Subscription Service Smarts

Last week I shared about some confusing communications I’d received recently, this week I wanted to follow up with a discussion on something that many businesses, especially non-profits, rely on: recurring orders/donations. These are a fantastic way of having a consistent source of funds coming into your business that you can rely on as long as you’re offering what they’re buying or they need what you’re offering. These recurring orders can be simply items that people need on a consistent basis (i.e. paper towels and pasta), or a recurring package each month/week of items to try (i.e. beauty or dog items), or a regular subscription like meal kits or clothing outfits. It can also be a consistent monthly donation that goes into a particular fund or supports a particular individual.

If you want to improve the sign-ups and keep people signed up there are several things you can do, some that apply to some types of subscriptions and some that apply to others. One is to keep a good balance of new and top favorites as part of the subscription. Another is to make sure you’ve sufficiently tested the new items you’re sending out. Another is to send updates by email and/or mail so people know what’s going on with their donations or they could add to their order.

One of the biggest keys to keeping subscription customers is the ease of updating their information and their order(s), including what they’re ordering and any delivery information as well as their payment methods/options. The more challenging it is and the harder you make for them to find where and how to update the information, the more likely they’ll just cancel it all. Even worse, if they really struggle with changes, they may leave a nasty review about it online or suggest to friends/family who ask not to order from that company. Out of the 8 organizations that I had to update my credit card information with 3 were easy (at least one of which took quite a bit of navigating and effort to change the information), 4 required a phone call (something that shouldn’t be necessary if you can donate online), and for one the site refused to update the donation so I canceled the subscription and just made a one time donation (and will try again next month). Clearly there’s a lot of progress yet to be made with these organizations, and that’s just a small slice of all the organizations that you can do a subscription/donation with.

What about you? If you offer a subscription program do you make it easy for your subscribers to update their information and stay up to date about what’s going on and their options?

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Confusing Communications

One of the biggest aspects to running a successful business is being able to get paid.  Whether you’re running a for-profit or non-profit business your people have to be able to contribute to your work or purchase from you if you want to stay in business.  Technology has made it easier than ever to connect people (and their money) with things and organizations around the world, which enables businesses to have more potential customers than ever before and gives customers more options than ever.

Recently the inevitable happened and one of my credit cards came up to the expiration date, and that’s where the confusion began. I got an email from the credit card company notifying me that the card was going to expire soon (in about 2-3 months), then I got a second email letting me know that a new card would be coming soon (again with almost 2 months to go before it expired), then I got an email from a non-profit that I have a monthly recurring donation with from a personal email account at the company saying that I needed to update my card information (about a month before the card would expire), then I got a text message that the card was mailed, and then I got an email reminding me to activate my card. Are you feeling as stressed and confused as I am by all that?

I’m all for keeping people in the loop but some of these messages were excessive, some were concerning and some were confusing. The biggest of concern were the text message, the email from the non-profit, and the email about activating my card. I don’t have my account signed up for text messages, so to send me a text message was abnormal and concerning. The email from the non-profit was sent in a regular email message (no logos or recognizable templates) from someone I’d never heard of or talked to. The email about activating my card made it sound like the card arrived weeks ago and I was being blamed for not activating it.

The thing about all of these messages is that the issues are very simple to fix and there’s reason to make the investment in working on them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be sent with recognizable email templates. They’re all able to be crafted in a way that doesn’t sound like the writing was rushed and they can be edited by many team members before being sent since they’re emails that is going to be sent frequently to people and the message doesn’t change from person to person (so it makes sense to give the extra time and effort to crafting them). The third thing to take into account is whether or not the emails have been opened, and if they have been there’s no need for repetition, if anything more information should be given in the initial notification including the whole timeline rather than sending many messages so that the buyer has more confidence and understanding of the projected timeline and when any concerns should be raised. Finally, more attention can be easily given to the timeline of the messages being sent, especially the message about activating the card, which should only have been sent after the estimated time of delivery plus adding in some extra days for any delivery issues like hurricanes or being on vacation.

Doing one or preferably all of these things would have alleviated a lot of stress and concern on my part, especially for something that is a fairly predictable, anticipated and easy process. It certainly was one of the more painful experiences I’ve had with the payment aspect of business. Next week we’ll talk about one of the things I mentioned here, updating recurring orders or donations, and I’ll give you some feedback and suggestions based on what I’ve experienced recently.

What are your thoughts on making time-sensitive communications easier and clearer?

Picking the Right Price

This week I read a comment about how expensive the toll is for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge bridge in New York ($17).  Of course the comment went on to associate that price to things like giving away gold or some type of perfect world on the other end of the bridge.  Of course there’s no gold at the end of the bridge or perfection, but some would tell you that they’re willing to pay the price so they get to places they love very much.

But it got me thinking about how we price things as business owners and the challenge that sometimes comes with trying to cover costs.  I’m sure that someone did the math and determined that in order to pay off work and upkeep that was/is done on the bridge before a new bridge is needed, $17 was the appropriate number per vehicle. In many cases businesses can choose to spread the costs between multiple comparable products, but sometimes there’s no other options to combine costs with, and sometimes you want to have that premium cost.

In this case I feel like they could have combined or spread the costs around a little better. There are lots of other bridges in NY that could have a dollar or two added to the cost which would help bring the cost for crossing this bridge down a bit. But at the same time you may not necessarily want to make an even cost for every bridge in NY because some people don’t ever cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge bridge and don’t want to pay for the cost of someone else crossing it. It’s also not reasonable to have an even cost for products or services you offer if you’ve got something that’s truly custom or unique and deserves the higher price. A $5 toy shouldn’t cost the same as your $45 customized toy just so you can have all $45 items.

Price is something that customers consider when buying products and services, and price should be something you consider so that you’re covered on expenses but don’t over pricing your products or services so much that people choose to shop with someone else on a regular basis. There will always be someone who thinks your price is ridiculous and that’s OK, they’re not your ideal customer. But if you’re going to charge a premium you had better have a really good reason for the price you’ve chosen.

What are your thoughts on pricing products and services?

Cost-Sensitive Sales

If you’re struggling to make sales, or aren’t making the sales you want, chances are good that you’ve thought of all kinds of things you can do to have more sales including adding more products to your inventory, doing paid ads, moving to a trendier location, adding more sales people to your sales team, or redoing something (like your store, your products, your packaging, your website etc.) Some of these things can get to be expensive, and you may not have a lot to spend right now. Unfortunately, you may have to spend at least a little to get in some more sales, but there are somethings you can do to bring in more sales without raising the overhead too much. Today’s post is a little longer than usual but there are lots of ideas in it to help you increase sales and be more profitable.

First and foremost is addressing something that too many companies aren’t addressing in their marketing, including on their website and social accounts: who are you, why you do what you do, and what makes you different. Maybe you really aren’t much different as far as the products or services you offer, but because you’re running the business, your business is different than any other one out there. How you approach business, the people you hire, the things you offer are all a little different because you’re behind the business, but people don’t know that unless you say so.

Another thing you could try is reusing existing supplies or technology in new ways. For example maybe you buy decorative boxes that you sell as the packaging for your gift box sets (spa day, wine inspired, new baby etc.), but some people may be interested in buying just the boxes for their own purposes, so you could offer them as a separate purchase. For technology, maybe you do embroidery on shirts that companies buy to resell from you, but you could use the same technology to embroider logos on shirts for companies, or embroider initials on towels for hotels or for newlyweds.

You can also look for products that you can resell, including digital products and items that you never touch. For example if you create dog leashes you could find some products on Amazon to sell (aka drop shipping), or a digital video course on training your dog you can sell as an affiliate.

Another way to increase sales with a physical location is to give your location a fresh coat of paint and do the deep cleaning you may have been putting off. Everyone prefers to shop in a neat and tidy space. Even when the atmosphere suggests that it’s a dark and mysterious type location that doesn’t mean that you need to have dirty floors, peeling paint or a kitchen (or back office) that hasn’t been cleaned since you moved in.

As for the people-cost concern, something I’ve always suggested are working with interns from high schools and colleges. Adding them to your team even for 1-6 months gives you the extra hands or bodies you need and gives them real world experience that they can apply to their future job, gives them the opportunity to try something out, or fulfills that school credit they have to get in the community. Especially when it comes to technology students are great to work with because they know the technology far better than many because they’ve been exposed to it for longer and understand it in ways that it may take some of us years to ever get, if we ever get it at all.

There are lots of free and low-cost marketing opportunities as well, from social media to guest blog posts, to media interviews. The only catch there may be that you have to do the work of finding blog post and media opportunities and letting them know why they should share you with their audience.

Now, the question you’ve got is cost. Yes, depending on how you’ve had your website done or you’ve done your website there may be some cost there (if you don’t have a website set one up now using any number of free services or contact an agency or tech expert for help). You may also have to buy more of something you already buy, but there could be a good chance for a (higher) discount then and you could take advantage of that and spread the cost around. And yes, you may have to pay a minimum wage for the interns (many programs require it), but it’s usually far cheaper than what a regular employee would cost you (and you may decide to hire them later which would save you future training costs). Most of these suggestions though require more of your time than your finances, but all of them require that you really commit to doing better and helping more people. These are just a few of the ways you could grow your business and reinvigorate sales, what will you do today to move your company forward?

Family Finance Smarts

This weekend there are tons of people throughout the US who are scrambling to get their taxes done.  Are you one of those people?  Of course taxes are all about one very important topic: money.  What are you teaching your kids about money?  As inspired by Tax Day I thought today we’d take a look at some money smarts.

Save: this is one of the most basic practices that most people don’t follow but is crucial to getting ahead in life.  If you want to have a great retirement and have enough money for whatever situations come your way or if your kids have a need.  You don’t have to save a lot, consistently saving even a little each week/month depending on how you get paid is a great start.

Spend smart: do your best to make smart purchases that you won’t regret.  There are 2 parts to this: first taking the time to be aware of how much things cost and buying things on sale whenever possible.  Second, thinking about your purchases before making them and making sure they’re good decisions that you’ll be happy with for an appropriately long time depending on what you’re purchasing.

Plan ahead: anticipating expenses or potential expenses, like a tax bill, are another key to making the most of your money.  Planning ahead means you can put some away each month for these expenses rather than trying to come up with the money when it is needed.

Respect money: money comes and goes, but if you don’t respect that cycle it will be much harder on you.

Always grow: this is one of the most important smarts.  It’s important for us to keep growing and learning and trying to improve our situation, both about money and about our skills in general.  This doesn’t mean you have to work crazy hours or multiple jobs and ruin the other parts of your life, but it does mean having a healthy work ethic and always looking for opportunities to better yourself.

What are the best lessons you’ve learned about money in your life?

Financial Freedom

This month in our conversations about health, one of the areas we have to make time for is finances.  There are tons of great resources, programs, apps and people who can help you with your finances, and honesty, shame on you if you’re not taking advantage of it.  So today I’ve got just a couple of thoughts on finances, especially as they relate to living a healthier life.

1-know where you stand: I know it can be tempting to stick your head in the proverbial sand when you don’t want to think about how bad they are or that they’re not as you want them to be.  But avoiding them completely is not the way to a healthy bank account.

2-talk about it.  Especially if you’re in a relationship or you have kids it’s important to talk it over with your partner or a family member so that not only are you not bearing the whole responsibility of finances on your own, the important people in your life know where your accounts are and what needs to be paid each month in case of emergency.

3-save.  I know it can be hard to do this when you’re worried about bills, but if you don’t put even a small percentage of your money aside each month now you will struggle when it comes to emergencies and retirement, rather than having the peace of mind that you’re taken care of.  As little as 5-10% a month can make a big difference.

4-pay your bills.  This sounds obvious, but so many people put it off or avoid it that they get into trouble.  Pay your bills not only a few days early but when it comes to loans and credit cards always try to pay a little more than what’s required so you pay less in fees and get rid of the balance sooner.

5-spend wisely.  This is one of the hardest parts for many people.  It’s not about skipping the fun and treats, it’s about allocating a portion of your finances each month to that stuff and either spending it or saving all of it or a portion of it for something bigger like a trip.  The big key with spending wisely is planning and knowing how much you have to spend each month for all aspects of your life: food, home, transportation, kids, health, fun and emergencies.

6-ask for help.  I don’t know it all about money and there’s no way I would qualify as a financial planner so I know that one of the best things I can do for my finances is ask for help from those who are qualified.

7-invest.  We’ve talked about saving for the future, and part of saving is wisely investing some of your savings so that you’re prepared for retirement and end-of-life expenses.  While most people aren’t big gamblers and don’t go for high risks, some of those high risks can pay big dividends, so it’s usually a good idea to have some high, mid and low-risk investments depending on your risk threshold and life situations.  Again, talking with a financial adviser about the different investment options there are today is always a good idea.

8-take action. Don’t wait until you’re in deep debt or collections to try to make more money or fix your financial situation, start investing and paying down your credit cards and other loans and expenses now.  Contact that financial planner, invest in a course on finances, and ask for the help you need to make your financial future a strong one.

What are you going to do for your finances this weekend?

Teaching What Matters

Money is great, it has made it much easier to accomplish things in the world. I don’t have to have what you want to trade for what you have that I want, I just have to pay your price so you can go buy what you want. It means things are changing hands only once instead of a dozen or more times to make a deal happen. However, I’ve learned through many experiences that money isn’t the end-all, be-all of life and living. Knowing I have a really large amount in my bank account won’t make me happy by itself, it’s only what I do with that money that could make me happy.

Parents today more than ever need to teach their kids good financial planning skills. With the ups and downs of the economy and job situations it’s not guaranteed to always have money or a job, so knowing how to save and grow your money is important. You can’t predict the future, you can only plan for it. What parents don’t need to teach their kids is that money is everything, but often that’s what it seems like they’re teaching them with the amount of time and talk they spend on money topics.

Today’s parents need to spend time teaching their kids how to be human and interact with other people. All too often we run into people who are nasty and rude. Maybe they’re having a bad day, we all have those. But there are people who are nasty or act entitled every time we meet them. It concerns me when I run into these people because I fear what they’re teaching their children. What they teach their children is the legacy they are creating. Their kids may not remember them as entitled and mean, but the rest of those who knew them will and if their children behave the same that is not only a strike for the kids, but a negative legacy the parents have created and will be criticized for.

I don’t know about you but I want the next generation to be proud of what we’ve created and who we helped them become. I want them to have a better world and more opportunities than we have had, and the only way for that to happen is if we teach them what matters. What are you teaching the next generation?

You Can Make A Difference

Even as young kids we were aware that there were rich people and people who were not as rich, items that were really big and awesome and others that weren’t so great, and foods that were special treats and others we could have anytime even if we didn’t really like them.  You may not have really fancy tastes, or you may have all the money in the world to buy any treats you want.   You may be happy with the most luxurious hotel suite, or you may be happier with a simple cabin in the woods.  We each have different tastes and preferences, which is why we’re each so special.  So today I want to talk about this struggle we have with our differences.

1-the lie of good and bad.  In most cases it’s not a case of good versus bad, just a case of different.  My cup of coffee may be a lot less expensive than yours, but that doesn’t make it either good or bad.  I may have a preference for long walks in the park and you may enjoy a night at the bowling alley, neither are good or bad. You may like dogs and I may like cats, but neither are good or bad. Just because we like different things, even two similar things that are different because of location or price, doesn’t make them good or bad.

2-the challenge of price.  Just because it’s more expensive some people will automatically determine that something is better than another, or because it’s cheaper it’s not as good.  We do use money as a determining factor in making choices, often because it’s easier, and in many cases we have learned that expensive things can be better made or larger or look a certain way.

3-just because we’re rich or poor doesn’t mean we can’t improve.  Money does bring a lot of opportunities with it to the table, there’s no denying that it makes many things easier.  But just because we’re poor doesn’t mean that we can’t become rich, and just because we’re rich doesn’t mean we have or know everything.  Money or size should not be our determining factor as to what’s real or important or valuable in the world.  You’re not more important or better because you do or don’t have lots of money.

So where does that leave us?  It leaves us with the choice to be willing to work at our lives where we are.  We’ve each been given a position, one that we can always improve, but one that we can make great differences in without moving up the financial or social ladder.  Our willingness to see our lives as insignificant or too important and ignore what goes on around us is a mistake.  When we choose to make a difference where we are and as who we are we’re able to actually do good things, instead of waiting for a better time.

“Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.”  Frank Lloyd Wright

Relationship Revitalization

With spring here I thought I would share a few ways to take advantage of the fresh air, free spirits and new life that comes with the transformations of spring.  Any relationship can get a fresh start at any time, of course, but it’s especially easy to consider when we’ve got all of the changes in the air and world around us.

1-see a coach or pastor.  It may seem like an excessive step to seek professional help, but this can be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to let issues that have been stewing for too long to be aired out and cleaned up.  Involving a coach or other professional gives you both the safety of another set of ears and impartial opinion that a family member or friend would not be able to offer you.

2-hire an organizer.  It’s a great time to get rid of stuff that’s been sitting around in your house for a really long time and is getting in the way of your relationship.  You would be surprised how the clutter around your house can affect your relationship.

3-commit to a date night each week.  A date night, even if it’s just 2-3 hours a week can be the start that you need to begin communications again and work through some of the issues and things that bother you both, and even more important, create time to rebuild and strengthen the bonds of love.

4-figure out your finances.  This is something that everyone should do on a regular basis, but with tax day coming up quickly, it’s an especially good time to really make sure both of you know the ins and outs of your finances and make a plan for where you really want things to be in the future.

5-spend more time outside.  I love being outdoors (even if I have to bring a tissue box). Getting outdoors as a couple for a weekly walk, or playing outside with your kids is important to feeling good and being healthy.

What are you going to do to grow your relationship this spring?

5 Mistakes Businesses Make

With the beginning of the year and many people having already given up on their resolutions, I thought it appropriate to talk about mistakes, especially a few key ones people in business make (these are only a few, there are many).

1-speed.  I don’t know too many people who don’t enjoy speed once in a while.  Whether it’s a motorcycle, flying a plane or a fast roller coaster, there’s something thrilling about going fast.  However, in business speed is a double-edged sword.  Yes, you want to get to the market so your product or service isn’t beat by someone else, but at the same time if you go in too quick you’ll be laughed at for your less-than-ready product or service.

2-fear.  Fear is a powerful tool, motivator, and killer.  It can bring you to the greatest success or biggest failures of your life.  I’m not suggesting you always have to overcome your fears, but with a bit of study on the risk and reality of that fear you can decide if it’s holding you back from success or not.

3-jumping the gun.  Yes, sometimes you just know that something is a perfect match.  But all too often we jump in with both feet before doing the research or reading everything.  Check out the instructions, talk with people to see if you’re a good match, find out the whole deal before you talk money or contracts.

4-ignorance.  This is a big issue for a lot of people and companies.  However, ignoring the problems won’t send them away, nor will being ignorant of what you do/don’t know.  This means you need to talk to people, be aware of the money situation, find out what’s going on, find out what people are looking for, and find out what’s really selling.

5-sales.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the bottom line in business is not the money but the people.  Behind each and every dollar are people, many people who are impacted by the money spent.  Just because you have an online business doesn’t mean that the money is any less personal or connected to a person.  There is always a person on the other side of the money.

In the future we’ll cover more, if you have a specific mistake (mentioned here or not) that bothers you, share in the comments.