The News on Newsletters

One of my favorite marketing tools (and communication tools) is email. Before you groan let me explain. In 2018 a newsletter can include podcasts, videos, articles, and many other things, so don’t think it has to be all/mostly text (unless that’s what you and your customers want it to be). It’s an opt-in opportunity to know that you’re speaking with people who are actively interested in what you’re offering. It’s one of the lowest cost, most direct, most consistent opportunities to connect with your people. It’s a way to build trust and become top of mind with your people. Let’s talk about what you can do with a newsletter and getting people to sign up for yours.

Before you can send anything, you have to get them to sign up. While I understand that a newsletter is a free gift in and of itself, it’s usually easier to get people to subscribe if you offer some bait. Whether this is a discount, special report, opportunity to talk with you or helpful resource, offering something like this is a great way to encourage people to sign up (make sure to take into account GDPR and privacy policy changes when planning this).

The other thing to take into account when trying to get people to sign up is what you’re offering. Way too often I see a newsletter subscription box at the bottom of the site and nothing except the phrase “sign up for our newsletter.” Why?! Why would I want to sign up for another email? There’s nothing convincing about that phrase. Make a clear and concise statement about what you offer that makes people want what you’re offering.

As far as what you’re doing with a newsletter, it’s a great way to provide exclusive content and insights that people can’t get from your blog or offers you don’t want to share with the world on social media. It’s also a great opportunity to dive a bit deeper into stuff you’ve shared on social media.

What about you? Do you put out a newsletter? Which newsletters you subscribe to are your favorite?

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Keys to Communication

We talk about good and bad communication a lot, but what does that mean? So today I thought we’d take a look at 5 keys to becoming a good (or better communicator), as inspired by Jenni Catron.

1-communication starts with listening. Are you better at listening or talking? If you aren’t listening more than half the time, you’re probably not a good communicator. Speaking certainly has a place, but without listening and even just taking time to pause and take a breath, you’re not going to be as effective a communicator as possible.

2-know yourself. Are you naturally, normally or by default defensive? How do you react when people tell you something you aren’t expecting or don’t want to hear? Do you typically wait until things have reached a boiling point to say something? Do you leave out key details when speaking? These are important things to know about yourself as a communicator, and in general the better you know yourself, the more successful you can be.

3-sensitivity isn’t a bad thing. What kind of delivery usually goes along with your words? Do you just spit things out there or do you think about how you are going to deliver your words in a way that the other person will understand and even appreciate what you’re telling them? Do you think about when you’re sharing with others (is it 4:59pm and you’re telling someone about an issue or concern? Is it the day before the big test when you share that it’s happening?)?

4-don’t be afraid to speak your mind. This isn’t about being harsh or saying things to hurt others, but about being honest and up front about things that are concerning you or important to you. Don’t always assume that other people will shoot you down. And while the first couple of communications may be difficult or a little intimidating, the more often you speak about what’s going on, the easier it will be and more confident you’ll be doing it.

5-ask questions. Clarity and context are both very important to effective communication, and without taking the time to ask questions to make sure you get the full story, or to confirm that you’re understanding what’s being shared, you’ll miss out on not only some crucial details, but you’ll also miss out on opportunities to turn ideas into bigger and/or better ideas.

But you only become a better communicator if you’re willing to work on it and do work on it. It’s not something you’ll become great at overnight, and most of us work on being good communicators throughout our whole lives. Let today be your starting point to becoming a better communicator.

The Gift of a Customer

So let’s be honest, there are some people out there that we wish we never worked with/for. Some customers drive us to drink, and even maybe consider throwing in the towel and getting a job. Sometimes you just can’t help but have these bad customer experiences, especially if you’re a really big brand like a chain restaurant or well known box of cereal that can be found in just about every food store around the US. But for most of us we can put up some guards at the door to check with potential customers before they become customers, or at the very least clearly communicate on our website, social media and newsletter who we’re a good fit for, and who should look elsewhere. Personally, I have no problem or guilt in sending someone that I’m not capable of helping to someone else. For example if a guy I was considering coaching or consulting for consistently flirted with me in an obnoxious and unavoidable way, I’d tell him that we wouldn’t be a good fit and he should look for other help. It’s certainly possible that I could have helped him, but I’m not interested in that stress. Or if a Japanese company comes to me and asks for help but all their marketing materials are in Japanese, I’m just not the right person to dive deep with them on expanding their marketing within Japan (unless it’s to English speaking people).

But on the flip side there are some business that we’re sorry we’ve purchased from as customers, whether we’re talking as an individual/family or b2b. Maybe we’re sorry because we didn’t realize what we were getting up front (the sales pitch was just that good that we were tempted into signing up without asking lots of questions), and then we end up wasting time and most likely some money too. Or we ask for one thing and end up getting several, most not related to what we’re interested in. Or the company just plain out spams you and sends you tons of sales pitches and promotions. All of these are great ways to not only lose customers, but to make people mad; people who go tell other people about their bad experience.

Money is one of the most important things in business, the value you bring to the table is another, and the trust you build with your customers is a third. Without the value you can’t build the trust with your potential customers, and without potential customers (let alone actual customers) you have no chance of bringing in money, which means you’ve got a hobby and not a profitable, sustainable business.  Do you see your customer as a gift or an annoyance?

So this week I encourage you to take a look at your practices and actions when it comes to your customers and potential customers. Are you living up to the trust they’ve placed in you? Just about everyone has room to grow, but if you don’t start from a good place, you’ll never be given the chance to grow.

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.

5 Principles of a Successful Relationship

Today I thought we’d take a look at 5 principles of a successful relationship, as inspired by a post I saw on principles that are indicative of people who can become millionaires.  As a side note, it’s interesting that these principles can be applied in what seems like very different applications, but it’s really all about success, however or whatever you’re hoping to be successful in.

Say No: I think this is an interesting one to start with because sometimes we’re all about saying yes or ‘ok I’ll do it’ and then we get caught up in something else or just don’t have the time or ability.  You have to make sure that you’re capable of doing what your partner asks of you and letting them know when you just can’t do it all and need help yourself.

Plant Seeds: this is one of my favorite things to do with regards to relationships.  Relationships aren’t usually made or broken on one single event, it’s little things over the whole time that you’re together. It’s those date nights, it’s the moments having a cup of coffee together, it’s those walks around a park or other favorite place together, it’s the stories you share with each other, it’s the people you enjoy life with, it’s how you teach your kids together, and a thousand other little moments that all won’t be remembered, but are valuable parts that come together to strengthen (or hurt) your relationship.

Don’t Rush: I know we’ve all got tons of things to do on our individual lists each day, but at the top of that list each day should be loving on your partner.  Yes, you can do a quick kiss goodbye in the morning or quick ‘I love you’ text in the afternoon, but at some point in time during the day there should be some serious quality time between the two of you.  Maybe it’s only a couple of minutes, but for those few minutes you’re fully present with each other.

Ask Questions: my partner is really good at asking ‘what can I do for you’ and I’ve gotten pretty good at asking clarifying questions so that I fully understand the thinking or the story or the need before trying to follow through on a request (both with my partner and my clients).  Sometimes what comes out of someone’s mouth isn’t really what they want or isn’t really the issue and it’s important that you take the time to figure out what’s really going on or really needed.

Love: this is one of the most important principles of a successful relationship, because if you don’t really love each other how much motivation do you really have to make the relationship a success?  And if you have some other kind of motivation, is it really healthy or will it end up damaging both of you before the relationship ends?  So I say start with love, make love the foundation of everything you do, work on talking with love, and work on living with love.

What principles have helped you grow your relationship with your significant other, or have helped it last?

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?

Watch Your Words

On Sunday many in the US watched the biggest football game of the year, one that decided who was the ultimate winner in this season, and today the winter sporting event that the whole world participates in begins in PyeongChang. Both of these events are big opportunities for brands and for sales, approximately a quarter of people who watch the game watch for the commercials, and you can’t miss the advertising everywhere else from both the teams and the brands regarding the game. But in response to an article I read recently I wanted to talk about something I don’t talk about a lot, and something that many people don’t want to think about: the legal side of things.

You may or may not know that there are rules in place as far as what brands who aren’t official sponsors can and can’t say about these events, based on the official rules or trademarks that the organizations have on names and graphics. Average people can say whatever they want, but anytime a business starts talking about something related to the event they have to be very careful with what they say (you’ll notice that I didn’t include the specific names of the 2 events in question in the beginning of this post). While the official committees don’t hunt down every single offender, the consequences of using their names and graphics certainly are enough to make you think twice before you do any types of event promotions or talk about them.

I can understand the position of the sponsors who don’t want others getting the publicity they’re paying for, for free. I can also understand the events/organizations not wanting what they’ve worked really hard to create, and spent a lot of money on, being taken advantage of. But I also understand how frustrating it is for businesses who can’t afford sponsorship or don’t get approved for sponsorship, or may not even be aware that they’re not allowed to say/do certain things (it would certainly make things a whole lot easier for everyone if you could just come out and say stuff).

So what’s the lesson here? First, if you hear big companies not calling things by their given name, there’s probably a good reason for it. Second, you wouldn’t like it if someone stole your best material or tried to steal your thunder without first getting your approval to use or reference it. Third, if you’re going to restrict what others can say or do, make sure you give them a list of do’s and don’t’s and you can even be helpful and let them know say or do instead of what the general public can do/say. Fourth, maybe this is the reminder you need to take a look at the legal side of your business and make sure everything is protected the way it should be. Finally, after you’ve taken a moment to complain about it, embrace the opportunity to get creative in your promotions and communications regarding the fun competition happening in PyeongChang.

How will you creatively celebrate all things winter sports in your business?

Secrets to Success: Write It Down

For the next few weeks I thought we’d take a look at some not-so-secret secrets to success. These may not be secrets that no one knows about, but not everyone uses them or uses them well. They’re also known for sometimes getting out of hand or being less-than-useful, but that has more to do with the individual than the tool/technique. For the right person a “secret” could be the key to success they’ve been missing. Today we’re starting off with writing stuff down and using lists.

I wanted to start with this secret because of how busy we are and how many responsibilities we all have and how much we’re all trying to keep straight. Want to know the number one reason why I write just about everything down? So I don’t have to remember it! Writing things down allows me and my brain to keep thinking, keep creating and keep going, rather than continually trying to keep track of everything in my head. Lists are great because they remind you of what you have to do, things you are thinking about trying, people you have to contact, and great ideas you have. You also have the pleasure of crossing things off your list or deleting them from your list and seeing how much you’ve accomplished.

Writing things down can also help you with goal setting, delegation, and accountability. When you’ve got the to-do list posted where others can see, you’re more likely to accomplish your responsibilities, and it’s also impossible for others to say they didn’t know their responsibilities or what else had to be taken care of.  However, if you really enjoy having your excuses for why things aren’t done, you probably don’t want to apply this success secret to your life and work.

I prefer paper when it comes to writing stuff down and keeping lists, but I’ve also been known to use some virtual ones when the need arises. Many people use virtual lists to keep track of grocery needs and other things that need to be purchased, and things that multiple people are involved in because they can be easily shared and accessed on the go. My preference is to use paper when I’m sitting at my desk or working because I think through things better than using a computer document or app, and I also get the satisfaction of scribbling it out when I’m done. For family and work purposes white boards are also great tools if you prefer leaving a physical message or reminder over a digital one.

What are your favorite tools for keeping track of what’s going on in your life? Do you prefer paper or technology?

Discount Dilemma

One of the questions that just about every business owner is asked is “do you offer discounts?” It’s a question that makes us groan sometimes because we work hard to serve our customers and create our products, and the fact is that we have to make money! Yes, most of us have a buffer or cushion between what it actually costs to create a product and what we charge, and there are people who offer similar services for less than we do. Yes, some of us do compete based on price, that’s one of the reasons people buy what we offer instead of a similar product/service. And yes, most of us do create special offers at some point in time, or offer regular discounts for certain people, like veterans for example. Not to mention that there’s a whole “bargaining” industry where asking for a different price than what’s listed is not only acceptable but expected.

That said, I don’t necessarily have anything against offering discounts. I believe it can be a way to recognize your faithful customers and offer them discounts for continued purchases. There’s certainly an opportunity in offering “introductory offers” at lower-than-normal prices, or coupons if you’re in need of an influx in customers. There’s also an opportunity to connect with people through clearance or close-out offers.  But there’s a reason that things are priced as they are, and it’s what people have determined is reasonable based on what results are possible or what’s being offered.

So how do we deal with the discount question? Personally I address it on my website. I make it clear that if there’s a discount to be had it will be announced on social media and/or in my newsletters and that it’s not something I do often. I also clearly state that I offer regular special pricing for pastors for one of my offerings and for veterans on all of my services (and how to prove you qualify). I also offer levels of service so that I can help people whether they can afford $20 or $2000, and some payment plans.

So what if someone doesn’t clearly state they do/don’t offer discounts but you really, truly can’t afford their prices, and you really want to work with or buy from them? As with so many other things in the industry these days, the best thing you can do is contact them and be specific about why you want and deserve a discount or special pricing. Saying things like “I’ve got tons of people I can refer you to” or “I’ll absolutely buy again in the future” aren’t valid reasons in my book. You have to give a good enough reason why you should be given a discount when [almost] everyone else pays full price, preferably a reason that can be backed up or easily verified. If they can’t offer a discount, maybe they’re willing to work out a payment plan, offer reduced hours/access, have something similar they can offer at the price you can afford, or can recommend someone/something that does fit your price range.

What are your thoughts on discounts and how do you handle it when (potential) customers ask you for them?

New Year, Simply Better Relationships

It’s the weekend! The weekend is a great time to spend together as a family and do something fun or important, or just to relax and catch up after the week. I was talking with my partner about a meeting they had the other day at one of the places he works and he was saying how poorly run the meeting was and what could have made it a much more constructive meeting. His thoughts got me thinking about two simple things we can do in our families and with our partners to have better relationships.

Ask more, tell less: we’ve gotten pretty good at telling others what to do, but how often do we really take the time to ask them or discuss it with them? If you tell them to do something you’re more likely to get resistance, but if you ask them about something you don’t truly know what the answer will be until you ask someone. Maybe they’re in a generous mood, maybe you’ll explain your issue differently this time, maybe they’ll be tired of listening to the complaints, or maybe they’ve realized that it’s time to step up. Yes, the answer may be the same as it’s been the other times you’ve asked, and maybe that’s an indication to you that you need to do or say something different.

Spend time together: maybe it’s going out for groceries, maybe it’s digging in the garden, maybe it’s reading a book, maybe it’s watching a movie, maybe it’s practicing sports or playing a video game, maybe it’s going out to eat, maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk, or maybe it’s taking a class, educational activity or seminar together, there are countless ways that you can spend time together. Some are things you can do with any free time you have, but others are things that have to get done that could be done better with another person, like food shopping, or are more fun with others like going out to eat. The important thing is making the effort to be together.

I know, these sound like really simple things, but making these two small tweaks in your life and theirs can make a big difference. What small but powerful effort can you give in your relationship and family this weekend?