Archives for June 2010

How will your customers find you?

It struck me the other day while I was waiting for a hair cut that there are different ways of attracting customers. Some businesses are totally passive in their marketing, some can get away with only a little marketing, and there are those who will not be noticed without taking the trouble to market in the ways that suit them.

A men’s hairdresser (barber if you prefer) on a main street may come into the first category. They open a shop, potential customers notice it and decide to give it a try. If they have a good experience they will come again and will recommend the place to their friends. Following on from having a business in the right place for its type in geographical terms, a good service will bring its rewards. A convenience store in a good location has the same attributes, but in a popular location this sort of passive marketing has its cost in the rents or cost of the premises.

Then there is the sort of business that needs recommendations, but also needs a fairly central location, though not necessarily in a prime position to catch passing trade. A firm of solicitors (lawyers) or indeed a useful hardware store might be in this category. They need to advertise, could do with some networking to build a reputation, and have to provide great customer service to get great recommendations and word of mouth referrals. No one just drops in to a firm of lawyers on the off-chance. People go because of a name they have heard through advertising, or on recommendation.

Then there is the third type of business. It does not have the main street location. It may be out-of-the-way. It relies on the ability of the owners and employees to provide a great product or service. It might be a country restaurant, it might be a firm of accountants and it might be a country farm shop selling local produce. Then, there will have to be very active marketing to get known, a concerted campaign, publicity, networking with many other businesses, a good website and so on. Again, great customer service is essential to build reputation and gain word of mouth referrals, but a business like this needs to get customers in the first place.

All this seems obvious, but many new businesses do not understand which category they are in. Across the road from the men’s hairdresser is a new gift shop in place of a jewellers which went out of business. On the same side of the road as the hairdresser was another gift shop which also went out of business. Are the new gift shop owners marketing as they should, getting out of their premises to meet people to tell them about the business and helping others along the way?

The trouble is that what might be a prime location for a hairdressers with ready-made business and trades people passing is not a prime location for a gift shop, which is less likely to benefit than the hairdresser. A gift shop needs to differentiate itself from the rest, perhaps rely on the personality and personal touches of the owners. If people don’t know about it the business will fail. Are they treating their marketing seriously?

It worries me and when I have a minute I will visit the gift shop to see if I can help.

Do you agree with my perspective? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post:

Why we need to have the right business in the right place

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Answer the telephone!

Why don’t businesses realise it is so important to answer the telephone or at least have someone answer it for them? This was brought to mind the other night when we tried to place an order for a meal to be delivered. The telephone rang and rang.

It is human nature if you call to enquire about a product or service from someone you have not tried before to hang up rather than talk to a machine. It doesn’t matter if the voice mail message says “your business is really important to us”. If anything it makes it worse because either it seems insulting, implying “but not so important we can take your call”. Unless you have had a really strong recommendation, you are going to move on to enquire of the next business on your list or in the local directory.

If a business is that busy or so small that the person who could take the call is engaged on a vital task, why not engage an answering service? They are relatively inexpensive especially when one considers the extra business that can be won.

That way any enquirer can leave a message with a human being. He or she then will be most likely to wait to be called back rather than go on to the next one on the list. It also helps the business owner in concentrating on a task without interruptions in the knowledge that all messages will be written down or emailed ready to be followed up.

In short, if we answer the telephone we maximize the business that comes to us that way. If we leave our prospects to a recording they will probably give up on us as we did the restaurant who didn’t pick up.

© Jon Stow 2010

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Ten Reasons I Won’t Follow Back On Twitter

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We all have our prejudices, and I guess mine are reflected in my approach to social media and indeed networking on and off-line. Here are some turn-offs as regards Twitter users – I won’t say the Twitterati, because I reserve that expression for those who seem to me to know what they are doing. At least I am for the purpose of this post. Others may disagree, but I won’t follow people:

  1. Who only sell.. “Have you seen our new luxury greenhouse?” “Look at our summer offers on greenhouses.” “25% off small greenhouses.” “Look at our greenhouse website”
  2. Who tweet about the minutiae of their day with nothing else. A bit of “time for elevenses” mixed in with some good content makes for a rounded reputation or profile.
  3. Who use bad language. If you are talking the odd swear word might slip out, but if you actually have to type it?
  4. Who just post recycled quotations from various well-known people, alive or dead. Do they have no original thought of their own?
  5. Who never take part in the Twitter conversation, the broadcasters.
  6. Who criticize other people in their network.
  7. Who do not re-tweet good comments and interesting links.
  8. Who are professional internet marketers with tens of thousands of followers gathered by some auto-follow site.
  9. Who tweet links to get-rich-quick websites you have difficulty navigating out of.
  10. Who just auto-feed links to websites they have nothing to do with in the hope they will raise their own profile on the search engines.

It follows from all this that I enjoy good conversation with my Twitter friends and like to be referred to good and useful content. It’s all good fun, or it should be, and done well it is a great way to grow our networks, and as far as many of us are concerned, grow our businesses.

What winds you up, and what makes you want to follow someone?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Do you know where they are?

If you are a regular visitor to On our bikes you will know that I believe in management with a light touch. In other words, I hope that employees will work hard out of a sense of loyalty and because there is mutual respect between them and their managers and they wish to please and feel valued as part of the team. That involves two-way conversations so that good ideas are put into practice whether they come from the owners and managers, or from the rest of the workforce.

However, human nature being what it is, sometimes people who work for us get distracted. They may have personal or domestic problems. These are often easy to spot when we see out employees on a daily basis but for some businesses whose workers are out in the field and working partly or wholly on their own there may be problems that are not so easily spotted.

Many businesses have sales representatives on the road or area managers who spend a lot of their time travelling between customers. Some agencies supply workers out in the field as required. Trust is all very well, but often if something does go wrong, the first time the business owners or senior managers hear about a problem is when the customer takes their business elsewhere.

Of course a sales representative’s figures may show that he or she is not visiting customers and prospects when supposed to, but by the time the numbers filter through the business may be lost. It is the same with area managers looking after customer’s needs. If they don’t do their job, the business may be lost.

There are two ways of making sure that the workers in the field are doing their jobs and turning up, and neither is intrusive or heavy-handed.

The first is to ask every “out-worker” to call in when they set off for their first call. Of course, there could be a degree of deception, but actually lying is hard for most. That way, especially if a customer is expecting the visit, we can be sure that they will not be disappointed.

The second way is for every customer to be called at least monthly to ensure that they are happy with the service, and to ask if there is any way it could be better. If the out-worker knows that this will happen from the main base, that will be an incentive to get things right, but should not make them feel uncomfortable, especially as the customer service function of any business should be the number one priority.

A recent example of a failure in service I have seen is where a care agency supposed to ensure four visits a day to an elderly infirm person failed to send anyone to get her out of bed. She would have been there until the lunch time carer arrived had not the family arrived to find her in bed and without having had breakfast. The excuse of the agency was that the first carer had gone off sick and had not telephoned in. Surely a properly run agency should have every worker call in at 7 AM or whenever they are booked to start and if they do not call in they should be telephoned? If they cannot be contacted, then there should be a relief person to go to the first client as soon as possible. It should be a pretty obvious procedure for a care agency.

In the care agency case, it is not just a question of their losing the business. It is essential for safety reasons that their workers are there at the appointed times for their clients and that they should have proper procedures in place to ensure that this happens.

So, do you know where all your workers are? They shouldn’t mind your asking. How do you deal with this and what is your experience?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related posts

Why we should give ownership of their jobs to our employees

Why quality is important

How the other half lives

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Online reputations again

Imagine you have spent a long time building your on-line reputation. You have spent years talking to people, befriending them, helping them and building trust. Your network has become a source of advocacy for your character and your business. You are held in the highest esteem.

Then one day, in respect of a relatively trivial matter you lose your temper, you rant, you criticize people and institutions that others in your network greatly respect. In doing so, you cause people in your network to see you in a different light, as an unbalanced, prejudiced crazy person lacking in judgment and sensibility.

Such a thing is inconceivable, an anathema, isn’t it? Yet only yesterday I saw that someone in one of the well-known on-line networks, a member of many of its business groups, had flown into a rage in a discussion on one of the hobby forums. He lambasted his Government’s leaders and its institutions and saw Government complicity and conspiracy in many of the tragedies that had befallen his country. He seemed completely paranoid and unbalanced, so much so that another member of the forum posted that he would never do business with him and would never enter into a discussion with him on any topic. I felt the same way myself as no doubt did many others.

Our reputations are precious things and they can take a long time to build on-line. They are so easily destroyed by careless words. I am not saying we shouldn’t be ourselves on-line. We should not appear false, and we should all endeavor to give what we can. If we do have any unsubstantiated prejudices, though, we really should keep them to ourselves out of respect for our friends, and because we could destroy years of work and ruin our reputations for ever.

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post:

On-line reputations and why we should avoid politics

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Letting clients go

Quite a few years ago I worked for a very large firm of accountants. One of the less pleasurable aspects was in dealing with difficult clients. There were clients who paid their bills late of course, there were clients who didn’t take advice, clients who let their affairs get into a mess, and, worst of all, clients who were downright rude.

In a large firm of accountants, each client is allocated to a partner or director. Some of these clients will have been won by the partner etc. and some will have been inherited. Either way, beyond the annual Christmas card, the contact between our bosses and their clients was generally fairly minimal. It was the staff who had to take all the flak, the bad behaviour and the rudeness.

I believe there comes a point with some clients when one really has to review whether they are worth having both in terms of fee recovery and the stress of having to watch the clients’ backs with frankly no gratitude or any form of appreciation, as the clients go their own sweet way. This is true of large firms such as my own former employer, though of course the partner may not protect the staff or even the firm when there is a theoretical loss of revenue no matter how difficult or unpleasant the client.

With smaller businesses though, it is really within our control. If we have had enough of the client in terms of stress, because all the other sorts of bad behaviour cause stress, it is best to tell the client to find someone else.

Dropping the Pilot by Sir John Tenniel, from Punch, March 1890, showing Chancellor Bismarck leaving the German ship of state, watched by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

At certain times we need to be strong and insist the client finds another adviser. There are often protestations and we may be told “things will change”, but sometimes enough is enough. Be polite as possible but get the message over. Let the client sail on into the sunset on his or her own. With less to worry about we can concentrate better on our marketing to find new, better and more appreciative clients.

© Jon Stow 2010

Being in business is not a game

I hope you enjoy running your business. I know I enjoy running mine. Business should be fun and give pleasure and a sense of achievement, as well, of course, as making money.

It might come as a surprise to some of you that there are people who just play at business. They enjoy what they do and may have a special talent. However, somehow they are easily diverted and want to do too much. They may want to dabble in some other activity which means they do not have the time to devote to their main business, which is of course their main source of income. They may decide to go on an extended holiday or take a sabbatical. Now that is OK if they have other good people to “look after the shop” while they are away, but often a small service business is about the person, and clients buy the business owner as much as the service they provide.

Customers or clients of a business like that need to feel special, to talk to the owner. Indeed the owner should keep in touch, check how they are if they have been quiet and generally give them a feeling of security. If the business owner is not always available or even goes away for a couple of months or half a year, the customers or clients will find someone else. What’s more, they won’t come running back when the owner returns.

So if you have a business which is all about you, your personality and your talents, you need to take care of your business and be there when needed. That applies whether you offer commercial photography, graphic design, Swedish massage or hairdressing. Look after your clients and give them continuity, because if you don’t they will feel neglected. You will lose their trust and probably won’t get them back again.

We are all entitled to have fun, but business is not a game; it is deadly serious.

(C) Jon Stow 2010

Do not rubbish the competition

I don’t know about you, but one of the most annoying aspects of advertising on the TV and radio is when large companies disparage their opponent’s products, or say that so many of their products cost less than those sold by their competitors. I always think those are cheap shots in more ways than one. I always think it best to promote the positive, the quality of service that they offer rather than criticize the opposition.

When someone talks to me about another business in my area, and I happen to know about the business and the owner, I would never say anything derogatory, criticize their approach to their clients or comment on their marketing. It doesn’t matter whether I am talking to an existing client of mine, a prospect, or someone I have met when networking. Being respectful of other businesses in important. I might even recommend one if their service would be more suitable than mine for the client.

I do not really think I have competitors anyway. I have colleagues and indeed in my business as a tax practitioner it is often useful to talk thorny client problems over with a sympathetic ear and get another perspective.

My approach to marketing is always to emphasis the quality of my service, and avoid any criticism of another firm. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Benefit from being the best

It is a great philosophy in business to strive to the be the best in our field, to go that bit further in what we do, and provide the best quality. That way we can stand out in drawing new business because our clients will, we hope, recommend us.

However, our clients can get used to our great service, and even though they remain very happy with what we do, they become complacent. They start to take us for granted in the way that they would do their shopping at Waitrose, or buy from a specialist baker or delicatessen. They expect top quality and get it, but forget that not every shop provides the same great service.

I think it does no harm to remind our clients and customers what a great service they get, and ask them to tell their friends. If we take a great pride in our service, we should be comfortable in asking for referrals and testimonials from our own patrons.

Do you ask for referrals? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010