, many people are reluctant to even pick up the phone and make an “old-fashioned” voice call. They’d much rather send an email. Meanwhile, face-to-face meetings are increasingly rare.

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But this “technology takeover” has potentially serious consequences for a business, says Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Cellars, a wine-making business focused on being more fun, lighthearted and hip. Business is still built on relationships, and in a purely digital world, relationships can stagnate, or never develop at all.

Trust – another business cornerstone – dips as well, as genuine personal connections are replaced by keystrokes and mouse clicks.

When Houlihan and his partner Bonnie Harvey started Barefoot Cellars, they had no wine business experience. So they paid personal visits to countless suppliers, retailers and potential customers to gain knowledge and build relationships. “The Barefoot brand would never have become successful without meetings, phone calls and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date,” says Houlihan. “People don’t just buy your product or service. They buy you.”

Of course when travel is involved, face-to-face meetings can be expensive. But the digital equivalent – a Skype video call – can fill in nicely. It’s the next best thing to being there. Houlihan now uses Skype frequently in his own business dealings. “Live video streams let you do just about everything except shake hands,” he says.

Here are five reasons to consider more face time in your own business dealings:

1)    Taking the time shows you care. People want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with them – whether in person, on a computer screen or, if all else fails, a phone call, is one of the best ways to build a relationship.

2)    You can provide more personalized attention. This might be the key selling success. There’s no “multi-tasking” when you’re standing face-to-face with somebody (unless, of course, you don’t mind being terribly rude). You have to focus on the other person and respond not only to what they say, but also to their mood and other non-verbal signals. You read those signs and adjust your own actions accordingly.

3)    You can be more effective in general. When you talk to someone in “real time” you also can make progress in real time and solve problems in real time as well. Sending emails back and forth isn’t always efficient. And thanks to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have verbal conversations. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice things about the other company or clients that they aren’t aware of themselves.

4)    Other people are more likely to say yes. “In my experience, when you use someone’s name along with eye contact and an attentive demeanor, they’re more likely to be agreeable and to give you the benefit of any doubt,” says Houlihan, who with Harvey wrote “The Barefoot Spirit” (Evolve Publishing, 2013).  The next time they see you they’ll be more relaxed and familiar with your company. People want to do business with people they know. And you can get to know them much better “off-screen”.

5)    Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing!).  In a virtual world, you can almost totally control the image you show to other people. That’s good to a point. But in a face-to-face relationship, the other person gets more of a 360-degree view of who you are. The imperfections and vulnerability they might see actually makes you appear more believable and sincere

Business relationships can and should start through digital means. The tools are there and you should use them. But in order for your business to be lasting and dependable, relationships should be allowed to grow in person as well. Your business will be better off in the long run.

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7 Warning Signs Your Business is Aiming Too Low

Aiming lowNot many business owners strive to be second-rate. Most businesses at least pay lip service to a desire for being their customers’ or clients’ first choice. But all too often, their actions say otherwise.

The solution is actually quite simple: If you put your customers first, they are far more likely to put you first, too.  It’s a two-way street; but not an easy street, says Joseph Callaway, who along with his wife JoAnn, wrote a book called “Clients First: The Two Word Miracle” (Wiley, 2012).

You can’t coast into a “first choice” role. The minute you start coasting – aiming lower than you should – you’ll find yourself falling to second, third or worse in the customer choice derby.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of warning signs that are tipoffs your business is “settling” when it should be succeeding. Here’s what low aim looks like – and what to do about it:

1)    Your top goal is to make money.  Sure, it’s a business, so you need to make money. But if that’s all you want, you’ll never run a business that’s number one in the hearts and minds of customers and clients. Customers are smart. They can sense when money is your first motivation, and they come second.

2)    You let the little things slide.  Little stuff counts. Sending emails full of errors; being late to meetings or failing to remember a name might seem like things that don’t matter much in the long run. But in the long run is precisely when they DO matter. Keeping an eye only on the “big” things such as growth or generating leads can blind you to seeing what customers really want and need. “Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients,” says Callaway.

3)    You tell little lies. Exaggerating, misdirecting or omitting things might make business run smoother…briefly. But there’s always a chance customers will see through it and call you on the carpet. And even if they don’t, a pattern of “stretching the truth” is indicative of a broader attitude that relegates clients to second or third priority.

4)    You badmouth the competition. As in politics, if you sling mud at the opponent, you’re going to get dirty yourself.  Wouldn’t you rather rise in stature on your own merits? Even better, your goal should be to earn the goodwill and admiration of your rivals.

5)    You feel your only obligation to employees is cutting a paycheck.  Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs?  Are you courteous and enthusiastic with them?  Just keep this in mind: The way you treat employees rubs off, and that’s how they will likely treat customers or clients.

6)    You spend more time avoiding customers than listening to what they have to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet when you are pitching prospects.  And you’re more than willing to accommodate whims and requests from new customers who aren’t yet cemented in. But what about older, more established clients? Are you spending the same time with them – or are you taking them for granted? As Callaway says, “Businesses that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience once won’t keep them coming back forever if they believe your product or service has slipped.”

7)    You don’t know anything about your customers or clients outside of business.  To some business owners, asking about customers’ family and outside interests seems unprofessional. But to the customer or client, it can make you come off as cold and impersonal. Remember, to truly serve people, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give clients 100 percent, and you give them a reason to take their business elsewhere.

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5 Ways Business Owners Scare Their Employees

scareWhether you know it or not, being a business owner also requires being a leader – especially if you have employees. If you don’t display good leadership skills, you won’t get the most from your employees, and your business will suffer.

Despite good intentions, many business owners and managers unknowingly strike fear into employees simply by what they say – or don’t say. And fearful employees are not productive employees. They react to fear with the primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze” instinct and begin to focus only on their own survival, says Christine Comaford, a leadership consultant and author of the new book “How Teams Become Brilliant Together” (Portfolio/Penguin 2013).

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Here are five ways that business owners inadvertently scare employees into a dysfunctional state:

1. You “help them out” by giving them solutions. When you constantly tell people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own, you develop a business full or order-takers instead of innovators. By training them to always ask, you end up with a group of workers who are perpetually frozen in survival mode.

On the other hand, when you engage people in problem-solving themselves, you create a sense of safety, belonging and mattering.

2. Your meetings are heavy on sharing and point-proving, and light on promises and requests. Meetings that are rambling and unfocused send people into fear and confusion. But short, high-energy meetings that have a clear agenda keep everyone motivated. Ideally you should focus on only enough information sharing to solicit requests from people who need something, and promises from people who will fill that need.

If you tune up your communication, the result will be meetings that are efficient and effective, and that keep your employees happy as well as productive and accountable.

3. You give feedback to employees without first establishing rapport.  In short, you must be able to influence people, not just boss them around.  Here are three shortcut phrases that can help you do that:

  • “What if…” When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious — not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering.
  • “I need your help.” Specialists call this a “dom-sub swap” because when the dominant person (the boss) uses it, they are asking the subordinate person to rise up and swap roles. This is especially effective when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.
  • “Would it be helpful if…” When a fearful employee is unable to move forward, offering some options will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.

4. You focus on problems, not outcomes.  Instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘Why is this happening? You should ask ‘What do we want?’ and ‘How will we create it?’”

Being outcome focused is more energizing and fills people with confidence. Avoid saying things like “Let me help you” or  “I’ll make it better for you.”  Instead, say “What outcome would you like?” and “What will having that do for you?”

5. You talk about change in the wrong way. Most business owners and managers want their businesses to change. That’s the only way to grow and get better. But as we know, most employees – and people in general – fear and resist change.

People tolerate change better if it’s framed the right way – more like “sameness with a difference.” Try presenting change as merely an improvement in what is already being done. The bad stuff is being removed, and the good stuff is being added. You might even avoid using the word “change” at all and instead use “growth” which is less daunting to most people.

“All business owners want to outperform, outsell, and out-innovate the competition,” says Comaford. “And most of us have teams that are quite capable of doing so. We just need to stop scaring the competence out of them.”

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4 Tech Trends that are Changing Small Business

tech trendsWhen it comes to using technology, one thing is clear: Small businesses that embrace it are growing faster than those that don’t.  From mobile applications to social media, and cloud computing to data management, “new” ways of doing business centered around technology are taking hold and becoming the norm for millions of small and mid-sized firms nationwide.

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Here are 4 tech trends that are reshaping how the most successful small businesses are facing the future:

1. Mobile Adoption Soars: A new study by the SMB Group, which tracks technology adoption by small and medium businesses, shows that mobile use continues to skyrocket. In the last two years, the number of small businesses using mobile-friendly websites has nearly doubled, from 18% to 35% according to the SMB Group study. Meanwhile, the use of mobile apps for employees continues to increase, as does the number of small businesses using mobile commerce solutions.

Business owners are also spending more money on mobile. On average, a small business spends about 11%-20% of its technology budget on mobile. And two out of three business owners expect to spend more on mobile next year in areas such as devices, applications, security and consulting services.

The big problem, however, is that most small firms still struggle with how to manage the explosion of mobile devices, apps and the so-called “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon, where employees are asked to use their own smartphones or other mobile devices for business purposes.

In the past year alone, use of mobile apps for employees – including email, calendars and customer relationship management (e.g. SalesForce) – has jumped 20% among small businesses. And the number of businesses adopting BYOD policies for employees has more than doubled.

As you embrace mobile, however, be careful to track how it’s actually benefiting your business. It’s not enough to embrace mobile solutions just because everyone else is. Look for areas it can really make a difference for your business, such as inventory tracking where mobile devices offer huge time savings.

2. Social Gets More Serious: The percentage of small businesses using social media continues to rise, up to 58% from closer to 50% just a year ago. Still, only about one in four small firms use social media strategically to pursue specific business goals. Most others take an informal, ad hoc approach, without any specific business goals in mind.

But the social bar is rising. More business owners want to ensure that their increasingly time-sensitive investment in social media pays off and are developing plans to map their social efforts to specific business outcomes, such as increased sales.

To make your efforts in social media pay off, consider using an outside service such as HubSpot (www.hubspot.com) that offers all-in-one web-based software for attracting leads and converting them to customers, through social media and other channels.

3.  Cloud Cover Expands:  Cloud computing – essentially, using web-based instead of PC-based software – has quickly become the “new normal” for millions of small business.  There’s a cloud application for nearly anything your business needs to do, from accounting, expense tracking, data backup and storage, to time tracking, project management, document signing and hundreds more.

Working “in the cloud” simply makes sense for small businesses. It lowers your cost (no software to buy and install, although many cloud services require a fee), is far faster to deploy and gives you access to the kinds of computing power that once belonged exclusively to bigger businesses.

4. Information Overflow Drives New Data Solutions:  The mobile-social-cloud triumvirate that emerges from the first three trends is generating unprecedented amounts information that few small businesses can manage, let alone put to use. This data fire hose is at full blast, and isn’t likely to abate. Businesses that figure out how to harness and turn some of this information (customer wants and needs, for example) into useful insights will gain a big competitive advantage.

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6 Preventive Steps That Could Save Your Business

preventionIn our fast-paced, ever changing business world, the notion of “prevention” – which generally means doing something you don’t absolutely have to do right now – often gets lost or set aside. But with so much riding on how smoothly things run at your business, that ounce of prevention can indeed far outweigh a pound of cure later on.

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Think of some of the threats your business faces: computer viruses and other tech malfunctions, on-the-job accidents, employee theft, shoplifting, lawsuits, machinery downtime and broken equipment. All of these things can slow you down, cost you money and even put you out of business.

Here are six key areas where prevention can really make a difference to your business success, along with some preventive solutions.

1) Theft and Loss Prevention: Whether it’s stealing client lists and confidential data, fudging expense reports or stealing merchandise and materials, employee theft and fraud is a serious threat to small businesses. Shoplifting, employee theft and other types of “inventory shrinkage” can eat away your profits. Installing a loss-prevention program will help minimize losses. Include background checks on employees as part of your system. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (www.napbs.com) can help.  Conducting regular audits or “checkups” can help you detect fraud or theft and also serve as a deterrent. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) helps companies of all sizes detect and deal with workplace fraud. Visit www.acfe.com.

2) Lawsuit Prevention: A lawsuit is a huge drain on your time, money and energy. The story is all too familiar: A small business owner and a partner (client, customer, investor, etc.) have a business dispute they can’t seem to resolve. No one will budge. Threats of legal action, emails and letters are exchanged. Everybody is upset, and productivity suffers under the stress. If a lawsuit results, things get even worse. Solution? Use arbitration and mediation to avoid a legal morass. It’s user-friendly (usually avoids lawyers), inexpensive and helps resolve thousands of business disputes yearly.

The American Arbitration Association (ADR.org) and the National Arbitration Forum (arb-forum.com) can help. Judicial Arbitration & Mediation Services, or JAMS (jamsadr.com), offers dispute resolution services, and can do it via videoconferencing.  For preventive help keeping your business in legal compliance, visit LegalWorkplace.com.

3) PC Problem Prevention:  Both Microsoft and Apple offer free security updates — but you have to download and install the latest versions and fixes. Get what you need at the Microsoft Download Center (Microsoft.com/downloads). For Mac OSX, go to the Apple menu and select “Software Update” to check for updates. Microsoft has some good preventive maintenance advice on its website at www.microsoft.com/athome.

4) Accident Prevention: Keeping things safe in the workplace is vital to a successful business. It’s not just good business, it’s also the law. For free information, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is actually a good source for business owners. From the OSHA homepage at www.osha.gov, click on the “Small Business” tab on the upper right. There you’ll find quick links to small business safety resources, help with compliance, web tools and FAQ.

Many companies sell safety products and training materials, including the Workplace Safety Store (safety.1800inet.com), Northern Safety (www.northernsafety.com) and All Safety products (www.allsafetyproducts.biz).

5) Preventive Facilities Maintenance: If your facilities and equipment fall into disrepair, your business will suffer. Grainger (www.grainger.com) is the top provider of maintenance, repair and operating supplies to businesses in North America. And since there are a gazillion products and parts you might need (Grainger carries over 800,000), their online product search is super helpful. If your biz is big enough, consider outsourcing maintenance. USI Building Services, for example, (www.usibuildingservices.com) is a single provider for all maintenance needs. They take care of supplies, equipment management, scheduling and reporting.

6) Data Loss Prevention: You’ll find helpful virus protection and data backup solutions at MacAfee.com and Symantec.com. For web-based backup and data protection solutions, consider SystemSafe (www.systemrestore.com), Iron Mountain (www.ironmountain.com), Intronis.com and RestartIT.com. Carbonite.com is a low-cost service that offers non-stop, automatic backup over the internet for as little as $5 monthly. Imation.com devotes considerable attention to small business solutions, with helpful tips, advice and product information to help get you started.  Second Copy (www.secondcopy.com), from Centered Systems, is inexpensive software for Windows that automatically makes a backup of your data files to another directory, disk or computer across the network.

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4 Technology Keys to Guiltless Getaways

Technology keyIt’s an ongoing dilemma for millions of business owners: How to take vacations or other time off and still keep business on track. Not only do Americans take far fewer vacations than workers in other countries (hundreds of millions of vacation days go unused in the U.S. annually), but studies show that business owners take the least amount of time off of anyone.

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Many business owners feel somehow guilty at trying to get away, perhaps because they are so emotionally tied to their companies. While the best vacation is one that truly allows you to relax and forget your troubles back at the office, in reality that’s just not going to happen for most business owners and entrepreneurs. So more and more are doing the next best thing by using technology to remotely manage their businesses while away.

Several tech-based “silver bullets” make this possible, including smart phones, tablet computers, cloud-based business management applications and wide availability of high-speed Internet connections. With some planning and a bit of tech-savvy, these things are making it easier than ever for biz owners to banish their guilt and feel more comfortable about getting away.

Tom McGlynn, owner of a California-based personal fitness company RunCoach, used to struggle with keeping his business on track while traveling. Then he discovered how technology could come to the rescue. Now, rather than being office-bound for the summer, he travels around the U.S. to coach marathon runners.

After the web became the center of McGlynn’s business, he found that he could do almost anything online – and from the road – including accessing fitness training software, designing workouts for clients and keeping his business books.

Here are four tactics and technologies that can help any business owner achieve guiltless getaways:

1.  Get a smart phone: Busy business owners who’ve embraced smart phones often say it’s a move that has entirely changed how they do business. “I used to carry a laptop when I traveled to keep track of things,” says a tennis club owner who goes to junior tournaments around the U.S. “But now all I need is my iPhone.” He receives and answers texts and emails quickly, keeps track of his schedule, checks tournament draws, gets directions and much more.

For some business owners, the smart phone is also their lifeline to social media while they are away. They can update a Facebook page, send tweets, post content on LinkedIn and monitor results all from their phone.

In just a few short years, smart phones have gone from a technological curiosity to one of the most essential pieces of technology in the small business owner’s arsenal.  If you don’t yet have a smart phone, or aren’t using yours to full advantage, it’s time to step up to the smart phone plate.

2. Run your finances online:  More than almost any other task, the ability to manage the financial side of your business from anywhere is a key to guiltless getaways.  But the days of being tied to desktop software are long gone (or should be). These days, web or “cloud” based applications are the way to go.

You can manage travel expenses, pay bills, do your business banking and keep your books easily online. And that’s just the beginning. QuickBooks Online, for example, is a handy way to keep track of your finances anywhere, anytime – especially while traveling. You can use it to create and send professional looking invoices, check your cash flow and share your books in real time, all without sending files of any kind back and forth.

3. Share and collaborate digitally: It’s never been easier to share files and collaborate with colleagues, vendors and customers online. With services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho and Basecamp, you can take comfort in knowing you’ll be plugged into what’s happening and can respond to any emergency or opportunity even if you’re away on vacation.

4. Outsource anything you can. Outsourcing is ideal for business owners who want to get more time away. Hire a virtual assistant to help with administrative tasks and scheduling. You might also consider working with other business owners to cover for each other when traveling.

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Top 10 Internet Security Tips for Small Business

Internet securityHigh-speed Internet, interconnected mobile, desktop and laptop devices along with web-based tools and digital applications are making small firms more productive than ever.  But all that online speed and efficiency can come at a stiff price if your website, financial information, social media accounts, business or customer data fall victim to cyber thieves or troublemakers.

According to U.S. government crime data, digital information theft has now surpassed physical property theft as the most commonly reported type of business fraud. That alone is reason for business owners to be concerned. If you aren’t taking up-to-date steps to protect your business, you could be exposing yourself to serious trouble that can threaten your future.

Here are 10 tips from the cyber security experts at the Federal Communications Commission for building a sound strategy to protect your business and your customers from this growing threat:

1. Keep clean machines: Your computers should be equipped with the latest security software, web browsers and operating systems. This simple step is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats that are constantly changing. Install key software updates as soon as they are available and set antivirus software to run a scan after each update.

2. Secure your Wi-Fi networks: If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.

3. Train everyone in security basics: Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords, and establish appropriate Internet use guidelines that detail penalties for violating your policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.

4. Provide firewall security for your Internet connection: A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure your operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home systems are protected by a firewall as well.

5. Create a mobile device action plan, too: Mobile devices create big security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the business network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

6. Backup all key business data and information:  Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly and store the copies either offsite or in the cloud.

7. Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each person: Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

8. Protect payment card systems and information: Work with banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may have certain security obligations under agreements with your bank or processor, so make sure you know your liabilities. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and don’t use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.

9. Limit authority to install software and access information: Don’t provide any single employee with access to all data systems. Employees should only be given access to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs, and should not be able to install software without permission.

10. Get tough on passwords: Require employees to use strong passwords and change them every three to six months. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multi-factor authentication for your account.

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12 Tips for Naming a Business, Brand or Product

brand croppedWhen it comes to finding a great name for a business, brand, product or service, it really comes down to this:  A good name should make someone smile or nod, not scratch their head in confusion.

But this notion, mind you, is not universally held. Many businesses – and the branding agencies they hire to help them – have lately leaned toward combining letters and sounds into invented names that are hard to pronounce or understand.

Others prefer to aim for fresh, unexpected names that you don’t need a computer to decipher. One such advocate for fun and likable names and taglines is a San Francisco-based naming firm called Eat My Words (www.EatMyWords.com) that specializes in helping people who find themselves in a business or product-naming pickle.

Here are some naming tips from the pros at Eat My Words who come up with creative brand name suggestions and emotionally-driven company tag lines daily:

Naming a Business

1)    Don’t name your business after yourself. As tempting as that might be, the name is essentially meaningless to your future customers and evokes nothing about your business. What’s more, many names are hard to pronounce, spell or remember. One exception: If your name lends itself to clever word play such as a consultant named Steven Lord who call’s his business “Lord Knows.”

2)    Don’t date your business name. If you select something trendy or numerical (i.e. Women 2.0) the name might appear dated in a few years. Stick to names that can withstand the test of time.

3)    Use a name that will scale to fit future products. As Eat My Words notes, you don’t want to outgrow your business name. For example, if Amazon.com – which originally sold only books — had named itself Bookstore.com, they’d have painted themselves into a corner that would have made it difficult once they started selling anything and everything.

4)    Your name doesn’t have to convey trust and credibility.  That’s something you build through your logo design and marketing materials. If you try to build that into your name, you’ll likely end up with some hopelessly boring options.

Naming a Product

1)    Keep it simple and conceptual.  According to Eat My Words, basic yet powerful words make for the best product names. A few they’ve created include a travel make-up kit named Dash; an all-natural energy drink called Bloom; and a line of gourmet dips for kids called Monkey Dunks.

2)    Avoid acronyms. You should only expect people to remember one name, not two. Brand your product with a full name and let the acronym be something you only use internally.

3)    Name you product before your company. That’s not always possible, of course, but if people only remember one thing, it’s better they remember the name of the thing they will actually be buying (and searching for online).

4)    Select names that work as a family. Apple, for example, created a family of products that all fit together by using the same naming convention around “i” including iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad, among others.

Naming a Brand

1)    Define the personality of your brand in three words that will be your acid test. When Alexandra Watkins was naming her naming agency, she wanted to convey that the brand was “playful,” “creative” and “unexpected,” which lead her to Eat My Words. Something like ABC Name Bank simply wouldn’t have cut it.

2)    Your brand name should be spelled exactly how it sounds and be easy to pronounce. This certainly bucks a popular trend these days, but if you don’t follow this rule you’ll be constantly telling people how to spell or pronounce it. Your brand should be approachable – not something people struggle with and are embarrassed to try and pronounce.

3)    Choose a brand name that’s meaningful to your customers. Names with hidden meanings or foreign phrases can’t stand on their own, and you won’t always be there to explain. Each time you have to explain what your name means you are apologizing for it.

4)    The name should create a picture in the customer’s mind.  That’s because people remember pictures more easily than they remember words or letters.

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10 Ways to Amp up Loyalty for Your Business

loyaltyIs customer or employee loyalty lagging at your business these days? Even under the best circumstances it can happen if you take your eye off the ball for even a short while. With so many things to focus on, many business owners sometimes lose sight of just how important customer as well as employee loyalty can be.

Right now, you’re probably scrambling to find new customers or clients. You’re hustling to handle 101 day-to-day tasks and perhaps manage employees or independent contractors as well. No matter what the economic conditions are, however, it’s vital to be vigilant in two key areas:

  • Keeping the customers or clients your business already has; and,
  • Keeping employees loyal and motivated even if raises, bonuses and benefits aren’t in the cards.

Now that the job market is improving a bit in many industries and areas, restless employees may be less inclined to stick around. If they don’t feel like you’ve treated them well or appreciated their hard work, they’ll look for something better.

Customers present an even greater challenge. For most growth-minded entrepreneurs, the tendency is to focus on new business development. But that might have it backwards. The first move should almost always be to keep what you’ve got, because it costs twice as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an existing one.

Here are 10 tips to amp up loyalty at a small business – five ways for customers and five for employees:

Keeping Customers

1) Provide more frequent progress reports: Show your customer or client the work you’ve been doing and the results you’ve achieved. This will help answer un-asked questions and allay latent fears.

2) Get some face time: If you deal mostly by email, web-connection or phone, make an effort to meet in person. Seeking “face time” says you are interested and gives you an opportunity to literally see things for yourself that can lead to improvements or new business. It’s also a great way to generate referrals.

3) Ask for feedback:  Never assume a customer is completely satisfied. Throughout the sales or work process (whatever that might be for your business) ask how your customer feels about what you’re doing. Then take action on any suggestions. Think of yourself as a waiter who checks back periodically throughout the meal to see if everything is okay.

4) Tune your product or service offerings:  As proud as you may be about your product or service, remember it’s being made or done for the customer or client – not you. Make certain you know what they want, and when they want it.

5) Be open to making changes: Customers may want to change terms, conditions, purchase orders, payment processes or other things. Customers will appreciate if you show a willingness to work with them on adapting to new conditions.

Gaining worker loyalty

Ed Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, offers these employee loyalty suggestions:

1) Say thank you:  It seems so simple, but just telling your employees “thank you” when they’ve done a great job will go a long way. Verbal recognition boosts morale and builds mutual respect. “As a result, employees will not only work hard for you, but they’ll stick with you through thick and thin,” says Hess.

2) Give low-cost bonuses and perks: If you can’t give significant raises or bonuses, show appreciation with less pricey rewards. Options include gift certificates to local restaurants, movie tickets or maybe a paid Friday afternoon off. Also, providing a catered lunch once a month or doughnuts in the morning is a good way to boost loyalty.

3) Help them improve themselves: Your employees will appreciate your willingness to help them invest in their futures. Consider paying for them to attend a class at a local community college or a seminar that interests them (and could help your business, too).

4) Help them get healthy: Providing employees with a gym membership is a great way to say “thank you” and can have multiple benefits. Find out if a local gym will offer a group deal.

5) Ask their opinion:  Employees appreciate being asked what they think. Solicit their ideas on how the business can be improved. You might be surprised by what you hear.

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How to Ring Up More Referrals

referralsCustomer referrals are one of the most powerful and lucrative ways of building business. While word-of-mouth gets you noticed, referrals are even better because the best ones bring purchase-ready customers or clients right to your doorstep (or website) complete with an existing customer’s endorsement.

So it simply makes sense to not only foster more referrals, but also be smarter about the ones you get.

Membership type businesses, such as health clubs, constantly run referral programs by offering existing members discounts or freebies for bringing in others. But small business owners of all types know the magic of referrals, which offer instant credibility for what you sell.

Finding and using referrals effectively, however, can be harder than it looks. Referrals come in several different flavors. If someone merely provides you a name or email address, that’s a low-grade referral. But if an existing client actively talks up your product or service, sets up a meeting or brings the prospect in, that’s a superstar referral.

Here are eight ways to get more and better referrals:

1. Create a referral-generation plan and put it to work

Referrals aren’t automatic. Some business owners assume that a great product or terrific customer service will automatically generate referrals. Not so. You have to ask. Don’t be shy. Most loyal customers are open to providing referrals. Some even appreciate the opportunity to tell friends, family and associates about something good they’ve discovered.

2. Ask at the right time

Timing is important, but many businesses ask for referrals at the wrong time. The worst time to ask is at the cash register or when you present a bill. Instead, look for opportunities earlier or later in the process when customers are more receptive.  There’s really no predetermined time to ask. Do it whenever opportunities arise.

3. Provide some support

Don’t ask customers to recommend you to others without providing them some kind of backup or support. It can be as simple as a supply of business cards, a link to a special page on your website. It could also be a brochure or some other type of printed material that reinforces the referral and describes what you do.

4. Offer appropriate incentives

The incentive you offer must fit with the kind of business you run. It could be a discount, service credits, an upgrade, a free item or some other trigger that will entice clients to provide referrals. Test different offers to find out what works best.

Communicate details of your referral program to your best customers through whatever means you have available, including a blog, newsletter, email or customer mailings. And be sure to thank customers when they make referrals.

5. Get the right information

When asking for referrals, consider using a form, checklist or web-based system that requests details that will make the referral more valuable. A simple name and number isn’t really a referral at all. It’s just a lead.

At the other end of the spectrum are referrals where the customer actually facilitates a meeting, visit or purchase by the referred person. This makes the customer an active agent on your behalf. Between these two extremes are referrals where the customer authorizes you to use their name when contacting somebody.

6. Target your most influential customers

If resources are limited, consider seeking referrals only from your most influential customers.  These might not actually be your best customers, but they are the people whose opinions would carry the most weight with other people in your industry, community or customer base. By targeting these influencers, you avoid spreading yourself too thin or generating weak referrals.

7. Target related businesses

The health care profession is one of the most adept at fostering referrals between complementary disciplines – specialists, imaging services, physical therapists, medical equipment suppliers and others. Consider the same strategy yourself. Contact businesses that provide complementary services to your own and ask for referrals.

8. Build your relationships

This takes time, but it’s critical because many of your most influential customers won’t provide referrals until you gain their complete trust.  You’ll want to treat each customer contact as if it’s critical to your next referral. Through each sales, marketing or customer service “touch” you are building a foundation of trust that that will one day lead to a valuable referral.

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