The Business of Holidays

I love holidays, from the wandering through stores to see their decorations, to perusing holiday catalogs to holiday movies to holiday commercials to the food to holiday shopping for loved ones.  We’re just about 2 weeks away from Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and closing in on the holiday shopping season and special deals.  This year something different happened, instead of getting the Black Friday ads a couple of days before Black Friday, they started sending them out this week!  I was a little surprised but I think it makes good sense knowing how people like to shop around during this time.  So today I thought I’d share a few ideas for how you can tap into the holidays successfully for your business.

First, sneak peeks and early bird specials are a great way to get shoppers in the door early, and hopefully make it more of an even stream of customers rather than a crush.

Second, take advantage of all the holidays. Have special offers for Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and even the first day of winter.  Whether you’re an online only, a mixed online and local, or only local business you can tap into all of these holidays and events.

Third, don’t forget to give back.  Recognize a charity that is in line with your business, or you’ve spoken about before, or is well-known in your community (and your customers will know) and donate some of the proceeds of November 27 to them, or at the very least encourage your customers to donate or shop with them.

Fourth, it’s hard to like a last minute (panicked) shopper, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of all the spending that happens and the gifts that are given in the season and offer special last minute offers, gift baskets/boxes, or packages.

Fifth, make sure you reward your most loyal customers from throughout the year.  Yes, the holidays are a time when many people spend, but some of your customers have been buying from you all year long.  Reward them for their patronage with some extra holiday cheer.

Finally, make sure to celebrate the holidays and let your customers know that you know there’s more to the season than just spending and gifting.  Share some behind-the-scenes looks and holiday stories from your employees and don’t forget that the holidays are about coming together and celebrating.

What are your holiday plans for your business?

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Organizing Your Business

Today I’m thinking about a really important topic for your business, something that often stands in the way of businesses being successful: getting organized. As I was thinking about things that are happening this month, Veteran’s Day (11th), Clean out your refrigerator day (15th), and Small Business Saturday (24th), I was reminded again and again the power and support that being organized can give to your business.

Being organized is about scheduling. One thing that veterans and active military personnel can tell you is that there’s something to be said for the structure and scheduling. Taking the time to write down the steps to doing anything that can be done by any employee or team member, scheduling (and keeping) regular meetings with employees or teams, scheduling in times to deal with emergencies and surprises that come up, really investing serious time in training employees consistently (both when they’re hired and throughout their employment), keeping track of and planning out all the marketing you’re doing, and planning out the products/services/programs you’re offering for the year ahead can ease a lot of the frustration, panic, annoyance and extra expenses that crop up for those who don’t plan ahead.

Second, being organized is about knowing when to get rid of stuff or release stuff to be more productive. For some business owners this is difficult because they’re, to put it bluntly, a control freak, and they have to have their hands in everything and nothing can be completed without their say-so. Business owners should be involved in their businesses, but there comes a time when the business owner can’t manage everything and certain, specified and discussed, things should be released to employees or team members, which allows the owner to focus on things only they can truly do.

Finally, being organized means you’re able to succeed whether you’re small or large. Being a small business you’ve got a lot more flexibility and ability to pivot than the big businesses do, but one of the biggest struggles to being a small business is that you’re small and fewer people are managing more. So having your ducks in a row, having a filing system that everyone can use and understand, scheduling your bills and invoicing, having a small but mighty team you can rely on, collaborating with other businesses, and planning ahead can all make a difference to your success or failure.

So what about your business? What most challenges you most about organizing your business?

The Business of Halloween

Halloween is on Wednesday, it’s the day that kids dress up in fun costumes and visit around their neighborhoods to gather candy and other treats.  Celebrating or recognizing Halloween in your business can be a way to welcome or begin the 2018 holiday season and get things started with a bang, or it can just be a way to have some fun and more personally connect with your customers.  So today I’ve got a couple of ideas for how you can incorporate Halloween into your business.

Your marketing: One fun thing you could do would be a play on the “trick-or-treat” fun and offer a trick or a treat in your newsletter.  You can also ask customers to share or submit their Halloween photos and do a photo contest of pumpkin carving, costumes, lights or other topics on a specific theme that relates to your business.

Limited time offerings: Holidays typically are associated with special treats and Halloween is associated with candy and other sweet treats and pumpkin too, so businesses in the food industry can incorporate popular candies or pumpkin into their offerings for the weeks/days surrounding Halloween.  Clothing businesses can incorporate costumes into their lineup for the season and also offer ideas for how customers can incorporate their clothing into costumes or Halloween party attire.  Travel agencies can share a list of haunted locations and/or Halloween activities near their customers and/or sell tickets/arrange trips incorporating those locations and activities. And of course home decor businesses can include some traditional pumpkins as well as some more magical or mystical decorations and decoration ideas to help their customers have the spookiest house in the neighborhood.

Of course, don’t forget that if you’ve got a local store you can encourage customers to come in if you’re offering a special treat on Halloween (i.e. candy) or special coupon for a future date if they shop with you on Halloween.  Will you be sharing the Halloween spirit in your business, and if so, how?

A Focus on Growth and Success

This month we started off talking about the focus of a business: the customer. Today I want to talk about a couple of other things we should focus on as a business to succeed in 2018 and beyond.

Focus on clear communications. There are tons of ways you can get really confusing with the words you use, and sometimes it feels like businesses intentionally choose to be confusing with their communications just so customers can’t truly understand what they’re agreeing to. Yes, occasionally there are some terms that need to be used because they are the legal words that have to be said. But more often than not businesses use words that are industry specific or for those with in-depth experience and knowledge. If we want customers to buy from us why wouldn’t we make it easy to understand what they’re getting into? Some businesses do, even going so far as to include those simplified explanations as part of their marketing.

Focus on being fun! While it’s not always fun to buy some of the things we have to buy (i.e. diapers, printer ink, shower curtains, business cleaners), that doesn’t mean that you can’t create a healthy, upbeat environment for your employees and customers. One great example is the Girl Scouts, who could have chosen to sell anything but choose to sell cookies, and do so with a cheery demeanor and cute outfits. It’s really hard to resist their plea for you to buy just a box of their tasty cookies (they freeze after all!). Not sure how you can have some fun in your very not-fun business? Just add a little holiday magic for the 5-10 holidays throughout the year to your storefront and online presence.

Focus on continually innovating. We’ve seen a lot of upheaval in lots of industries over the past few years so it’s more important than ever to be refreshing your offerings, trying new things, and talking with your (best) customers about their pain points and needs. Having a focus on innovating means that your customers and employees won’t get bored, your employees will be able to see the progress you’re making in your industry, and you’ll be able to stay competitive in the rapidly changing business world.

Ultimately it’s about being focused on bringing the best and brightest business you can to the world.  What are you focused on today?

Preparing for Changes in Business

This week one of the big conversations in the business world has been the revelation that Google+ had “a security hole highlighted the challenge of keeping its small number of users safe” which was discovered back in March. As a result of the security issue, and possibly also as well the fact that it wasn’t ever as popular as other social networks, Google plans to close the network. For some it isn’t a big surprise, and some probably don’t really remember anything about Google+, let alone used it.

But today I don’t want to discuss social networks that aren’t used or the fact that many aren’t surprised it’s closing, I want to talk about something else that we’ve talked about already this year and will talk about more over the next few years and that’s dealing with big changes that affect your business. For some Google+ was just another marketing opportunity, but some had invested quite a bit in it and are really upset that it’s closing. Other businesses are seriously being affected by disruptive businesses who are coming in and upending an industry, one of the most discussed examples being the ride-share companies (i.e. Uber, Lyft etc.) totally changing how the industry (taxis) has historically run. What do you do when things end or change?

This is why you have to be consistently updating your own business, aware of and considering ways you can innovate or transform what you offer, and not rely on one product or service or marketing tool. I don’t recommend trying every option or implementing every innovation or trying to market through every resource, but I strongly advise against only being locked into one option. Yes, there are companies who will survive through the end or change, for instance there are still some companies that sell records and record players (1880’s-1980’s were their prime years), but those companies are few and far between because there’s just not enough demand to sustain many companies.

What can you do to prepare your company for the eventual transformation of your industry and how you do business?

The Focus of a Business

There are lots of things that we should focus on in our businesses, but at the center of that focus should be one thing: customers.  By saying the customer is your focus that doesn’t mean you do everything possible to please every customer or that the customer is always right.  Rather it means that you’re always working on and in your business so that you can better serve your customers.  Sometimes that will mean saying no to some customers, especially those who have unreasonable requests or are disrespectful.  Why? Because if you’re busy trying to deal with those issues you won’t be able to give your best service to your best customers.

So how do you really focus on caring for a customer? You do consistent marketing so people know how you can help them or make their lives more interesting or better.  You consistently review and improve your customer service as well as the service any team provides.  You consistently check if you can update your product offerings so that you’re offering the best possible product to them.  You consistently educate yourself and any team so that you’re offering the best possible service to them.  If you’ve got a physical location for your business that customers shop at, you consistently keep it neat, tidy, organized, clean and welcoming.  You consistently support and empower your employees and give them feedback and praise.

You do all this so that you can be a 5-star business and have happy customers.  Having a focus on the customers can be the motivation and inspiration you need to do all those other things, things that aren’t always enjoyable or easy.  This focus also can help you prioritize your to-do list, and be more proactive about addressing questions, challenges, issues, requests or complaints, even if it means you have to delegate more.  What will you focus on today to best support your customers?

Simple Seasonal Success Starts

As we come to the close of September I’m thinking about the months ahead, and all the holidays! As a business owner you should be getting ready for the holidays and planning to wrap up this year in the best ways possible. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got a laundry list of things you want to cover before the end of the year, so as I was thinking about the holidays and about business success, my mind took a step back and thought about something else. What if instead of adding to the craziness that is the holidays, we made it simple?

What if we worked on offering the traditionals like turkey, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate with marshmallows, or mulled cider/wine and didn’t try to put a spin on a classic but instead offered the classic? What if we made it simple for our customers to understand how holiday shipping and pricing worked? What if we focused on making this the best holiday season for our customers rather than just focused on getting into the black?

If you’re thinking holidays and want to keep things simple or make it easier for your customers, here are a few ideas for both businesses with a physical address as well as those who only sell online. Everyone should make sure that their website has good desktop and mobile page loading speed so that all potential customers can not only visit the site but it doesn’t load too slow to keep them from becoming a customer. Everyone should have a dedicated page on the website that talks about the holidays answering FAQ’s, sharing featured products and news and includes a sign-up for a newsletter so visitors can get updates now and in the future. Everyone should have a content strategy planned out for their social media account(s), blog, podcast and/or newsletter for the rest of the year that includes consistent updates.  Everyone should plan extra hours and/or staff for addressing customer service questions and sales.  Everyone should offer some holiday special items or services, from simple products to extravagant experiences.

For those with physical locations make sure that your website clearly lists your current and holiday hours and physical address. Everyone who ships products should have a clear shipping page on their website that answers FAQ’s about shipping and pricing, and includes special holiday shipping options (with higher fees) if that’s not something you regularly offer.

What are your holiday plans for your business?

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?

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?

Back to Business

With schools around the country back in session today I thought we’d talk about some of the basics that will help you be successful today and in the future in your business.

Supplies:
From the basics like paper, pens and envelopes to wrapping and packaging to computers and online accounts there are lots of supplies that most businesses need in order to run most successfully. The choices you make at this first and most basic levels of business can be absolutely crucial as they are the tools that you use to connect with customers and your team, as well as present your business to the world.

Teachers:
Part of being successful is about what you bring to the table, but you can jump start and leap frog your success if you take time to learn from others too. Having a mentor or several someones you can turn to both personally and specifically as well as from a distance gives you the ability to grow your business into a stronger business.

Questions:
In school you’re asked to answer questions on tests and in class, and in business you’re asked not only to answer the questions, but also often to come up with the questions. Questions not only help you make sure that you’ve got your bases covered, they also help you explore different opportunities and perspectives into how you can better serve customers and how you can grow your business.

Learning:
Whether you call it a trial period, beta stage, or growing pains, if you’re building and running a successful business there will be learning. You’ll learn what your customers want, how to speak to your customers, how to better address problems, how to work with employees, and how you can bring a better product or service to market. You won’t just learn these things once though, they’re things you’re learning throughout the life of your business.

So what are the basics of your business that are keys to your success?