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?

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Customer Service Satisfaction

One of the make-or-break aspects of a business is their customer service.  How do customers feel after contacting you or your business for help?  Typical answers to that question are that some customers feel pleased with the answer they got (they’re happy they got a direct answer to their question), some are satisfied by the contact (it may not have been the easiest conversation but it all worked out OK), some feel that their issue or problem was solved but the customer service wasn’t that great, some don’t get the answer they need, some wait to hear back on an answer, some can’t get through to help, and some feel frustrated by the lack of help.  Essentially there are lots of different experiences that people can have with customer service.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made enough purchases and contacted enough companies to have experienced all of these at one time or another.  So is there a solution or trick to increasing customer satisfaction with customer service?  I think that customer satisfaction can be greatly increased if the customer is always able to get an answer to their question.   Even if it’s a ‘no’ answer, many people are happy to just get a straight answer to their question.  If  you want to improve on a ‘no’ answer, including other/next steps that could be taken can be helpful to increasing what could be a difficult or disappointing experience into at least a somewhat positive one.

The other thing you can do to greatly improve customer service has to do with languages, and having customer service representatives who are native speakers of the language or languages that the majority of your customers speak.  There’s almost nothing worse than not being able to understand the person on the other end of the phone/chat/email, or having them not understand you.  Investing that little extra in native speakers of the language/languages that your customers speak can make a huge difference in customer satisfaction with customer service.

What kind of customer service are you offering to people who purchase or want to purchase from you?  If your customer service isn’t creating customers and repeat customers, it’s time to make some changes and improvements.

Excited by Changes

If you’re subscribed to some of my newsletters you know that I’m working on making some changes. Why? Because I realized that I do a lot of writing, and wanted to give my newsletter subscribers something different than what I do on the blogs. Even if the newsletter writings tend to be shorter than the blogs, it’s still paragraph form writing. Don’t get me wrong, I still love writing and that’s not going to stop anytime soon, but I wanted to offer something different.

The interesting thing about this process of deciding what else I could share about, is that I realized I wanted to do something different too. That yes, the change is meant to benefit my subscribers most, but it’s good for my creative muscles to be doing some different things. It turns out I also look forward to doing the newsletters more, which means not only better insights, but also newsletters that take less time to put together in some cases because I’m more motivated and inspired.

So why am I sharing all this? Because sometimes changes can be good! It’s OK to admit you need a change as the business owner, to encourage your customers to choose the ways they want to work with you that work best for them, and to change the things you offer even if they’re not outdated (yet). It’s partly about being innovative, partly about staying ahead of the competition, and partly about keeping your customers engaged.

Sometimes change is necessary (Facebook data anyone?!) but other times change is just part of who we are and the growing process that each and every one of us go through personally and professionally. There’s nothing wrong with it and it can even be the motivation, inspiration and energizing. Is there change you’ve been debating in your business? If so I encourage you to take steps to make those changes before the end of the week.

Subscription Business Success

I don’t know about you but I’ve been watching the subscription industry and how it’s grown and changed over the past few years. Subscriptions started back with deliveries of milk and eggs, grew to newspapers and magazines, and has grown to include deliveries of online newsletters, and physical boxes of makeup, clothing, books and full blown recipes. I’ve ventured once or twice into a home delivery subscription of products, but I’m particular about things so I have yet to find anything current that I really want to subscribe to. But let’s talk about the business of subscriptions, and why they’re something people enjoy and why they’re successful.

One of the great things about some of the subscription options is the joint venture opportunities they create. Yes, in some cases you’re subscribing to one specific product or brand, but many of the subscription options include a variety of items that changes with each delivery. The boxes talk about being “carefully curated” to include a mix of products to try, leaving the next step up to the recipient, they can use/share the products and move on, or they can follow up with the brands in the box and purchase additional products or more of what they got in the box. For businesses, it’s a great opportunity to build a business relationship with another company, to do cross promotions with the company and to be introduced to an audience they may not have really considered before.

Subscription deliveries create recurring revenue for companies. This is a big reason that companies want to get into the subscription business, because they’re getting consistently paid without all of the work of trying to get new clients/customers. Of course you have to have great content in your box or people won’t stay subscribed, but if you can consistently provide unique items that your audience is interested in, you can keep them as a repeat customer for many years.

Subscriptions work well because they take a lot of the work out of the customer’s life. Many people will tell you that they’re too busy to do the research into picking a recipe and shopping for the right items or finding new skincare to try or finding new books to read, and let’s be honest you can do tons of research and you may never hit on the products included in the box because there are just so many different companies in every niche and industry. Subscriptions are an easy way to introduce people to the variety, novelty, and/or something bigger/better that they’re interested in finding but don’t have the time or knowledge to know where/how to look.

There are of course challenges to being in the subscription industry, including quality of products, offering something people don’t want, not having some competitive advantage or standing out from your (many) competitors, the finding a happy middle on cost of the subscription for you and your customers, and being able to keep up with demand. I don’t think the subscription industry is going anywhere any time soon, and I think there’s still room in the industry for some quality boxes and deliveries.

Have you considered offering a subscription option, and if so how far into the consideration and/or planning are you? If you offer a subscription, what have you learned from it and where do you think the industry is headed?

The Business of Respect

We’re getting into another holiday season, with Good Friday today, Passover starting tonight and Easter on Sunday. With some of the recent events and these holidays coming up I thought it would be a good idea to talk about something we as business owners can struggle with: the human side of things. I get it, we all want sales, we all want to grow our businesses, but I don’t think that has to happen at the expense of others, or without regard of others. Let’s talk about a few specific examples.

Easter/Passover: there’s a large percentage of the population who will celebrate one of these holidays, and anytime there’s a holiday it means increased stress levels, even if you don’t celebrate the holiday personally because many other people around you will be stressing out. A little more patience and a little consideration can go a long way to diffusing potential tensions and reducing the general stress level.

Social media: I was talking recently with several people who have used social media for their business but really didn’t get it or know how to use it for their business. Yes, businesses do get sales from social media, but it can’t be ignored that it’s social media, not sales media, and that the social aspect is often the missing link between the engagement numbers they have and those they want.

Facebook’s data issue: in some ways it may not seem like a big issue, because “they’re just numbers” but behind that data is a lot more than just numbers on a page, they’re little bits of many people’s lives. At this point the mistakes have happened so changes should be made as a result of the issue and the companies involved need to take responsibility, and then apologies should be issued, with sensitivity to the fears, frustrations, and concerns that people are experiencing.

Feelings and relationships: I was reading an email from one of the business coaches I’ve connected with and she was sharing about her birthday last year and last few months with her father before he died. It was a sweet email and reminded me about the stories and relationships that each of us have, and how as businesses if we’re able to build even a fraction of that kind of relationship with our customers we’re lucky.

No, not every moment in business is a touchy-feely one, there’s a lot of business that is very cut and dried. But behind each and every sale there’s a person, someone who will use the product you’ve created, someone who will share that product with someone they love, someone who will apply your wisdom to their life, someone who will use your service to help someone else, which means it’s not just something you’re creating for and selling to one person, it’s something that can affect many. So how can you make this weekend special for the people you help in your business?

Refresh for Spring Success

With spring officially arriving even if we did have a snow storm where I live this week, I thought we’d talk about some ways that you can bring new life to your business.

1-add a new product or service. I get emails from companies on a regular basis announcing new collections they’re offering, new partnerships they’re doing or seasonal offerings they’ve got. There’s something exciting for both the customers and the company when a new product is added, whether it’s planned to be a permanent edition or just a seasonal or short term opportunity.

2-refresh your marketing. Maybe marketing isn’t something you’ve been consistent with for your business, or you’re just not happy with the marketing you’re doing. Spring is a great time to redesign your newsletter email, recommit to marketing consistently, create and implement a new strategy for marketing on social media, do more local marketing (yes, even if you’re just an only business), or make some updates to your website.

3-clean up. If you’ve got a physical location that customers come to, or a location where you spend a lot of time working or store products, spring is a great time to do a deep cleaning of your location, move things around, throw things out and put a fresh coat of paint on the place.  Customers will appreciate the space being neat and clean, and so will you!

4-education. Spring is also a great time to learn a new skill or get some education, both for you as the business owner as well as your employees. Whether you’re interested in expanding your services and need some education to do that, or you want to give your employees some opportunities to be more proficient or work in other areas that they currently don’t, sometimes some education can be just the thing to get you refreshed, renewed and bring new life to the business.

So what will you do to put some spring in your business?

A St. Patrick’s Day Legacy

Today is St. Patrick’s Day! I’m excited as always, it’s one of my favorite holidays each year. Over the last day or so I’ve been checking out some Irish companies and looking at products made in Ireland and was struck by the care, consideration and effort that’s put into each product. No, no company is perfect, but when you think about truly Irish products and companies many of them have stood the test of time and consistently offer fantastic products. I’m not one to spend tons of money on things like jewelry or clothing, but I’m willing to spend those extra dollars to get such a quality product and support the families who are behind them.

No, this post isn’t really about running a business or offering a quality product, it’s about the quality and character of the people behind them. As parents and those in charge of the next generation we have a choice in what we want to teach the next generation, and hopefully what they’ll learn from us. Do we want to teach them to value the world, put their best foot forward, take pride in their work, leave a legacy that can be appreciated for a long time, and make a positive impact on the world? I know that’s what I want to teach the next generation and encourage them to value life and their talents.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with buying a sweater or piece of jewelry from your local big box store, I’ve got some of them that I absolutely enjoy very much and were on low clearance prices even (prices that couldn’t get me anywhere near something from Ireland). So there’s nothing wrong with finding shortcuts and doing a quick job of something (as long as it gets the job done), but there’s value to be found in being a person who does more than just meets the status quo.

No one else can be who you are, no one else can be who your kids are or will grow up to be, no one else can be the neighborhood kids or who they will grow up to be, each and every one of us are unique and have the ability to bring something awesome to the table. In the case of the many families in Ireland who craft gorgeous products those families are teaching their next generations about leaving a legacy, honoring your heritage and sharing who they are with the world. What are you teaching your kids?

Building a 4 Leaf Clover Business

With St. Patrick’s Day this weekend I thought today we’d talk about 4 aspects of business success in honor of the 4 leaf clover. We’ll first take a look at the 3 things that appear on all clovers (in all businesses) and then we’ll look at one that only appears on the 4 leaf clovers:

People:
However you want to look at what you offer, without someone to buy what you offer, there’s really no point to being in business. It’s essential that you take care of all your people if you want to stay in business, let alone become one of the few beloved companies who lasts the tests of time.

Product/Service:
Every business needs at least one product or service that has value, addresses a need or solves a problem for people. Once you’ve got the concept for your product(s) and/or service(s) you have to decide what type of quality you will provide, and whether to differentiate yourself by price, or serve only a specific location or try and reach the masses among other things.

Marketing:
Once you’ve got a product and/or service you’ve got to tell people about it! There are tons of ways that you can market your business and what you’re offering from social media to blogs to newsletters to TV ads to radio ads to joint ventures to affilates. Marketing today has evolved from just product/service awareness to creating experiences, educating potential customers, and interacting with them in real time all in addition to product/service/brand awareness.

Purpose/Mission/Vision:
As I said, most businesses do their best to attend to the first 3, like any clover, but some business go the extra mile and give the extra effort to do things on purpose and with purpose. I had a business owner ask me recently if they really needed to have a purpose/vision/mission because they were “just selling a shirt.” Yes, you can differentiate on the exact product you sell, price and marketing you do and the people that fit your niche, but if you really want a tribe, if you want people to come back again and again and have a passionate investment in your business you need to have and follow a purpose/mission/vision.

So what about you? Are you just working to sell a product or service, or are you working to create an experience for your customers, one that they want to invest in, be part of and share with others?

Weathering the Storm of Success

Just a few days ago the Northeast experienced a snowstorm like I haven’t seen in some time. We had more snow than I’ve seen (and shoveled) in quite a few years (we had about 2.5 feet), and as beautiful as it was it made for some big issues. Yes, I grew up with some bigger storms and I know that some people deal with way more snow than what I did on Wednesday and Thursday morning on a regular basis, but whether you’re used to lots of snow or not, when mother nature takes control things in our human world often go wrong. So today based on some of the issues that I saw, I thought I’d share a few lessons that business owners could learn from for the next time they’re faced with a crisis or the unknown.

First, weather is tricky because even with all the technology we’ve got the end result is still really a guess. Add to that the variable of humans and their interpretations, and you’ve got some serious questions and unknowns. It’s frequently said that the weather industry is the one that you can make mistakes in and not lose your job over it. While it’s probably not OK for you to be frequently wrong and give your customers a less-than-perfect product or advice that’s not helpful or accurate, there has to be some margin of error considered and understood. The weather people have good enough technology that they can tell us when something is likely on the way, but they can’t totally provide how much or what everyone is going to get or exactly how a storm will play out.

How does this apply for other businesses and industries? It starts with something as simple as being honest with your customers and letting them know that you’ll always have them and their needs and their best interests at the forefront of what you do, and always strive to bring them the best experience and products/services possible.  But also that you’re not perfect and sometimes things are outside of your control, and when those things happen you’ll be up front with them and let them know what’s going on, and do your very best to rectify the issue as soon as possible. Which brings us to the second point.

The second thing to consider is with regards to communication. Sometimes I feel that things are very well communicated, and other times I wonder what people were thinking! The issue that business owners really need to consider is the fact that there are so many free resources (and other resources) they could tap into to provide the very necessary information to the general public and the specific people who need those updates, yet they weren’t being used. There were lots of electric road signs on the highways that could have shared updated information about the roads ahead yet all they did was warn of winter weather and to drive safe. There are free social media accounts, emails/newsletters, blogs and websites that could have been used to post updates about power failures, garbage/recycle pickup, blocked roads, detours and openings/closings, providing information in a timely manner and all in one place, but they weren’t. These updates don’t take a long time to do, and don’t have to be extremely detailed, but they can be invaluable to people.

For businesses, yes, you should post that you’re open or closed or if there are weather related issues, and you should be in communication with your team so that they know what’s going on. You should also communicate with your team when it comes to serious weather about the policies that you’ve got for whether you’re open or not and if there are people who are specifically willing to work in serious weather if need be. Weather challenges also provide a reason to have an online presence and to sell something online if possible. With countless people stuck inside instead of out doing their usual activities, they’ve got time to read emails, peruse websites or apps and shop.

While I don’t think you need to be perfect or communicate every little detail about your businesses (although sometimes that can be fun!), especially when things are challenging or dangerous for people it’s important to be on top of your communication and not only give specific instructions regarding what to do now and during the danger/challenge/storm, but also be in communication about what comes next. What have you learned for your business from weather challenges?

Write for Success

The first Thursday in March is World Book Day, so today I thought we’d talk about books and the lessons we as business owners can learn from books, and the people behind them. Let’s take a look at 3 March-born book guys and what they can teach us.

Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Geisel, wrote over 60 children’s books, and was also a political cartoonist, poet and artist. Many of his books seem strange and have made-up words and beings. Part of their appeal is the wild and crazy creativity that he showcases. Many of his stories are more than just funny words and creatures though, they tell an important story, or share an important concept with people, one of the most well-known being How the Grinch Stole Christmas. What’s the lesson for business owners? Sometimes the creative and the crazy just works. I don’t know any other authors whose works are as creative and they’ve had as much success and have become as much of a household name for several generations as Dr. Seuss’ books.

L. Ron Hubbard was the founder of the Church of Scientology, but was first known as a science fiction and fantasy writer. Using his writing background and doctrines he developed, he wrote the texts that are the “Bible” of the Church of Scientology. Whether you agree with the church/doctrines or not, I think there are two things we can learn from L Ron Hubbard. First, writing is an excellent launching point. Writing books is one way that many successful business owners, leaders and authority figures have gotten their start. Second, some things just sell, and one of those things is religion. Religious texts are some of the most recognizable literary materials in the world, bought in many forms and formats by people, and are really tied hand-in-hand with the success or notoriety of many religions.

Finally we’re looking at Randolph Caldecott who was an illustrator, but is best known for being the namesake of the Caldecott Medal, an honor given every year to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Caldecott was successful as an illustrator, his illustrations/books were well known in his time (pre-1900). Some 40 years after Caldecott died the award and medal were created and named in his honor. One of the things we can learn from Caldecott as business owners is that sometimes you can be exceptionally successful if you do what you’re good at. Caldecott may have thought about writing books, after all lots of people are successful writing books, but pursued his gift for illustration and as a result not only had an excellent career, but has a prestigious medal named after him that continues to recognize and honor him over 100 years after his death. Writers are great and very important, but without illustrators children’s books would lose the majority of their appeal for children.

What have you learned from authors and illustrators that you’ve applied to your business?