Business Ideas

Refreshing...

Refreshing...

Today, according to predictions, we will hit 112 degrees in Mesa, Arizona. The AC units are running, the kids are out of school, and the streets look like a ghost town. "Winter" is officially here. (you know that time when everyone stays indoors because of inclement weather?)

At this time of year the word "refreshing" is particularly meaningful. Whether it is a tall cool glass of lemonade or dip in a cool pool. Both bring relief from the ongoing stress of the heat.

It occurred to me recently that some people are "refreshing" as well. Just like the lemonade, they bring relief from the ongoing stress of making a business work.

These are people that just "get it". You know the ones? They seem to know what you know and you find yourself talking excitedly together and sharing ideas and experiences and just enjoying the conversation.

That's what happened when I met Adam Toren. We got together to discuss Promoterz, our online service that helps businesses give a megaphone to their happy customers, become aware of unhappy customers, and increase the happiness of all customers. As we talked it was as if we were partners working out how to help other businesses succeed. Turns out that is what Adam does.

Adam and his brother Matthew are serial entrepreneurs. Among the impressive list of their ventures is a website, YoungEntrepreneur.com. They initially created this site to help youth become entrepreneurs but over the years it has become more to mean those that are young or new at being an entrepreneur.

The site has tens of thousands of members actively participating in its forums (http://www.youngentrepreneur.com). They also have a "refreshing" blog (http://www.youngentrepreneur.com/blog) as well.

If you are a business owner sometimes what you need, besides more hours in every day, is just to be "refreshed" as you read of others shared experiences. Others who "get it". I guess it is a sort of therapy.

I enjoyed their "10 Mistakes People Make When Starting A Business" and an interview with an Ebay founder on persuing your passion. As you read you find yourself saying, yep, I remember how I learned that. But you also get reminded of things you might want to revisit and you feel more committed to succeeding.

In the end, just as you are refreshed and ready to go as you finish the last of the deliciously tart and cold lemonade, you will have some good ideas and the courage to succeed in this thing we call business.

You work hard to make sure your customers are happy. Don't waste happy customers. How easy is it for your customers to share with their friends? Learn more

The Cannonball Business Plan

The Cannonball Business Plan

Remember that old Burt Reynold’s movie Cannonball Run? It was probably just my age but at the time I thought it was pretty cool--an illegal race across the country in some very nice cars. It turns out the Cannonball Run is not just fictional. Wired Magazine recently ran a story about a guy named Alex Roy whose passion has been to break the 32 hour and 7 minute record for a coast to coast drive.

This is of course completely illegal and let me clearly state that I am not encouraging participation in this kind of activity—though it sounds kinda fun. Having said that, I think we can learn something from their experience.

Their challenge was not unlike that of every small business owner—they needed to accomplish something complex with limited resources (Their limited resource was time. Most of us are limited by funds which of course limit our time). The "Driveplan" they created impressed me. On it they listed every key milestone, targeted time of arrival, potential hazards, weather forecasts etc. Because they had this plan and knew where they were supposed to be every moment, they could immediately tell if they were in trouble and if they needed to make adjustments—including backing out.

Now compare that to your business plan. When was the last time you took it out and checked where you are against it? If you are anything like me, your business plan was something you forced yourself to put together to raise funds. Once that task was done the document went in the drawer to gather dust. Maybe that is due to the way we write the things—all that useless wordiness (kind of like this post). What if we created business plans that looked more like Alex Roy’s driveplan? Imagine clear milestones, expected results, time required, potential hazards each step of the way. Seems like if we created something like that we'd be much more likely to use it and reach our destination.

The Customer/Employee is always right

The Customer/Employee is always right

A recent BusinessWeek article describes India's HCL Technologies unique management ratings program. In essence, each manager is ranked in several areas by those that report to them. Lot's of companies do these "360" types of reviews, but what is different about HCL is that they publish the results on their intranet for the employees to see.

CEO Vineet Nayar was rated 3.6 out of 5 for how well he keeps projects running on schedule by 81 managers that rated him, and everybody at HCL knows it.

According to Nayar "In our day and age, it's the employee who sucks up to the boss. We are trying, as much as possible, to get the manager to suck up to the employee."

In addition they have an online complaint system where anyone can voice concern over a particular issue ranging from the air conditioning to bonuses. Each of these concerns becomes a "ticket". What is unique is that these tickets can be "cleared" only by the employees, not management.

Imagine applying that to your small business. Your company is the "manager" and your customers are the "employees". What if companies posted online for all customers to see how they are ranked. What if noted problems remained listed until the company deals with them and the customer removes them.

Employee retention rates have increased at HCL. How would you like to have your customer retention rates increased? Have you asked your customers to rate you and your business? They are the only ones that know how they feel about your business.

Reicheld discovered the customer question that seems to track with the future growth of a business "Would you recommend us to your friends and colleagues?" Our service, Promoterz, helps you ask them that question with the addition of "Please provide specific comments to help us understand the rating you have assigned". You will know how your customers feel and have actionable data you can use to improve.

Perhaps small businesses should include Nayar's words in their business plan "We will try, as much as possible, to get the company to suck up to the customer!"

When you pass out a Promoterz bounce back card you automatically build an accurate customer list, increase repeat sales, increase referrals and prevent lost business. Pretty powerful little card. Learn more

Will Your Customers Carry a Cello?

Will Your Customers Carry a Cello?

I read recently about a musician--a cello player to be exact--that moved to New York City. She didn't know anyone in the city and was looking for opportunities to play her cello. Her solution? She carried her cello around the streets of New York with her wherever she went--whether she needed it or not. It didn't take long before other musicians introduced themselves and she was given opportunities to play.

That got me to thinking, what could I carry around to let people know what I do? Even more powerful, what would my promoting customers be willing to carry around to let others know how they feel about my business?

Get customer feedback, generate referrals, and increase repeat sales for as little as $150 a month. Learn more

The Power of Staying in Touch

The Power of Staying in Touch

In the cluttered marketplace we compete in, I don't think the power (and necessity) of staying in touch can be overemphasized. I learned the lesson again last week--thankfully in a good way. It had been a while since I had heard from one of our clients at PromoterZ and so I sent him an email and invited him to go to lunch. We had a nice chat, I asked for feedback on our service and he had a few suggestions (I'm happy to note that we followed through on them). I ran a new idea we're working on past him. He liked the idea and agreed to let us test it with his customers. Then he mentioned that their franchising operation is taking off (looking for a good franchise opportunity? Check out Entrees Made Easy) and there might be an opportunity for me to tell some of their new franchisees about PromoterZ. Turns out the timing was perfect, and I'm scheduled to present to some of their new franchisees next week on how to turn customers into promoters.

So what did I get for my $30? Our product, PromoterZ, is now better thanks to his feedback, we have a place to test our new concept (more on that in future posts), and I have the opportunity to tell new franchise owners how much PromoterZ has helped Entrees Made Easy. Where else could I have got that kind of return on my money? Thanks Brandon!

They say it costs 5 to 10 times more to sell to new customers than it does to sell more to current customers, and yet what percent of our effort is spent looking for new customers vs. pleasing and staying in touch with our current customers? I was able to take Brandon to lunch, but that is not always geographically possible. A phone call works great. It can be as simple as, "how are things going?" Use technology where you can. Without exception, each time we send out our newsletter we get one or two phone calls from customers--they had been meaning to call but never got around to it until the newsletter arrived in their inbox. Here are a few other ideas:

• Send 1st timer customers a special thank you
• Send birthday greetings
• Send a newsletter
• Send Holiday greetings (Did you know today is Chocolate Eclair Day?)
• Send thank you notes

Finding new customers is tough and expensive. Once you've got a customer, hold on to them by staying in touch. I can guarantee you if you don't, somebody else will.

The growth of your business will be determined by what your customers say about it. Do you know what they are saying? Learn more
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Seeds from the blogworld
We search the business blog world looking for posts that illustrate principles, or "Seeds", that if followed, or "planted", will help small businesses grow. We list them here for your convenience. Enjoy.

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