customers

5 Things Every New Business Should Know

Starting a new business? There are probably some things that you find uncertain, and others you just don’t have the hang of yet. While there’s no cookie-cutter approach we can offer budding entrepreneurs, there are some general tips to keep in mind. Here are five:

Failure/Rejection (on small scales) are probably in your near future, and that’s a good thing. There are more lessons to be learned in rough waters than when it’s smooth sailing. Remember Newton’s First Law: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. A little adversity here and there will not break your business — depending on how it’s handled, it can actually help your business grow. There’s something to be said for a healthy amount of risk-taking, too.

The first 2 years are usually the hardest. This is a good stat to keep in mind as you develop your business plan, especially budget-wise. Remember — if things don’t go the way you planned, don’t worry. It’s fairly common for businesses to struggle in their early, formative years.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a small business owner, you’re probably used to doing things on your own. However, that doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself. There are lots of resources for small business owners. Remember to ask people in your network for advice.

Take a look at our post on Automating, Delegating, and Outsourcing to develop ways to include others in your day-to-day work life.

Show, Don’t Tell. To build both your business’ trust and reputation, showing is better than telling. Marketing and advertising are important to spread the word about your business, but performance and delivering quality products and services are more important. No amount of advertising makes up for a poor product, and there’s no substitute for trust.

Learn to be efficient with your time. It can be easy to become a martyr for your business. But isn’t it better to work smarter, not harder? Part of this involves delegating and outsourcing as mentioned earlier. Take charge of your schedule in a way that’s productive but keeps your sanity intact. Develop systems, stay organized, and jettison anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Here are some posts we’ve written regarding efficiency, including systems and getting organized.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

A Simple Guide to Customer Loyalty Programs

As businesses, one of our goals is to increase our number of customers, right? As this number grows, retention also becomes a point of concern.

How do you strike the balance between gaining new customers and encouraging repeat customers? One common method is a loyalty program. If done well, these are win-win situations that encourage people coming back to your business time and time again.

Dandelion with seeds blowing away in the wind across a clear blue sky with copy space

Implementing a loyalty program can seem complicated but it honestly isn’t. It just requires thinking about how you’d like to reward your customers and deciding on how to deploy the idea in your business. Here’s a few examples to get you thinking in the loyalty direction:

Loyalty = Current Customers Getting First Dibs

An easy thing that all businesses can do- when you launch a new product or service, offer it to your already loyal customers first (it’s like a “right of first refusal”). You can even take it a step further and offer it to them at a discounted price (usually the discount price has an expiration date). This isn’t so much a “program” as a “best practice” to show appreciation for the people who already support you.

Loyalty = Rewarding (Financially) Frequent Purchasers

Probably the most common type of loyalty program is some type of number system, like a punch card. A person has to come into your store a set number of times before receiving the reward. A common example is a punch card, like a “Buy 10 get the 11th free” deal. Service-based businesses can also use this type of reward system (i.e. get five haircuts at this salon and get a free manicure). It works because customers view the reward as either something they would purchase anyway, or something of value that they are interested in but haven’t purchased for themselves.

Loyalty = Letting Frequent Purchasers Play A Game

Games are another way to reward (or create) loyalty. McDonalds is a pro at encouraging repeat customers through games. One prime example is their Monopoly game. The contest only runs for a couple months out of the year. To play, you just have to buy food at McDonalds (I think it has to be a certain size in order to get stickers). Customers are encouraged to play for the bigger prizes (which require more stickers/purchases), but there are also smaller scale prizes as an incentive (like a free Double Cheeseburger). Irving had a similar contest a few summers ago involving Monopoly (I think the prize was a lifetime supply of fuel). I won a lot of free soda that year.

Loyalty = Giving A Freebie (Bonus Points If Unexpected)

Another easy way to reward loyalty is giving your customers something they already want. Sometimes when you go grocery shopping, you get some coupons with your receipt. Frustratingly, these are usually items that you’ve just purchased. That’s because you’re not getting these coupons at random. The machines assume you purchase the items on a regular basis (which may or may not necessarily be the case), and offer an incentive to return to the same store to purchase those items again.

Online stores have a unique advantage here- they can keep track of purchases and send follow up emails to encourage customers to “buy it again.” There’s a risk of appearing intrusive if you consistently offer specific rewards- there’s actually an entire episode in the last season of Parks & Recreation involving the ethics of data mining (all the citizens in Pawnee received unique gifts that were eerily specific and pointed back to information on their phones). In other words, your loyal customers want to feel like you know them, but not like you’re spying on them.

Loyalty = Letting Customers Purchase Membership For VIP Treatment

Some of the more successful customer loyalty programs actually require a membership fee. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to make people pay to be loyal customers, but in practice it makes sense. Amazon Prime is a great example of this- customers pay an annual fee, and as a result, they get certain products free or discounted, automatic 2-day shipping, and audio/video streaming. Another example is Dunkin Donuts Perks program. This past football season, whenever the Pats won a game, DD Perks members would receive a free medium coffee the next day (I almost signed up for that very reason).

In terms of services offering memberships, at some airports, you can even purchase a pass to the “Admiral’s Club”, a lounge where you can wait in the relative abundance of electrical outlets and free snacks (and relative quiet).

Customer Loyalty Programs not only give your current customers a reason to keep coming back- they can provide incentive for new customers to jump on board.  Think about rewarding the one you’re with and you may find your customers are even more loyal than you realized.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Welcoming The Tire Kickers

herestothetirekickers(I can now publish this blog post because we’ve had more paying customers in 3 weeks than the entire 3 month period before it… but I’ll be honest, the last three months were a dark place that had me questioning my whole freaking life. More below.)

April 1, I opened our new coworking space (which will also be where Breaking Even works from). I bulk bought coffee, rush ordered the rack cards, and cleaned the whole place top to bottom. We had built up the excitement, we began targeting our customers months earlier. We were ready.

And no one came.

Well, that’s not true. A few friends stopped in to drop off goodies and well wishes. But no paying customers came through that day.

We had one paying customer in April.

One.

In classic Nicole fashion, I internally (and slightly outwardly) began panicking. It seemed like everyone had wanted to come by while I was covered in paint or when there was no heat on… and over 125 people came through our open house (nothing like free booze on an otherwise boring April evening!) But where is everyone now that the place actually is looking and functioning like a coworking space? Where were the paying customers?

I had a glass of wine and called my mom. You know, what any adult would do.

Give it time, my Mom said. Others have said.

Despite the fact that 300ish people have come through the space, we have had about 30 total customers. Most people are not customers but they’ve come by to see. I see their eyes go up to the security cameras, down to the fancy desks, around the conference room. They ask me questions, they smile, they leave.

Part of me wants to be the needy girl with the crush. Do you like me? Why not? How can I make you like me more? Don’t you get how cool I am?

I have decided that, starting now, and looking back at the last three months, I need to take a deep breath and appreciate the tire kickers* who have come through Anchorspace. (Please read the very bottom of this post before you decide to be offended.) The people who have stopped in and, while they seem very interested, have not bought a damn thing. And here’s why:

Tire kickers aren’t customers… yet. 

Most people can take a bit of time to be your customers (see our post about sales funnels for further justification). People change jobs, neighborhoods, service providers all the time. So that person who has NEVER bought from you? Let them look at your menu. Let them talk to your staff. Let them get familiar because they may become your customer later. If you are in it for the long game, this tire kicking process won’t frustrate you. I was looking at Anchorspace in a very shortsighted way most of this spring. Not good. “Not yet” is different than “no”, in the way it behaves and the way it feels.

Tire kickers need time. 

A variation on the above point, some industries don’t have much of a lag time between research and purchase. It’s not like you are going to walk around and price 16 ounce beers at all the local establishments before ordering one, for example. But if you’re asking someone to make any decision that is a bit more involved, people are going to need to think on it. They’re going to need to talk to their wife/husband. They’re going to need to run some numbers. Let them. If you have done your research and know your product and market, you can be confident while you wait.

Tire kickers have friends… and talk to other people.

If you run a steak house and the tire kicker is vegetarian, you may not ever get this person as a customer. And that’s ok. That person has carnivore friends who want a big steak on Friday night… and guess where the tire kicker will send them if they had a good interaction with you? Paying customers don’t have to be your only brand ambassadors. I’ll take a paying customer whether they are from the $1000 monthly retainer client or a guy I went to high school with telling his brother to call me.

 

Ticker kickers are online too. 

I have a friend who designed her website tenish years ago. “I don’t want to get leads through my site.” she always tells me when we see each other. That’s fine but what I want to tell her (and everyone who thinks this way) even if you don’t want a gazillion dollar website with all the bells and whistles, your customer feels a lot more comfortable silently kicking tires online than doing it right in front of you. That’s why we take care to put a lot of helpful information on this website. So you can kick our tires until your heart is content without us creepily watching you. The virtual tire kickers can be easier to ignore, since we aren’t shaking their hand but instead seeing them recorded as a visit in Google Analytics. The good with the bad.

Running an online business has shielded me from the tire kickers (since they just lurk on my site). A physical business has made me know them by name.

Anchorspace has given me more anxiety about tire kickers but also it has been more rewarding. I have had things pointed out to me by the slightly skeptical I would have NEVER noticed, and I am thankful for it. I do hope people keep pointing things out and asking questions, even if they aren’t buying because tire kicker feedback is going to make me better.

Here’s to the tire kickers. The mullers. The ‘I’ll be in touch’ smiles. The lookie-loos. Here’s to the individuals I hadn’t gotten to meet in real life until owning a business with a physical location. After some thought, revenue, Mom wisdom, and a glass of wine, I’m here to say I’m sorry I panicked over you. I’m grateful you’re here. Keep kicking, my tires and I are ready.

*I sometimes get in trouble for using words that other people seem to think have a negative connotation. Urban Dictionary tells me ‘tire kicker’ is much more negative a word than I mean for example. For tire kicker, I mean someone who needs to really understand something before the purchase, who needs to ask questions, test things out, waits before buying and may never buy, etc. Here’s hoping this covers my bases from hate mail but if you have a better term for what I am trying to say, please comment below!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Tech Thursday: The Art of the After-Party (How to Follow Up Post-Event)

As a business or individual, you may find yourself throwing an event. A lot of energy gets put into the preparation and actually hosting the event, so by the time it’s over, most of us don’t want to do anymore work. But, to take your event from “good” to “great,” consider some of these ideas for following up with attendees after the “party.” Start with a “Thank You,” maybe a survey for feedback, and see where it goes from there!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Why You Only Need 300 Fans

Thumbs up or like symbol in coffee froth

I’ve been working with small businesses for over six years now, from the ‘ we haven’t even opened yet’ stage to running for multiple generations. And I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern.

Once we reach about the 300 fan mark on some social media platform (usually Facebook), they seem to do much better. Payments are more likely to come in on time, they are more open to us experimenting with their marketing, they are just generally more confident, likely because they are seeing traction, financially and otherwise.

There is a part of all of us that probably wants to be famous. We want to be sitting on the Today Show stage or on the front page of the New York Times, saying our equivalent of ‘golly gee, we started in our basement/garage/spare bedroom and look at us now!’

But we don’t need millions of customers and we don’t even need thousands to survive or even thrive. We just need a few hundred. Here’s why.

You’ll have customers at different levels.

In our business we have a mix of people we deal with:

Many are once or twice a year customers: they aren’t giving us lots of money but they also don’t need very much from us either.

We have some that are our power users. We are on retainer, make thousands a year from them, and are in regular contact.

Then there are people in between.

Whether you provide services like us or sell products, I bet you have customers at base, mid, and high levels of offerings.

People who move between levels, and  new customers come in as well to balance those who to elsewhere, go out of business, etc. (If you don’t have multiple levels of products, you may want to rethink that!)

Your business can’t survive on one client (well, it can but then you are kind of their employee then, aren’t you?). But you also don’t also need to kill yourself trying to serve thousands of people either since you are meeting different customers’ needs differently.

You’ll have repeat customers if you know what you’re doing.

The hardest sale is the first sale. Once people are used to working with you, however, that second (or third or twentieth) sale is not only easier but more fun.

If you have a good product with good service, you’ll have repeat customers in some capacity, whether they always stay in your hotel when they come to town or buy cheese from your shop every year for their holiday party.

Your customers have friends and family.

There will be people in your business life who inexplicably love you. There are people I have met in my travels and I have no idea why they like me so much… but they do. And they tell other people.

Every time a loyal customer sends someone your way who buys, that’s another sale you didn’t have to bust your hump for. In the biz, people call these ‘brand mavens’ (and there is a few other words for them) but they are your vocal minority spreading the love. And if you have just a few of these in the mix, they do wonders.

Between these three principles, it seems like most people need to stop worrying about getting millions to like them and work on getting 300 people to love them.

Because 300 people, and the fact that their your people, makes a big difference. And it’s not just me who’s noticed:

(Fun Fact: Kassie watches this before running marathons. I had to ask her what the movie was about.)

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Subscription Services: Why You, Why Now

subscriptionboxfeatureYou may have noticed an uptick in ‘subscription boxes’ the last couple years. My sister mentioned having a few beauty items to give me from her boxes (a gift subscription from her husband) while many health podcasts I listen to are constantly advertising for Naturebox, a hand-picked snack service. And you may wonder what’s going on.

Birchbox started the subscription box retail trend in 2010. Specializing in beauty, grooming and lifestyle products, subscribers pay a fee per month to receive goodies like skin rejuvenators, fragrances and makeup. Now Birchbox has 800,000 active global subscribers, translating to $96 million in annual sales.

The market has opened up wide for subscriptions, everything from clothing (Gwynniebee) to meals you can cook at home (Blue Apron).

Subscription boxes are curation.

Most subscription services have you fill out some kind of intake form when you first start. For example, with Naturebox, you can browse snacks by nutritional needs (12+ grams of protein per serving, gluten free) and/or by preference (non GMO, salty snack). You might pick some initial things you may like and the service might send you things based on your feedback over time (you liked this, you didn’t like that). In all cases, it involves interacting with the website, which tracks what you’ve had, what you’ve liked, and what you’d like in the future.

Subscription boxes surprise and delight. 

You know that feeling when someone recommends you a great book and then you read it and think ‘Yes, that WAS great’?

It’s hard to make that happen on a regular basis (unless you have friends who are constantly interesting like I have). 🙂 But in the case of these services, you get tipped off to something new and off your radar that you love. Seth Godin talks a lot about surprise and delighting people being effective marketing and this is probably what keeps people not only subscribed to subscription services but looking for more. (That’s a link to Canadian Subscription Box Addict, though there seem to be plenty of blogs in this vein!)

Subscription boxes are something to look forward to in the mail. 

Like most adults, mail I get typically involves bills or people asking me for money. Whenever I see either 1) a box or 2) a handwritten envelope, my heart quickens with happy anticipation.

Having a subscription box service is like having your mom send you care packages again, you know, without annoying her to do it. As adults, there is something exciting about getting fun mail, and having no idea what’s in it. And since the subscriptions come at regular intervals, we know the exact date we can look forward to.

So what does this have to do with your business/non-profit? More than you think. Let’s do two very fake case studies taking what we’ve learned about the success of these services and apply them to a non-profit and for-profit situation.

Animal Shelter (No, I’m not saying you send pets in the mail!)
How about having a subscription service people can buy for a dog in your shelter, maybe $20-$30/month. Maybe some of that money would be used to buy the dog a new toy every month and the person’s monthly gift would be a card with a picture of the dog and the toy together. This does two things 1) create a regular income stream for the shelter and 2) a regular base of engaged people who support the shelter and are receiving regular updates from it. So while everyone else is begging for money in a form letter, you are doing something different and treating the dogs under your care with something special at the same time!

Convenience Store (inspired by this amazing video for local Gott’s Convenience store)
I know many of you don’t live in my area but the convenience store (ie where you get EVERYTHING) is legendary (watched the linked video above and see what you mean). But what are you to do if you’re a convenience store with far flung fans? Why not send them subscription boxes? I would pay $20/month if I knew Ouellette’s Variety (no relation to me that I know of) in Caribou would send me their pull apart bread and the best chocolate peanut butter rice krispie squares ever on a regular basis. They could even throw some fudge and a random movie in there and it would be amazing!

Is it worth the hassle? Only you know your profit margins and the price point that makes the hassle of interacting with customers about what they like and putting something in a box on a regular basis worth it to you… but you can totally take this trend and make it work for you:

  • Seed with some items you aren’t restocking but would delight your customer
  • Make available perennial favorites you regularly make money on to far flung but loyal customers
  • Beta test new products you are thinking of carrying
  • Keep track of customer preferences/likes on your website (for their benefit and yours)
  • Send regular emails with helpful (and exclusive) tips, information, and events
  • Let your customers find items they want and spread the cost (and joy of getting them) throughout the course of the year
  • If the idea of doing this for tons of people makes you want to cry, make it an exclusive program for your best customers and limit the signups.

At Breaking Even, we’ve subscribed to Naturebox (I know, the things we do for market research!) and are planning on offering something fun like this for our most enthusiastic and loyal customers… and hope this blog post has inspired you to think in a similar way of this successful and widespread retail trend.

 

 

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.