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September 2008
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November 2008

October 2008

Why don't I hear from them?

We, my partner and I, like to buy from small independent businesses. Small items, large items doesn't really matter - 9 times out of 10 we feel we are treated as a valued customer, not a number like so often happens when you buy from big stores.

Like last year when we bought 2 sofa's from a befriended Interior Design business. We received advice on what was available for our wishes (style, comfort, budget) and what other options we could have. Decision was made, order placed and we were informed on how long it would take and when it would be delivered. All good and straight forward service. The sofas arrived duly on time and were exactly as ordered. And of course we paid the outstanding invoice on time.

Then, silence.

Not a single letter, phone-call or postcard to enquire if everything was fine and to our liking. No 'how to take care of your new furniture' leaflet send out a few weeks after delivery, no news on sort-like style other furniture or furnishings we might want to consider now or in the future. Nothing at all.

Pity.

We could have been in the market for a small table for next to one of the sofas to keep drinks or books on, or a special simple to apply stain removing product. Or new curtains in matching colours of the sofa.

Any small business not keeping in contact with its clients and/or prospects is leaving money on the table. Especially when there is an economical slump going on.
Every business has back-end products - items that don't need to costs that much but act as an accessory or addition etc to the first purchase. If you don't tell your clients or prospects regularly you have additional products for them and there is just the slightest chance they are contemplating such an additional purchase why should they think of you?

Think about it: economical slump or downturn doesn't mean no one is buying nothing any more - everyone might spend a little less or less often. And how do you make your business the obvious choice when something is needed (or wanted, we all still want things but are a bit more careful where we spend it)?

If my friend the Interior Designer had told me they also carry a small selection of inexpensive side-tables I might have spent a bit of pocket money on it instead of making do with a old bed-side table I use now (and which 'clashes' with the rest of our 'design').

Stamp2ndclassAll businesses know - or should know! - that it is much easier to sell to an existing client than to find a brand new client. And all it basically costs extra to keep your business in front of your client's thoughts is 27 pence.

Image: 27 pence per letter for a 2nd class stamp. That doesn't break anyones bank, does it? It surely doesn't ours, on average with every regular letter batch we send out (once a month to 1/6 of our client base) the extra turnover from returning clients is £ 65.00 on maintenance products, £ 110.00 on maintenance services and once every three months £ 1500.00 when a referred new client buys his first purchase (referring a new client to us is rewarded with a free maintenance service - and that reward is mentioned in every one of our regular letters to our client base).
For a small business many small purchases by many returning clients makes a big difference.

One word of 'caution': don't just tell your client base what other products or service you can provide - explain the benefits of the features these products or services might give them. I don't really respond well to a letter or leaflet that only contains a list of products or product ranges. A, it is not personal - specially not when there is totally no sign of 'mail-merging' my contact details on the letter or leaflet - and B, features won't tell me how this other product will benefit my circumstances.

Don't leave money on the table, spend that 27 pence, invest in a system (e.g. Mamut's CRM program is very cost-effective - from £ 79.00 on - and simple to implement) that can mail-merge your client's personal details onto a letter. Be out there, be active - pro-active even, so that your clients are constantly reminded of you and your quality products and services.

Many of your competitors sit back and wait for their clients to suddenly remember them out of the blue. Don't leave their memory to chance - make it easy to remember you. For 27 pence.


New online home-study program launched

Our own business - Wood You Like, natural wooden flooring - has been using a blog platform (Typepad) for many years now (3 years to be exact). It is an integrated part of our whole web presence, is interactive, scores very high on the Google search results and is very simple to manage.
The 'fixed' pages feature enables you to create a 'standard' (or static) business website on Typepad's blog platform too!

On dynamic website number (aka blog) number 7: 1 Plus 1 Makes 3, where combined expertise gives you triple value I just announced the launch of The Practical Typepad Guide.

Read more there about how you can use a blog platform as business website which helps you grow your business in a practical and simple way. A very effective web presence any (small) business owner or marketing manager can set up within hours!


What's your accountant up to?

Mine is giving a talk during Paul Gorman's (business and marketing genius, who once more comes out of retirement) 2 days workshop - today and tomorrow:
Enough's enough - Economic Crisis Moneymaking and Business-Building Event. (And all 120 seats have gone very rapidly for this event.)

From the invite, only sent out to subscribers of his blog-site LeaveThemInTheDust:

Paul developed powerful and quick-acting marketing methods that not only protect and make business immune to downturn, but able to prosper and thrive more so than in 'normal' economic periods.

The reason this is possible is that customers -- and competitors -- are on edge. Everything is sharper than it normally is. Everyone is more acutely aware of money, alternative brands, products or services, alternative suppliers.
They are on the look out. They are searching for better value, longer-sustaining worth, and greater result from every pound they spend or invest.

This sharper environment is a gift from the gods to any business owner who is able to ethically provide to those sharper customers.

The moment you make yourself visible to the market place by putting out sharper marketing messaging, more descriptive explanations and illustrations about why you and what you sell is the only logical choice, and how you provide greater value -- in tangible ways the customer takes home and benefits by day after day -- then you win a greater percentage customers who wish to buy now.

My accountant will not only introduce Paul Gorman to over 120 budding entrepreneurs, he will also talk to them about his own favourite subject: "What a proper accountant can do for you".

Richard Calderwood FCA - Burns Waring Chartered Accountants and Business Consultants And believe me, if you have the fortune to work with one of the most pro-active accountants around you know that sustainable growth is in the books for everyone willing to listen and implement his sound advice. We did and still do and therefore are in good shape. Most of you know we are in a housing market related business, a small business with a small showroom in rural Kent, but we are absolutely in good 'nick'.

My accountant is an asset to our business, is yours?
Or is yours one of those old-fashion bean-counters: his hand hovering over a 'clock' to start the meter running when you're on the phone to him  - his invoicing "meter" that is, not the pro-active "giving you better, smarter ideas on how to sustain your business during these more difficult times" meter.

You can find out easily if you too have an accountant who is a true asset for your business, helping you grow or one who is not.
Answer a simple 14 question quiz (How to Choose Your Accountant) and receive a free 10 pages long report from - who else - my accountant to find out now.


How info-marketing keeps us on the right (financial) track

While the financial and economical world seemed pretty much in turmoil last week (and the end isn't nigh according to many) our own quarterly management report (July-Sept) shows a rather different picture. Not that we aren't affected by the turmoil - we are 13% down compared to last year-to-date results - but Q3 counts for almost half of our total turnover of 2008.

Anyone reading this blog for a longer time knows I'm a 'statistic' freak - if that's the correct word - but if you don't measure you don't know what's working and which famous 50% of your marketing budget brings in the best results.

In our management report we have two separate ways of measuring our results: per source and per client type (some types come with a higher margin than others). The source tells us which marketing pilar is working well and which isn't. And like the last 3 years our website - as source of where a client has heard from us first - brings in over 60% of turnover (in Q3 even a massive 83%). Contrary to last year our DIY-floor client type shows a drop of 62%, but our Supply & Install client type increased with 13%. Percentage wise the 'online client' type (who have never set a foot in our showroom) is an absolute winner: 13300% (yes, that's thirteen thousand three hundred) more than last year-to-date.
That made me dive even deeper into the statistics: 62.5% of the number of online-clients had their first contact with us through one of our AWeber email lists. And we shipped these 'online' ordered materials as far as Portsmouth, North Yorkshire, North Wales, Scotland and funnily enough (back) to The Netherlands.

Last year October my good friend (and accountant and business adviser) Richard C suggested I'd look into this AWeber online email marketing software. He was convinced it would suit our type of marketing (right beside our informative website) rather well. And as so often he was quite right! We had to invent a whole new name for this source of turnover: AWeber clients and I reconfigured our reporting system to show this growing number of clients: differentiating between 'normal' website clients and those clients who first of all requested information from us through one of our AWeber lists. In Q3 our AWeber clients contributed 31% of our turnover, total year-to-date 15%

It definitely shows that "The more you tell, the more you sell" (to please Shuaib) - and that telling the whole story might take a while to bring in the results (AWeber is in place now for a whole year and 'only' now in Q3 our AWeber prospects turn into clients). But bringing in the results it definitely does!

Vdad_2 Our statistics show more: our paper ads (yes, we have multiple pilars of marketing in place, of course we have) in 5 regional Village Directories are starting to have a possitive effect too. We've launched this ad campaign in Q2 and focussed on headlines - not selling, but informing and no standard company name banner at the top of the ad - and again since Q3 we see an increase in our turnover from this source. This month - October - we had the opportunity to have an editorial placed in it and we kept to the same principle: The more you tell, the more you sell. The editorial covered how and why natural wooden flooring is the only robust floor covering that becomes more beautiful over time; not the standard who we are, where we are and how good we are.
I've lost count of how many visitors our shop has seen lately who come in carrying one of the five magazines in their hand.

So, are we pleased with the results of 2008 so far? I have to be honest, it is a mixed feeling. Yes and no. Compared to all the stories you hear out and about of falling customer confidence, failing large retailers, failing banks, failing other 'trusted' organisations and increasing unemployement figures; we seem to be doing alright as small and specialised retailer. Compared with last year, where we saw a hefty 66% growth, we know there's a big chance the end result this year comes in even or at lower turnover. But then again, we might surprise ourselves.

One thing is for sure though: info-marketing (new word?) is definitely our way. Even if we still write "double Dutch English" some times. Customers are becoming more cautious before making a buying decision. They keep searching for more and better information. Small businesses who are able to build trust by giving more and better (free) information to prospects will eventually win the sale.

(For those looking for more information on how AWeber can help grow your customer base too, click over to my 1 Plus 1 Makes 3 dymamic website - aka blog - which is regularly updated with hints and tips on using AWeber. I'm also about to announce a complete u-turn on the AWeber Guide and if you don't want to miss out on that, subscribe to the Kiss2 of 1 Plus 1 Makes 3 blog-alerts).


Oops, missed a birthday - mine!

Last Saturday I should have written a very special blog post - the Kiss2 blog 2 years old - eh, young!
But I completely forgot! ! !
Main reason: that day we welcomed 6 couples in our showroom and some of them even had to queue - all 6 left with a handwritten quote (on our standard 'on-the-spot' quote form listing all the benefits of why they should buy from us) and already 1 quote has turned into an order.
All 6 also left with our very cute marketing gift: a keyring with two wooden white clogs with our company proudly stating: Wood You Like.
(And of course they like wood ;-))

And the rest of this week has been rather hectic too - nice hectic that is. I'm sure my blog will forgive this oversight - it was not intentional, honestly not!

So, happy (belated) birthday dear Kiss2 blog and hopefully many happy returns of the day:

Birthdaycake_2


Stress Facts

StresscartoonThis month's topic of my good friend Robert Hruzek over at Middle Zone Musings' group-writing project is "What I learned from.... Stress"

Now we all know that stress is not good, it's mostly associated as a negative state of being - something to avoid. I know very well, 'cos 10 years ago I suffered a burn-out, work-related. And let me tell you: that's not very, eh, pleasant.
(image courtesy of www.ghchealth.com)

But.... stress has many other meanings. My favourite online dictionary lists 14 of them, the first one being - coincidently? - the meaning I wanted to stress here.

  1. importance or significance attached to a thing; emphasis

When you are in business, be it selling products or services, you have almost expert knowledge of the matter - at least I hope you do because your prospects/clients expect nothing less. And being the expert you know what your product/service can and cannot do.

Your prospect/client has certain expectations, certain pre-conceived ideas of the features and benefits of your product/service. It is down to you - the expert - to stress the true facts of your product:

  • In our business, supplying and installing the natural product wooden floors, we have to stress the fact that wood works, always. It will react to the changes in the 'climate' conditions in your home during the 4 different seasons.
  • We have to stress the fact that wooden floors do need regular maintenance to keep its dirt-repellent character (and at the same time we stress the fact that regular maintenance enhances the beauty of the floor)
  • We stress the fact that a new wood floor needs to acclimatise inside the house; storing it in a cold garage or damp shed is definitely not the ideal place for it.

But there is more in running a factual, based on honest information, successful business. As business owner you have to stress the fact that it is not just the sales person's responsibility to create the long-lasting relationship with your clients. You have to stress the fact that the attitude of the receptionists, the dedicated attention of the dispatch department to every single shipment, the accuracy of the invoicing by the admin department is as essential to the long-lasting relationship as the sales messages.

Teamwork250w And boy, does that also count for a one man/woman band! You don't need to have 10, 50 or a 1000 employees to stress the fact that consistency in every dealing, every snippet of information or interaction to or with your client is one of the biggest factors of a successful, sustainable business.

That's what I learned from stressing facts
(I learned a lot too during the 6 months burn-out period I experienced all those years ago: the fact was that I received different messages from different managers all stressing different points of importance - and in the end that stressed me out ;-))


When words are not enough to get the message across

I'm sure you get those questions too.
You recommend a software program to someone. A program you use yourself and have come to know rather well. It's one of those great programs you think is practical and efficient, the best around. Your friend trusts you and downloads it (or purchases it).

But then gets stuck on one or other point to get it working properly. And although the (online) help library/manual you know will tell your friend how to correct or solve this problem very easily, your friend calls or emails you: help!

Have you ever tried explaining over the phone where he should click on (left click/right click), in which menu bar he can find the specific icon you want him to click on to change some settings for the better. Or tried to explain that in an email?
Even when you have the program open in front of you - it is a hard task, specially when you have kind of forgotten how unknown this same program was to you the first time you worked with it.

My friends know I keep recommending programs to them ever so often when they express their frustrations with a program they're working with at the moment: Oh, you're much better off with this or that type of program, much easier and much more effective. So yes, I do get those cries for help often too.
But lately, thanks to a program an online friend (Ed Rivis) recommended to me this time, explaining how to solve the problem at hand has become so much easer. All it takes now is the promise to email them a PDF-file with instructions. And it only costs me around 1 - 3 minutes to create the needed instruction.

The program Ed made me aware of is ScreenSteps (aff)
Screenstepslogo

When you have the program your friend has a problem with open on your screen and also open ScreenSteps you can step by step show where your friend has to click, what he has to fill in where and how the end result should look like. Per step you take a 'screen-snap', highlight the exact point (with arrows, circles, even numbers) where the mouse should go, where the left or right click should be made etc. Then underneath the screen-snap you can write simple instructions for that step - perhaps even explaining the why's.
And you go on the the next step. When finished with one click of a button the instructions are exported into a PDF-file, ready to be emailed to your desperate friend.
And all this in 1 - 3 minutes.

Let me give you an example:
Changing a signature in Eudora   

Open signature tab

media_1218101186047.png

In Eudora, underneath the list of your mail boxes you'll see various buttons.
Click the signature one.   

Select the sig you want to change

media_1218101302757.png

Double click on the signature you want to change, this will bring all text into the area next to the box.

Change your text

media_1218101378110.png

Change text to what it should be

Save by clicking the X box

media_1218101508961.png

Click Yes and voilà, signature changed.

(End of example)

And of course, the next friend who stumbles at the same point of a program is helped even quicker. Open your PDF-file library you placed all the individual 'lessons' in, select the correct one and attach it to an email. Or, and this a great other feature/benefit from the ScreenStep software: combine different 'lessons' into one manual (by drag and drop) - export the complete manual to a PDF-file and you have an instant training manual.

Everyone knows I love AWeber, but I've also fallen deeply in love with ScreenSteps (aff).
On the 1 Plus 1 Makes 3 blog you can read more about this simple but oh so versatile program. Because it can do so much more than creating PDF-files. How about creating blog-posts, webpages or even online training courses - on any subject you can think of? All with 1 program: ScreenSteps.


25 Words that connect us

After the 25 Words of Work/Life Wisdom project Liz Strauss is asking for 25 Words that Connect us:

It’s communication. It’s participation. It’s connection. It’s a blog post.

Here are mine:

At the moment I see
the sun go down
some of my connected friends
see the sun high
Where their morning coffee
is my lunchtime.

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

Will you add 25 words of your own? (see here for the details and strict deadline)


MBNA doesn't really stand for anything

Yesterday morning the phone rang and I answered it with our normal -friendly - greeting.

"Good morning, welcome to Wood You Like. This is Karin."

"This is MBNA credit facilities for businesses."

"And where does that stand for?"

"MBNA? That's just a name, doesn't really stand for anything. Just a company selling credit cards to businesses."

Sales_cartoons_call_center
(Image courtesy of www.count5.com)

Right!
If I ever employ a call center I will make damn sure whoever makes the (cold) phone-calls to get us appointments, leads or new clients would know pretty darn well where our company stands for! (Like we did 5 years ago).

Mbnaeurope(MBNA stands for Maryland Bank, National Association. It has 7 million customers in the UK, is part of the Bank of America and issues credit cards in 150 countries - just so you know.)

Yesterday afternoon another call center call:

"Can I speak to the owner of the business, please?"

"What's it about?"

"This is MBNA...."

"Ah, just like your colleague this morning. No thank you, not interested."

Right!
Database? Tracking who calls who and with what result? If I ever employ a call-center...... - you get the drift.