Business Articles

Do You Have What It Takes to Become an Entrepreneur?

Do you have dreams about owning your own business or becoming part of the gig economy? Making your own hours? Working from wherever you want?

Then you’re not alone.

There are an estimated 582 million entrepreneurs (about 775,000 of them in the US) already working for themselves. And that number is growing. According to Guidant Financial, 27% of people polled in 2020 wanted to start their own entrepreneurial enterprises because they were disenchanted/dissatisfied with corporate America. And a lot of people are rethinking their current jobs because of COVID.

Whatever your reasoning, you may be hesitating because going out on your own means leaving your comfort zone and the things you’ve become accustomed to. If you’re looking to become your own boss, here are some things you need to know.

Are You Ready to Become Part of the Gig Economy?

There are many ways to go out on your own/start your own business. This article will not give you the steps necessary to make your business operation legal in your area. We’re here purely to point out the reality of working for yourself. It’s not easy, but highly rewarding.

You Need to Want This Life

Business ownership or going out on your own means you are in command (at least initially) of everything. You will have to motivate yourself to do sales, marketing, tech, and every other aspect of your business until you can bring others on. There’s no one to check in with (other than possibly investors) and no one who will tell you next steps or give you assignments. You are in command, so you better be sure you want to be in the driver’s seat. That type of leadership is not for everyone.

You Will Question Your Motivation

To do your own thing, you need to be self-motivated but even the most self-motivated person will occasionally wonder if that’s enough. Just as a world-class athlete pushes through the pain in training, you will need to push through the self-doubt that will creep up. And it will.

Unless You Have Entrepreneur Friends, Your Friends Won’t Understand

Starting your own business is a 24/7 job, at least in the beginning. Most of your friends and family won’t understand unless they are entrepreneurs or independents themselves. They may make jokes about you being unemployed or having time to go to the pool in the middle of the day. Your friends and family may ask you to run their errands or have lunch. It’s likely they won’t see your efforts as the hard work that it is. They may even send you job listings so you can return to working for someone else. You will be tempted to give in because these are the people closest to you. Keep going.

Conquer the Excuses

Why haven’t you gone out on your own yet? What are your excuses? You don’t have time to dedicate to starting your own venture? You need the steady money from your employer? Whatever your excuse, you must want an entrepreneurial life more than you allow your excuse to rule you. We all have the same 24 hours a day. That is not an excuse. The internet is full of motivational stories about waking up at 5 so the entrepreneur could work before the family woke up. As the saying goes, “If you want it, you’ll find a way. Otherwise, you’ll find an excuse.”

Seek Like-minded People

As mentioned, it’s likely your friends and family won’t understand. You need a supportive group that understands the pressures of business ownership and the demands involved with just starting out. Joining the chamber is a great way to get the support you need to be successful. They may also have educational opportunities that are free to members. Ask your chamber about entrepreneur or single employer memberships. They may have a discounted rate.

You will want to give up, possibly several times a day. But you will never find a more rewarding experience than working for yourself…if you can overcome your own hesitancies.

Dealing with Angry Customers When You’re Short Staffed

The scene is a common one these days. Lines of people waiting to pay in a restaurant, retail establishment, or grocery store. Tempers flare. Customers yell at staff and wonder why there’s only one person checking people out. Your staff thinks, “Who needs this?” and they’re not wrong. They feel overworked and underappreciated. Customers are demanding and loud. Customers vow not to return. It makes for a bad situation for everyone.

So what can you do to ensure it doesn’t happen in your business?

Dealing with angry people during a staffing shortage is not easy, especially since one problem creates the other. People are angry because they have to wait. People have to wait because you are short staffed. No one wants to work in an environment filled with angry people.

Here are some things you can do to diffuse the situation.

Put People Where They’re Needed

As a manager or owner, when you are short-staffed you will always be assessing what needs to be done and who is around to do it. Make sure you have people in the most critical customer-facing spots and pull them from other areas as needed, even if only for a few minutes.

Ensure your employees feel empowered to help one another with overflow. If they are on rack duty, for instance, in your retail establishment make sure they know you appreciate them helping out at the cash register when a line forms. This means you will need to take the time to cross-train everyone and make sure they are comfortable working in all areas of the store/business where appropriate.

Stress That Everyone’s a Manager

Often when people are disgruntled, they will demand to see a manager. While there are some decisions that only a manager can make, help your employees feel confident enough to take the reins in these situations and insist that they are decision makers. They can reiterate that the manager issued the protocols they are following.

When they call you every time a manager is needed, the customer quickly learns the person they are dealing with is a low person on the staff chart and no longer feels the need to listen to them. You are also rewarding bad behavior done against your staff.

Achieving this level of confidence in your employees means you have trained them to make decisions and they know what freedoms they have to assist your customers. Help them understand what rules may be broken or stretched and which ones are absolutes.

Explain the Situation

While you never want to apologize for something that hasn’t happened yet, it is a good idea to remind everyone that you are doing your best. In fact, you may even want to add a “be kind message” to your help wanted posters. Explain that if they want things to be processed quicker, you would love additional help. Using a little humor can go a long way to diffuse difficult situations.

Play Good Music

If you have the right staff and it fits your business, try playing some good tunes; the type of music that gets people moving. Encourage your staff to sing or invite others to burst out into song or dance. This may sound goofy but it’s hard to be in a bad mood when the song “Walking on Sunshine” comes on the radio.

Speaking of sounds…

Soothe Them with Voice

The human voice can affect mood. A whiny voice can put customers on edge while a loud voice can make them feel more combative. With a confident, soothing voice you can make people feel understood and less prone to anger.

This hiring crisis is a challenging time for managers, staff, and owners. Just when everyone wants to get out and enjoy life again, their favorite businesses are struggling to hire. Some have had to shut down because they don’t have enough employees to operate. These tips will help you calm tempers until things can return to normal employment.

4 Spring Cleaning Data Tips for More Sales

While we are quickly heading toward the heat of summer, there’s still time to do some spring cleaning with your data. A nice clean email list can help you make the most of your ecommerce and increase summer sales.

Let’s get started.

Ways to Spruce Up Your Digital Marketing for Increased Sales

Customer data is great but only if you know what to do with it. Many businesses moved to online sales with COVID and, in turn, received a lot of good data from customers. But it’s time to get in there, do some spring cleaning of your database, and a few other things to position you for a hot summer sales season.

Spring Cleaning Tips

Segment

Did you get every name on your list the same way? Or did they get added through a variety of sources including ads, referrals, point of sale signups, and other ways? Likely, it’s the latter.

If you acquired your list members in various ways, take a moment to look into what each way tells you about them. Did they come to you after an e-commerce transaction or sign-up as part of a contest? How you got them is as important as how they continue to interact with you.

Look for ways to give them more of what they want in a personalized way by understanding what brought them to you in the first place.

Remove Non-Deliverables

You know the bounce backs you get every time you send? Look at the list and check for any obvious problems. Sometimes people hit the wrong key and you end up with .cmo instead of .com. Many bounce backs are due to key errors and are easy to recognize. Fix them. If it’s not obvious why they aren’t going through, get rid of them. You don’t want to pay for contacts that aren’t valid.

Get Rid of Dupes

Sometimes people get on lists from multiple ways, or they use different email addresses without realizing it. Take a quick scan for duplicate names. Do they share any of the same info? Could they be the same person? If so, do them a favor and merge the contacts. No one enjoys receiving two emails from you on each send, no matter how riveting the emails are.

Add Some Summer Spice

Depending on your business, you may see more visitors in the summer than during other parts of the year, on e-commerce or in-person. Since we’re talking about digital marketing here, look for ways you can add some summer spice to your website content, your newsletter, your landing page, and your email messaging. People are ready for fun times. They want school to be over and—unlike last summer—be able to do something. Play to that interest when creating or tweaking your content.

There’s an excitement in the air that has not been there for a while. Use this renewed energy to take a second look at your digital marketing. Make some quick tweaks and get ready for summer and increased sales.

Master the Basics of Good Content to Increase Sales

Writing is difficult for a lot of people. You may worry about your mastery of grammar or vocabulary. Maybe you just don’t think you have anything interesting to say. But if you have something to sell, you need to learn the basics of good copy, at least until you can pay someone to do it for you.

These basic tips can (and should) be used when writing your web copy, social media posts, newsletter, emails, or anything you’re using words to grab attention. Keep in mind that whatever you are writing you should always aim to be at least one of the following:

  • Interesting
  • Entertaining
  • Educational/informative

Copywriting Tips for Beginners

Importance of Good Content

1.     Get Human: share what’s going on in your life

You are interesting and someone out there can identify with you and what you’re doing. Even if it’s just that you burned toast this morning, there’s someone who is nodding their head as they read your post. These types of human connections make people want to read more and get to know you which leads to potential sales.

2.     Tie Your Product/service into Your Narrative

As you are “getting human” and sharing your stories, think about what types of skills or qualities go into making a good <insert your type of business here>. For instance, I follow a writer on social media. I didn’t follow her because I read her books and loved them. I followed her because her daily life stories are so funny and mirror mine that I wanted them to show up in my stream. She never even mentions her books. But because she entertains me, I am going to buy her books because I can tell from her posts that she’s very skilled at what she does.

Look for ways you can exhibit the skills people would associate with the type of business you’re in and tell stories around those things. Don’t tell people you are those things. Show people you are.

3.     Ask Questions

The easiest thing you can do to get people talking is to ask them about their own experiences. It makes them feel valued and it may help connect your audience to one another as well as to you.

Use Assumptive Agreements and “Are You with Me’s”

I know, right?

This is an example of a popular assumptive agreement. So is “Nobody wants that, right?” It invites people to agree with you and leaves little room to do otherwise. These types of phrases are also good ways to break up paragraphs, create white space to make pages scannable, and keep your reader with you.

4.     Good Visuals

Good visuals aren’t words, but they draw people to read your words. In those cases, pretty pictures are nice but interesting is better. An interesting image forces people to read the text around it because they are trying to figure it out. A pretty image can stand alone; no further explanation is needed.

5.     Notice What You Like Online

If you are in your own target demographic, pay attention to all the “junk” marketing you get and all the social media business posts you see. What do you like and what doesn’t work? Make a note of these things and use them to shape your own posts. The other day, just before lunch Chick-fil-a sent me a notification asking me if I wanted some of their golden nuggets. I thought about it for several hours. Guess where my kids ate last night?

6.     Spend Time on the Headings and Titles

These lines are valuable. Titles will convince people to read. Headings break up text and are excellent places for keywords. Creating these is not a timed race. Since there are very few characters (you want to keep them short and punchy, for the most part), you want every word to serve a purpose. Headings and titles should:

  • Tell the reader what the writing is about
  • Use powerful words that are in keeping with your business’ personality (don’t use “awesome” if you’re a conservative investment firm, for instance)
  • Use keywords
  • Spur interest

Write your title. Then ask yourself, “so what?” or “and.” Revise to add the “so what” and ask it again. Eventually, there will be nothing left to ask. At that point cut any extra words, switch out boring words or add some exciting ones, and you have your title.

For example:

5 ways to make people like you

-So what/when?

5 ways to make people like you during the hiring process

-So what/why should the reader care?

5 ways to make people like you so you get the job

-And?

5 ways to “win the work” at your next job interview

 

Writing does take time but if you think about your audience, their needs, struggles, and interests and how your own might mirror those, you will always have content topics and intriguing angles.

6 Email Subject Lines That Get Clicks

Your email content can be the best ever but if people don’t open your emails, the emails might as well be blank.

Two things make recipients click: who it’s from and how appealing the subject line is. In that order. That’s one reason it is advised that businesses send their emails from a person (or at least an email that resembles one), not “[email protected]

But how do you make your subject lines more irresistible? How do you inspire clicks and drive them to open your emails? Try these types of emails.

email subject lines

Think of your own inbox and how many emails you receive during the day. Most of us are on fast delete or swipe when we’re clearing out emails. You need to grab the recipient’s attention quickly. Here’s how:

Solve a Problem

What does your product or service help people do? Or what is this email designed to do for them? What value do they get from opening and reading it? Be specific and brief.

Example: Get more sleep with Comfy Blanket or

Say good-bye to restless nights with this easy solution

Or solve a problem they haven’t considered yet.

Example: Get mom’s gift yet? Mother’s Day is next Sunday.

Add the Color

While simple vocabulary is important in a subject line, that doesn’t mean you give up painting a tantalizing picture. Use imagery and appeal to their senses. Don’t hesitate throwing in an emoji or two (unless your subject or business is incredibly serious).

Example: Warm cinnamon apple pie is calling 🥧

Invite Curiosity

We’re naturally curious and when you factor in the FOMO (fear of missing out), it can be a powerful motivator of clicks. If you’ve had a recent event or launch, you can use that to your advantage.

Example: Be the first to see our new spring line

See what our opening day participants did

Explain the Send

If your audience is similar to most people, they often sign up for things and forget them. In their defense, a lot of businesses sell contact info and then the new businesses claim you signed up for the list. While that may be true, the list you signed up for initially was not their list.

To differentiate yourself from these businesses, be specific when the information was (actually) requested by the recipient.

Example: Your requested newsletter from <business> or

The <download> you requested from <business>

Detail Benefits

People want to know why they should click. Tell them. If there’s a deadline, communicate that too.

Example: Today’s top deals under $100 or

Unlock access to free delivery or

How to get a FREE <product or service>

Give Them Something They Dream About

Everyone wants something but they may not feel like they can or should. They may view your product or service as a splurge or something they need to put off. Give them a reason to feel otherwise.

Example: Treat yourself to a luscious cake or

Reward your hard work with a new look

Cover the COVID grays with our newest treatment

Finally, keep subject lines under 41 characters (not words) as often as possible and consider how they will look on a phone. Figure out what words will be cut off. Sometimes the cut can make your message more evocative and interesting. Other times, it can look sordid or mean something you didn’t intend. Keep the message short and get right to the benefit. After all, that’s what people are most interested in.

Why You Need Someone in Charge of Employee Engagement Immediately

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, engagement is critical to your business. Now more than ever. It’s so important that I wish I could create a new name for it so people would pay more attention. Being told you need to engage your audience is not new, but the pandemic has created a bunch of new reasons why it’s incredibly important, especially with employees. If you don’t have the time, you need to make it or hire someone who does.

Employee Engagement

Engagement Is Important Because…

Your Employees Are Hanging on by a Thread

A few things are going on in the employment sector these days. In most areas, there are more open positions than people looking. That means successful employers of choice are paying solid wages and not making their employees feel like a number.

You might be surprised that many employees working remotely (68%) are admitting they are interested in freelance work on the side. This can be a gateway to them starting their own business or going out on their own in some capacity. Unless they are completely enamored by your company (engagement can accomplish this), it’s only a matter of time before they build up savings, clientele, or secure healthcare to take the leap.

For employees who are not remote, the number of available jobs in most industries could be causing disengaged employees to consider other options. A certain amount of attrition is not always a bad thing but when it starts affecting your top performers, your business will feel it.

If you engage them now and help them feel like they are bringing something meaningful to your business, they will be less likely to leave. And…

They’ll Talk About You

Whether it’s your employees or your customers, you want them to talk about you (in a good way) and refer others to you. Engaged groups do that. People who see you as simply meeting their expectations (or writing a check to them every two weeks) won’t.

They Could Become Your Next Competitor

Another thing COVID did was invite people to reevaluate their jobs and lifestyles. This has caused some to think about starting their own business. In fact, 63% of employees think they could quit and start their own. So, it could be only a matter of time before the proper alignment of the stars occurs and they become your newest competition.

Take Action Today

It doesn’t do you any good to hear how important engagement is without getting some tips on how you can start engaging. Ideally, you will commit to employee engagement at your business and doing so will affect every decision made. However, there’s no time like the present. While you’re working on the larger commitment to employee engagement, here are a few easy ways to start engaging them immediately:

  • Ask your employees’ opinions or views on things concerning your business. Getting feedback from them can be invaluable.
  • Give constructive criticism on the job they are doing. Don’t wait for an annual review.
  • Review salaries to ensure they are keeping up with the recent rise in cost of living. A surprise increase can make people feel really good and valued.
  • Tell them you value them for their specific achievements. Giving details on what they do well will drive them to do more of it.
  • Compliment them in front of others. Correct them alone/individually.
  • Find out where they want to be in the future and help them chart a path for that.
  • Encourage growth and learning. Reward them for pursuing those things.
  • Encourage sharing ideas for innovation, market expansion, and cost-savings. Reward employees for the ideas that you use.
  • Look for ways to surprise and delight them just like you would your customers.
  • Find out what work obstacles they face and remove them.
  • Encourage employees to share stories and comment on social media.
  • Help them understand your mission and why your company does what it does. Why is the mission important and what does it mean to people who do business with you?
  • Ask your customer-facing employees to share stories of success with the rest of the business.

Employee engagement is about helping employees feel they are a valued part of something larger, seeing themselves aligned with your operation, and feeling like they contribute to the success or failure of a project or the company as a whole. You want to cultivate a culture of caring, one in that employees care about customer outcomes and they feel like you care about them.

3 Solutions to Common Hiring Problems

Some businesses are saying we are in the midst of a secondary pandemic. But it’s not the kind that requires masks and handwashing. No, this one is harder to control.

There is a shortage of people willing (or able) to work for a multitude of reasons. Employers across the country are posting signs asking for patience with their existing employees because the business is understaffed. In fact, there are hiring managers who are scheduling interviews only to have no one show up! You can’t hire people who don’t even come to an interview.

So what’s a business to do?

Some people blame the business. They believe that the average person wants to work but can’t afford to because of minimal wages and expensive childcare. But the numbers don’t entirely speak to that. 30% of US households are “married without children” in 2020. Single-person households are 23% of the population. So for over half, children aren’t a concern.

So, what can you do to combat the 3 common hiring problems these days? Here are some ideas.

Employment Hiring Challenges Post-COVID

If you brush wages aside as the main reason people don’t show up for interviews or first days for that matter, what are you left with?

Working from Home

It’s the elephant in the room. Why would a worker want to work behind a counter when they can sit at home and work (or sit by the pool or in a coffee shop, etc.). An unparalleled number of businesses created work from home scenarios, and many will stick to those protocols long after COVID. Work at home is no longer a perk. It’s an expectation and it’s hard to compete with that.

Solution: If your business is entirely in-person, it’s not like you’ll never be able to hire again. But it may take some creativity to appeal to workers. Things you might be able to do include flexible shifts (such as working around a child’s schedule) or floating start times within a window of time. The clue here is to get creative with the allowances you can make.

Ghosting Is the Norm

Ghosting has become the norm in relationships. Don’t want to deal with a difficult situation, ignore it and disappear. We’re starting to see this trickle down into our workforce. It’s acceptable to just not show for an interview, first day, drug screen, etc.

Solution: This is difficult to do when you’ve only had minutes of interaction with a candidate. However, people are more likely to ghost when they don’t feel a connection or don’t think of the employer as a person but rather a large corporate structure as in the “they won’t even notice I’m not there” scenario.

In order to avoid being ghosted, you have to do your best to connect with them in the short time you have. Share details about your life. Maybe you’re interviewing them on a special day and “fitting” them in or “clearing” your schedule. Do it respectfully and don’t force the guilt but try and make an impression. You may still get ghosted, but it will be less likely if they see you as a person with needs and feelings.

Reevaluating the Same Old, Same Old

With our forced downtime this past year, we were exposed to a LOT of marketing messaging and frankly many people are just burned out. They may find it hard to believe the claims of some companies.

Another thing people may have done is reevaluating things in their lives that just aren’t working. Some people may have decided that life is too short to work at an unfulfilling job. Others may have seen this pandemic as a kick in the pants from the universe to start their own job. Maybe they saw how being a loyal employee can still result in a lay-off or furlough. Whatever the cause of their employment ennui, people have changed, and you’ll need to too.

Solution: find out what your existing employees want by conducting an employee satisfaction survey (and what makes them stay with you). Use that in your recruitment efforts. Ask employees for referrals and reward with bonuses. Reward them for their loyalty and they’ll talk about how great you are to their friends.

Employers are facing an unparalleled time right now, finding it very difficult to recruit good people. For many businesses, it’s difficult to get interest let alone keep someone after their first day. In order to be competitive in the job market, you need to stand out. These tips should help you do that. But you’ll need to go beyond them to think of some creative experiences for new employees. While you’re at it throw a few in for your customers. You never know. A loyal customer may just want to become part of your team.

How COVID Is Changing the State of Work

Are you ready to return to normal yet?

If “normal” means life without COVID, we’re not that far away from herd immunity. But if your definition of normal is getting back to how things used to be before the pandemic, I’m afraid that likely isn’t happening. The state of work has changed. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for life on the other side of the pandemic.

Things Have Changed. Your Business Will Need to Adapt.

If you’ve ever raised a child or owned a pet, you understand that it is very hard to allow for an exception to a rule. Try telling your dog, for instance, that they can only sit on your furniture at night. Or tell a child under 5 they can skip a nap only on vacation. Rule and exceptions to the rules are difficult to enforce when they apply sometimes.

The same will be true of the changes we’ve made to the workforce. Prior to COVID, many businesses didn’t want to allow employees to work from home. When the pandemic hit our doorsteps, employers were forced to reevaluate that policy. They had to make it work. All of their reasons why it would not work were tossed in order to keep the proverbial doors open.

Post pandemic, it will be difficult to return to things the way they were. It will be the same level of difficulty one might experience trying to shove all the vacation clothes back into a suitcase at the end of vacation. Things never quite fit back in the way they did when you got there.

So how will things change and what should we prepare for?

work after covid

4 Ways the State of Work Has Changed

The following things have changed, and it is likely they will impact work going forward.

  1. Work at home worked. People found a way to work from home amid the many distractions. They did what had to be done even when it was difficult. Employers found ways to measure productivity and hopefully dealt with situations that weren’t working.
  2. Productivity measures changed. Prior to the pandemic, there were many businesses that still held onto the “butts in seats” notion of productivity. People were doing their jobs as long as they were sitting in the office, even if that meant killing an extraordinary amount of time cyber shopping and surfing the internet. With COVID, employers had to look at “real” productivity. Was the job getting done? The hours mattered less because we were all juggling distractions and responsibilities from illness to childcare to home schooling. Employers were now looking at “were the business needs getting met” as an indicator of the job being performed.
  3. Have office will travel. Prior to COVID, the business world embraced open-office culture. Some businesses even removed desk assignments from the equation and allowed employees to work anywhere (in the office) that they felt their creative best. With the pandemic, employers are having to face that people can work anywhere and have enjoyed carving out their own creative space in their homes or in the places they’ve been allowed to frequent. Twitter and Hitachi have already announced that they will commit to more flexible working arrangements indefinitely.
  4. Real estate is overrated. With employees working from a non-corporate location, many employers have come to question if they need a brick-and-mortar business or if they need one big enough to house every employee. They are starting to question whether smaller buildings (or none at all) can be more cost effective. At one time, a large show of opulent office space was an indicator of success. With COVID and its effects on impressions, this is no longer the case, particularly if most of the building is empty.

We may soon hit herd immunity. And with that, there will likely be more allowances. However, the changes businesses have made during the pandemic will have ripple effects on the state of work far into the future. And just like that toddler skipping naps “only on vacation” it’s likely we will never return to how things once were.

25 Marketing Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Today

Hope seems to be a big word these days. It’s taken the place of pivot. People are hopeful about recovery. People are hopeful about things returning to normal in the foreseeable future. And people are hopeful they can soon travel and visit loved ones they haven’t seen for a while.

If recovery is right around the corner, now is the ideal time to revisit your marketing strategy and plan. Making critical changes now can bring you into alignment to make the most of recovery. Plus, it’s possible the needs and desires of your target audience have changed.

Asking yourself the following questions about your business and marketing can help ensure that you have the data and information you need to make the most of the looming recovery.

Marketing Questions

  1. Who is your ideal customer? Has it changed with COVID?
  2. What is your marketing goal in 2021? What are your objectives/tactics for getting there? How will you measure success or how will you know when you’ve reached that goal?
  3. What is your brand tone? Try this exercise: “We are ____ but not ____.” For example, we are informative but not boring.
  4. What is your reputation in your industry and your community? What do people think of when they think of your brand/product/service?
  5. Where is your target audience on social media (Facebook, Insta, etc.)? Are they still easily reached where you thought they were?
  6. Are people still reading your blog?
  7. What customer problem do you solve?
  8. Do you sell through fear, inspiration, or solving a problem? Does that course of action still work for you?
  9. What is the open rate on your newsletter? Has that changed with the pandemic?
  10. Are you using a tracker that shows you where people are clicking on your website and/or newsletter? If yes, where are they clicking and where aren’t they clicking? What does that tell you about their needs?
  11. Do you have an email list?
  12. What data are you currently tracking and what are you doing with it?
  13. What kind of content do your customers like best/have the most interaction with?
  14. How many active followers do you have on each social media platform you participate on? How has that changed with COVID?
  15. Do your customers enjoy a type of content you are not providing such as podcasts or videos?
  16. What story are you telling?
  17. How much does your average customer cost?
  18. What are your customer retention strategies and how are you implementing them?
  19. How has your product or service evolved over the past year? How has your marketing message changed? Does it need to?
  20. What’s your call to action and does it fit where it is used? For instance, you don’t invite someone to buy when they’re just getting to know you on the About Us page of your website. Speaking of…
  21. What are you doing to help people get to know, like, and trust you?
  22. What part of your business is off-putting or scary for first-time buyers? What can you do to make it less so? For instance, gyms may be intimidating for the out-of-shape first timers. How can you reach them and be more inviting? A get-fit challenge is a solution to that because participants would know they’d be with other newbies.
  23. Do you have a defined success metric for every campaign you implement?
  24. In what area(s) is your competition falling short? In what areas are they strongest? How do you compare?
  25. How many referrals (and/or reviews) are you getting? What vehicle/strategy are you using to get more?

These questions are easily answered but implementing the answers/solutions takes more planning. It’s a lot of work now but once you put it in, you’ll be glad you did.

4 Reasons You Need to Get Involved with the Chamber Today

Businesses join the chamber of commerce for several reasons. Years ago, it may have been expected; just something you did when you opened a business and wanted to be in good standing in the community.

But today it’s more likely a business joins because there is a direct advantage to them personally. Maybe they wanted a ribbon cutting or need the advocacy or wanted a marketing opportunity that membership allowed them.

Yes, there are many reasons to join the chamber and tons of benefits your business can receive from membership. But aside from simply writing a check and receiving a set of benefits, there are reasons why you should become personally involved with the local chamber of commerce.

Plus, the chamber extends its benefits to all of your employees so you can use chamber membership benefits as employee benefits. Share this with them as well.

Join the Chamber

Let’s place the advocacy, marketing, advertising, and public relations benefits of chamber membership on the back burner. This article is about what the chamber can do for you and your employees specifically, not the business. Yes, the chamber can bring more attention to your business, which can create more sales opportunities, but these benefits and this personal involvement are things that can help you outside of the business.

Education Opportunities

The chamber has a number of education opportunities where you and your employees can learn about important matters for free (or at a very low cost). Chamber webinar topics may include things like diversity, how to excel in social media, and economic interests in your area. They can help you become a more well-rounded professional, change careers, or get up-to-date on important topics in the community.

Leadership Experience

The chamber offers a lot of opportunities to volunteer for different committees or events. You may find a volunteer position in a subject that interests you like women leaders, diversity, workforce development, or marketing. Not only can these volunteer positions be added to your resume, but volunteering could also help you meet people with similar interests and help you grow your professional network. Speaking of…

Networking

Getting involved with the chamber can help you meet more people and grow your professional network and make friendships. Even in communities where social gatherings are still mostly virtual, chambers have networking sessions to help you stay connected.

Business Expansion and Hidden Opportunities

As you grow your network, you may learn of additional business possibilities that you could add to your business or you could use to launch a new one. You may learn of seed money, grants, SBA funding, or private opportunities.

Often business deals get made before anything is formally published or requested. Being personally involved in the chamber may help you be a part of those types of discussions and make you aware of opportunities before they become public.

The same may be true of the hidden job market. A contact may tell you they’re looking for someone before posting it on a job site, giving you the advantage.

Chamber benefits for your business are amazing. They can really help you increase your number of customers and get your name out there. But those aren’t the only benefits. If you get involved individually, there are many benefits to your professional growth and career. Plus, those benefits can be given to all of your employees too. That can be a real selling point for someone looking for a great company culture.

3 Things in Business That Aren’t Worth It

We only have so many hours in the day so the last thing you want to do is spend time doing things that aren’t worth the time. Being labeled as “not worth the time” doesn’t mean they are annoying to do. In fact, some of the things you’re doing in your business may be very enjoyable but aren’t worth the effort in that you don’t get the return out of the time you’re investing.

Every hour of your business day is valuable.

You want what you do to move you closer to your goals. But some things we do in the name of our business don’t have the same benefits of other things we could be doing with our time. As a businessperson you should always be performing a cost/benefit analysis.

Things in business that aren't worth it

The things in this list are items that are generally not worth your time, but you’ll need to do the analysis yourself before deciding whether you will continue to do these activities as part of your workday or sunset them for a more productive use of your time.

Spending Copious Amounts of Time on the Coolest “New” Social Media

Whether a social media site is worth spending time and interacting on depends largely on your audience. If your ideal customer is there and you can engage them, it’s worth it. If they’re not, it’s not.

There’s no reason to get on a social network so you can be an early adopter and wait for your ideal customer to get on the site. The only way this makes sense is when your audience looks to you to tell them what the next “cool” or techy thing is.

Spending Money on Free Things

Thanks to our giveaway economy, there are a lot of free options out there for things you use in your business every day. If you’re just starting out, there are items you absolutely should pay for. And then there are items (especially software) where a freemium item could work for you…at least until your needs grow. Using Google docs instead of Word is an example. This may seem like a small expense but every dollar you save on something you can get for free can go toward the items where your monetary investment is very important.

Staying up Late

Have you ever stayed up hours past your bedtime to finish a project? Sometimes it’s just what you have to do. However, sleep deprivation comes with a high price. You’ll likely sacrifice tomorrow’s productivity to meet your deadline today. It’s much better to chip away at the project bit by bit than it is to put it off until right before it is due and then work most of the night on it.

True, most adults don’t plan on this type of course of action. And it might feel like you have no choice but to do it at the last minute. However, unless this project was completely unexpected, each time you agree to do one thing over the other, you’re making a choice based on importance to you.

If you analyze both requirements on your time and you make a decision that one is more important than the other, and then defer the project until it becomes an urgent need, and a sleepless night, so be it. But don’t let someone else dictate that for you.

Set clear expectations. A customer who wants a timely answer doesn’t know what else you’re working on. Do your best to balance their needs and the needs of your business by letting them know when you will have an update for them. Then check back in even if you don’t have a resolution.

If you have a boss, or are otherwise not in charge of scheduling your own workload, and they give you an ASAP project clarify that it bumps everything else. Be clear about what projects are in jeopardy by doing that.

Being upfront about the demands on your time will help set expectations and minimize sleepless nights. If you fail to do this, you will be exhausted and turning in subpar work. No one wants to sacrifice sleep to make a deadline, only to turn something in that will need to be redone later. This doesn’t benefit anyone.

When it comes to your business, you need to make the most of your day. Avoiding these activities—and others that don’t provide good return on your time investment—is a solid business approach. Look for things that impact your productivity and weed them out of your schedule. 

6 Signs of a Healthy Business

 Many of us have spent this year concerned over the health of our businesses or those in the community. Ultimately, a healthy business has a good balance sheet. It has more coming in than it does going out. But that is not the only indicator of business health.

In today’s world, where a quick decision from a politician can radically affect your business overnight, it’s important to know the early indicators of business peril. This of these things as your business’ “canary in the coal mine.”

Signs Your Business Is Healthy (before you see it on the books)

Before you see any issues in the balance sheet, you can spot a healthy business in these areas:

  1. Referrals. While it’s never easy to get people to refer you even when they love you, a healthy business harnesses the power of the referral and makes it easy for happy customers to bring in more happy customers.
  2. Reviews. Just like referrals, reviews are the signature of a healthy, well-loved business. But they don’t happen automatically. A healthy business asks for them, makes it easy to give them, and repurposes them in their marketing collateral.
  3. Promotes from within and trains accordingly. A healthy business promotes from within with clear pathways to additional challenges even when the business is small enough not to have additional levels to climb. It recognizes employees who are committed to the business, doing a great job, and those that require additional challenges or training.
  4. Looks for needs. If your business moves in another direction, opens a new market, or branches out, you may not be able to promote from within. A healthy business is clear about what each employee’s strengths are and what they may need to obtain from outside whether that be from an additional hire, vendor, or partner.
  5. Builds loyalty outside of sales. Loyalty is not owned by the sales department. Loyalty is built by customer service and marketing. A healthy company looks for ways to keep customers engaged and feeling like they are part of the brand. It creates enjoyable experiences for customers at each touchpoint whether they are calling to complain, buy, or simply spend time on social media.
  6. Remains agile. This one is certainly a lesson learned in 2020. A healthy business must be ready to align its offerings and services with those of their loyal customers and the larger market. Small businesses may not have had a lot of operating capital when the pandemic hit but they did retain the ability to move quickly and that helped a lot of them stay in the black.

Is your business healthy outside of the balance sheet? Go through this list and ask yourself how many of these qualities your business meets. If you’re missing a few, you may want to see how quickly you can add them. After all, they are a good indicator of business health long before you begin to see signs of trouble in the balance sheets or books. 

25 Ways to Become a Fun Business

Do you want to appeal to a younger demographic? Want to get people talking about you? Maybe you want to attract an ultra-cool influencer or celebrity customer? If you do, rebranding and becoming a “fun” company may be just the way to get more attention.

Why are we suggesting “fun”? With Gen Y being the largest generation in the U.S. in 2019, with an estimated population of 72.1 million, they have strong purchasing power. They also enjoy experiences and tend to tell others about products and businesses they like.

If you want more customers, becoming a “fun” business with an identifiable tone and brand, can help you build a loyal audience that enjoys talking about you.

ways to become a fun business

How to Become More “Fun” in Your Business

  1. Clearly communicate business goals and desired content tone to your employees. Then give them a little leeway to post, share, like, and comment on social media. Point out examples of posts and comments you love so they know what voice you want for your business.
  2. Host contests on social media.
  3. Share posts and images that aren’t all business. In fact, your goal should be getting to know your audience not bragging about yourself.
  4. Rewrite your web copy in your new company voice.
  5. Invite people to post on your page.
  6. Create a Facebook group around your product or service. Make it a fun escape not a group to brag about yourself.
  7. Do more video. Help customers get to know people at your business.
  8. Showcase fun things about your most loyal customers.
  9. Encourage people to share creative uses for your product.
  10. Host a challenge or other form of experiential marketing.
  11. Create spotlights of your employees featuring “fun” facts very few people know about them.
  12. Invite people to decorate their desks in a manner that reflects their personalities or (while we’re all at home) ask your employees to record a quick video walkthrough of their at-home workspace.
  13. Start a club at work for people who like the same hobby or form of exercise.
  14. Record some of your online staff meeting, like the beginning icebreaker and add the video to your website.
  15. Share your favorite things on social media or on a blog post; create fun posts like “10 Things I Can’t Live Without.”
  16. Record a song parody that fits your job or industry.
  17. Make a JibJab video and share it in your company newsletter.
  18. Create a bloopers reel of flubs on video.
  19. Create a video about funny things that only people in your industry or state could understand.
  20. Ask employees to record a video of a little known/weird skill they have. Show them doing it.
  21. Celebrate all those zany “National” holidays like “Talk Like a Pirate” Day. Make videos of how your company is celebrating.
  22. Bring a really old item into your business and record your employees guessing what it is.
  23. Allow employees to bring their pets to work.
  24. Celebrate small wins and big wins. Post your video celebrations so others can partake in your joy.
  25. Rename your job titles to speak to the end goals like “engagement officer” for your social media person.

Culture can make a big difference in getting referrals, more engagement, new hires, more customers, and creating a loyal employee base. Some of these ideas may seem a little too much for your business. But know that whatever you decide is right for your business and industry, the point behind this exercise is to let your customers and potential customers get to know you better. After all, customers buy from those they know, like, and trust.

7 Quick Ways to Get More Upsells and Referral

Your current clients/customers are likely an untapped resource of additional revenue. After all, it is much easier to sell to someone who already likes you than it is to win over a new person. But there’s a lot of competition out there. There’s a saying in the restaurant industry that a diner who described their meal as “satisfactory” will never be back again. In order to get return customers, upsells, and referrals you must do better than just meeting expectations. You must exceed them. Thankfully, as they say, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is just a little extra. In this article, we’ll give you seven quick ideas on how to create those extra opportunities that will translate into greater upsell and referral opportunities. When someone is “wowed”they will buy more and talk about you (exactly what you need for referrals).

How to Go from Ordinary to Extraordinary for More Upsells and Referrals

1. Offer samples without people requesting them. When someone is looking at something in your business, offer them samples. Don’t even ask. One restaurant brings individual samples of gelato to the table at the end of the meal. Even if the diners don’t buy any, they leave with a (literal) pleasant taste in their mouth which could yield a return visit or referrals.

2. Send/give swag. If you mail your products or bag them, consider adding something unexpected in the package. Pure Vida sends branded stickers. Some companies stick in a postcard. The surprise needn’t be expensive. The point is it’s unexpected and that is delightful.

3. Invite engagement. Make sure every purchase is accompanied with a request to engage on social media but don’t make it about you. Most people are excited when they make a purchase, and they want to show it off. Invite them to share a picture of themselves using the product or service. Give them a hashtag and perhaps some incentive to share such as a contest entry or a future discount. If you have a well-known brand sometimes simply retweeting them and being on your radar is enough.

4. Send “just because” discounts. Some companies send birthday offers but not everyone feels comfortable giving you their birthdate these days. Instead, send “just because specials” periodically and thank them for being a fantastic customer. If they haven’t purchased recently, tell them you miss them and give them reason to return.

5. Drop expiration dates. If you use coupons, don’t turn someone away because their coupon is past the expiration date. Make it well known that you will accept coupons whenever the customer is ready to use them.

6. Put everyone to work. It may not scale to have your CEO or owner answer customer support questions all day. However, giving leadership the opportunity to field the occasional question or post a response on social media or to a review can make someone’s day and get them talking about you. The customer will be in shock that leadership responded. And it will make them (and everyone who reads the interaction) think that leadership is reading every review or comment.

7. Follow and respond on social media. Don’t simply post what’s going on in your world. Learn what’s going on in your customer’s as well. Set Google alerts for mentions of your business, what you sell, and your area. Listen to conversations going on around you and join them when it makes sense and when you can add value. Also, don’t hide behind the brand. When you are posting, use your name even if you’re responding from your brand’s account. People are more likely to interact with a person than a company name.

If you want to cut through the noise and get more upsells and referrals, you want to make people feel special and valued. Think about experiences you’ve had as a customer. How can you replicate those in your business?

How to Get Backlinks and Why Your Local Business Needs Them

When I was in marketing for a tech company in the beginning days of content marketing, links were gold. Every time someone linked to our content my boss got excited. While I loved the free publicity and SEO awesomeness we acquired from links, I hated the act of actively pursuing them. It felt like we were begging people to like us and—let’s face it—we were.

But while a lot of things have changed since that time, the importance of links is still relevant. Search engines use links from other sources to your website as an indicator of quality content. While it’s not the only indicator, it is an important one.

Your business website needs links to show the search engines you’re loved by others. But not all links are of the same worth. Here’s how you can get some great links for very little effort.

Some Links Are Better Than Others

First, let’s talk about how things used to be done and what you can no longer get away with. Back in the early days of link building, there were link farms and sites that offered to link to your content for money. It was lucrative for everyone involved but that practice has ended. Google grew wise to it.

Now it ranks links by the credibility of the website. A site like CNN that linked to your website would bolster the importance of your content in the “minds” of the search engine. However, you don’t need a site like that to get good vibes from the search engines. There are a lot of easier options out there such as the following:

Good Ways to Get Great Links

If you want good quality links back to your content, try these easy solutions.

  1. Chamber of Commerce. Your local chamber of commerce probably has excellent credibility from a search engine prospective thus making it the perfect place to get links from. Whether it’s a listing in their directory, a mention on their website, a link to your business as a sponsor, or a guest blog post with attribution, as long as it’s not a “no-follow” link it will help you improve your credibility to Google. Ask your chamber about link options. You might be surprised by the variety of ways they can help.
  2. Referable Content. Very few people will link to your content if it stinks. You want to create content that people will find value in. Consider producing a reference guide that people could use when shopping for your product/service or a checklist or calculator that people would want to come back to. If you create something like this, writers creating articles on your topic may refer others to the tool you’ve created or the advice you’ve given. In fact, long form content receives 77% more links than short articles. A couple of good, well-researched long form pieces can be all you need to garner good links. If someone asks you if they can use your content or a quote from it, always ask for an attribution with a link back to it. Also, if you have a keyword alert for your business (and you should have those set up), or you come across someone using your work, ask that they give attribution with a link. Most people will accommodate you. If you read an online article that you believe could benefit from your expertise or a link to your article or resource, don’t hesitate to reach out to the author. But be specific about what your piece could add to theirs.
  3. Business Associations. Business associations or industry magazines are always looking for content. If you’ve created something you are proud of, pitch it to your industry magazine. Ask for the link.
  4. The City. During COVID, a lot of cities have created business pages to help visitors know what’s open and what’s not. Ask to be included and ask for a link. Make sure it’s not a no-follow link.

These are all easy ways to get credible links. If you want to know more about how Google and other search engines weigh links, click here.

Written by: Christina R. Metcalf 

6 “Better Than Surveys” Ways to Find Out What Your Customers Think

A few years ago, a trend hit—customizing your offerings to what your customers wanted. It involved surveying every part of their experience and shaping your business based on results. Customer-designed offerings kept a lot of businesses alive during COVID. The idea is a great one, give them what they want, make them feel important, and they’ll return.

This premise was so widely adopted that we all became professional survey takers. Now every moment you spend with a business (online or in-person) is followed by a survey on your experience. From airlines to doctors, they’re all doing it. These requests are exhausting and make people regret giving out their emails.

But it’s important to ensure your business offerings are in-line with what your customers want, right? So how do you ensure this without giving them survey fatigue? Here are a few ideas that will help you get the information you need without annoying them.

survey, business article

Skip the Survey: Learn What Your Customers Want in More Meaningful Ways

  1. Exit Drop Box. If you have an in-person business, at the end of the transaction give people red and green poker chips (they can be made out of cardboard) and ask them to drop the color that best fits their experience today in the box by the door. The other one can go in the recycling box. This gives you a quick idea of whether your customer experience for a given day is as good as it should be.
  2. Website Pop-up. At the end of an online transaction, give your customer a single question based on something you want to know. Make it a radial button answer for a quick response. Don’t ask a generic question like “did you enjoy the experience?”. Make it something more revealing like “did you find our website easy to navigate?”. Ask different questions each week but stick with one at a time. Add a meaningful thank you message after they answer.
  3. Social Media. Post a customer experience or product/service question to social media but invite people to answer in a fun way by using emoticons, for instance to signify their most recent experience doing business with you. Or ask them to use a gif to describe it. It’s not exact science but it can be fun.
  4. Interactive menus. Thanks to COVID, a lot of businesses like restaurants aren’t using paper menus. They’re using QR codes to access online menus. If you’re using online menus in your business, make them interactive. Allow people to hover over and see pics of the items and add comments or use emoticons. These “comments” then serve as social proof for future customers.
  5. Remember passing notes in middle school asking someone if they liked someone else? You can do the same funny type of question using SMS. Make it creative and fun and people are likely to respond to it. You can use that same middle-school format leveraging you against your competition in an “us or them” rivalry. You may not always get the answer you want but it can be fun for you and your customers.
  6. Forget polls and surveys. Those things are just for your own info and other than giving you an idea to change your business for the better, they don’t really do anything for you. Reviews, on the other hand, do. So, the next time you want to put a survey in front of your customers, consider asking them to review you instead.

Surveys are great tools for learning more about customer experience but these days they’re too overdone. No one has time for them and they’re mildly annoying when they clutter up the email inbox. That doesn’t mean you should forgo asking your customers’ opinions. You just need to do that in a fun, less intrusive way

Christina R. Metcalf is a marketer who enjoys using the power of story and refuses to believe meaningful copy can be written by bots. She helps chamber and small business professionals find the right words. Christina hates exclamation points and loves road trips. Say hi on Twitter or reach out on Facebook.

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