Business Technology

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.

Promoterz is the hands-free, word-of-mouth marketing service that takes care of the details so you can focus on business. Learn more

Get Your Business Found on the Web

Get Your Business Found on the Web

Our company creates it’s own products, like PromoterZ, and we also do custom web development. I recently completed a site for an Arizona real estate company, The O'Keefe Group, that sells remarkable homes in the Scottsdale area, most of which are in the luxury golf communities of Desert Mountain, Estancia, Mirabel, and others. They need a site that provides credibility to their expertise, portrays the properties/product that they list in a good manner, and gets found in search engines. A fairly common need for many businesses.

There are many factors in web design and development that affect these issues and some of them are conflicting. One of the big conflicts is between beauty and word content. Have you seen CraigsList? Lots of words, no beauty. If you want to be found in the search engines here are three simple things to keep in mind:

  1. Have relevant content. There is no substitute for this. If you want a search for real estate in a particular area to list your site among the most relevant, your content better state it—in words. In this case pictures are not worth a thousand words, in fact they can be worth nothing. The more relevant content you have the better.
  2. Use URL/addresses the engines can get to. You need to make sure that all of your pages can be found by the search engines. You do this with a site map or other linking techniques. Poorly formed dynamic urls like http://yoursite.com/?q=bad77399ykkkahjhdyyy7&poo=oops77778888884444333/more-stuff-here/umptysquat=777777 (you get the idea) are hard for the search engines to eat and many don't get indexed and stored by the engines so the content on those pages are unknown by them. There are exceptions, but solutions that offer better formed urls are the way to go.
  3. Get links from related sites to your site. This one takes some time to perform. You want to get links from related sites back to your site. Again, more is better. If 10 is good, 100 is better, and 1,000 is better yet. How many do you need?, more than your competitor. You can get these by asking webmasters and site owners, writing articles and posting them to ezines, etc. Some will occur naturally, particularly if your're creating content regularly with a blog, provide RSS or other sydication means, and develop a following with it.

There are a lot of tools out there to help you create a great site. If you have a lot riding on your site you probably want to use a competent web developer to create your web presence and get your site in front of people. The web can be a powerful tool for your business.

If you are a real estate agent check this out at the Real Estate Tomato.

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

Real Small Business, Real Word-of-Mouth, Real Improvement.

Real Small Business, Real Word-of-Mouth, Real Improvement.

I don’t mean to bite the hand that feeds me, but I’ve noticed that we of the small business/entrepreneur blogging world talk a lot about word-of-mouth and other great business principles, but rarely do we write about actual experiences from small businesses applying the stuff. My goal is to change that with some real case studies of real businesses applying great business principles and enjoying the benefits. Here is my first attempt.

Chuck & Joan Matheny own two Sport Clips locations in greater Phoenix. Sport Clips is a hair cut place that caters to guys. Every stylist chair has a TV tuned to sports, all the décor is sports related, and they have an “MVP” service that includes a hot towel and a neck massage. Their motto is “Guys win.” If you’ve never been comfortable in the fru-fru world of hair salons, this is the place for you.

Anyway, last September Chuck was looking for a way to improve the performance of one of his locations. It had a great staff and a good location but wasn't performing like he hoped it would. Rather than pay for traditional advertising, Chuck decided to focus on encouraging his existing clients to spread the word. Four months later, without spending a dime on advertising, Chuck’s weekly sales were up well over 20% and have continued to grow.

From the client's perspective, Chuck's program starts with a simple invitation received at the conclusion of their service. The invitation is the size of a business card. It includes the stylist's name and offers a free service upgrade in return for visiting a web site to provide feedback. "Our feedback survey is extremely short," says Chuck. "It literally takes our clients less than sixty seconds to complete. Our goal is not to get feedback on every little thing, but to learn if the client is happy with the service and start an ongoing dialogue."

The ongoing dialogue is initiated with the last question of the survey that asks if the client would like to receive additional information and specials from Sport Clips. Nearly 90 percent of those that provide feedback choose to receive additional information. That’s a pretty good “opt-in” rate. Once customers opt-in, Chuck uses technology to stay in touch with them. First-time customers automatically receive reminders via email, including a discount coupon, every three weeks to encourage loyalty. Every customer that signs up receives a birthday greeting from Chuck including a discount on their next hair cut and Chuck regularly sends out email specials associated with holidays or other events.

The Sport Clips client experience is remarkable and worth talking about in and of itself, but Chuck also takes extra steps to encourage his clients to tell others about their experience. Each time a client completes a survey or receives an email from Chuck they are given the opportunity to forward online discount coupons to their friends along with a personal message. Thirty percent of the clients that join Chuck’s program take advantage of the opportunity and send an invitation to their friends.

Chuck's efforts have paid off in many ways. His stylists love the customer feedback and take greater pride in their work. He knows who his most loyal customers are and can contact them without paying for advertising. And, most importantly, his customers are actively telling their friends to try Sport Clips. All of which have lead to healthy growth.

Time, effort, and money required? The invitation cards that Chuck’s stylists hand out are business cards ordered from Vistaprint. They run about 4 cents a piece--four color both sides. Chuck uses PromoterZ for his online survey, opt-in list management, outgoing email and online referral generation needs. Cost: $50 a month. In terms of time required, Chuck spends a few minutes each day responding to customer feedback. Once a week he shares feedback with his managers as part of his manager meeting. He also spends some time each month deciding on a special offer to send out to his loyal customers. This month? Fathers and Sons that come in together get a Free MVP upgrade for Dad and a half price haircut for son.

The growth of your business will be determined by what your customers say about it. Do you know what they are saying? Learn more

A Better Mousetrap?

A Better Mousetrap?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a couple of entrepreneurs that apparently came up with a better mousetrap--make that pen. For how many hundreds of years have we as human kind been using writing utensils that are straight like a stick? Been a few at least and before that the quill. Then in 1987 Colin Roche, a high school student at the time, gets sent to detention and dreams up a new design for a pen to relieve his writer's cramp (any guesses as to what he was writing 500 times?).

The first prototype was built in his dad's garage (see picture-first prototype on far left) and the company, called PenAgain, did nearly $2 million in sales last year. Now, according to the article, they've been given a shot at the big time--thirty days to prove it will sell in Wal-Mart. If 85% of the 48,000 pens ordered by Wal-Mart and placed in 500 test stores sell during the first thirty days, they are in. If not, they may stay on in some of the trial stores or be completely dropped.

Getting into Wal-Mart is a big deal. They have 138 million customers every week! Competition to get a product into that channel is stiff. According to the chain they see about 10,000 new suppliers every year. Of those only about 2% make it to the trial run stage and that is just the beginning. Suppliers to Wal-Mart have to adhere to strict packaging and shipping requirements, monitor the sales of the product in each store, and drive customers into Wal-Mart to buy the product.

So what is PenAgain planning to do to drive customers into Wal-Mart to buy their pen? Unable to afford print or TV ads they plan to do viral marketing. Over the past several years they have collected an email list of 10,000 customers who regularly buy their pens. Mr. Roche describes them as "people who really want to know what the heck is going on with us."

I hope they succeed. Next time I'm in Wal-Mart I'll look for one of their end caps and drop $3.76 to see how it works both because I'm curious but also because I learned a few things from them:

  1. It is possible to improve everyday things that we take for granted. I'll never look at a pen again the same way. A good paradigm shift.
  2. Though it would be easy to summarize this story by saying, "A kid came up with a new kind of pen while in high school detention and now it is selling in Wal-Mart," the fact is a lot more than just a better mousetrap has gone into their success so far. The article doesn't say how many small retailers they work with, but $2 million in sales is a lot of pens and I'm betting a lot of retailers. That's a lot of selling to get to this point.
  3. It doesn't matter what kind of business you are in, building a database or list of customers that want to know "what the heck is going on" with your business is vitally important. The world may not beat a path to your door if you build a better mousetrap, but your loyal customers will if you have a way to let them know. I checked out PenAgain's website, you can join their mailing list right on their front page.
  4. Public relations efforts do work. PenAgain is doing something right as far as PR goes. I was impressed they were in the Wall Street Journal, then I took a look at their site. They've been in Newsweek, Wired, Entrepreneur, and San Jose Mercury News just to name a few. Whatever they are doing, it works and their odds of selling 48,000 in the next 30 days is going up.
Promoterz is the hands-free, word-of-mouth marketing service that takes care of the details so you can focus on business. Learn more

5 Steps to a Sales-Doubling Buzz Force!

5 Steps to a Sales-Doubling Buzz Force!

Interested in doubling your sales? That is exactly what Proctor & Gamble did with their Dawn Direct Foam dish detergent. How did they do it? With a word-of-mouth marketing program called Vocalpoint. According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, this is how it works:

Procter and Gamble looks for customers that match their target criteria, in this case moms and particularly those with large social networks. They find most of them by advertising online and through referrals. Participants are asked to talk to their friends about new products. In return, P&G promises a stream of new product samples, "a voice that is going to be heard," and specific messages to share. So far 600,000 moms are participating.

According to Steve Knox, the CEO of Vocalpoint, the most difficult challenge with word-of-mouth marketing is making it predictable. His solution: find a strong reason why a person would want to share product information with a friend. The article goes on to say--and this is very important--that the message given to the participants is always different from the one P&G uses in traditional media.

For example on the Dawn campaign, traditional ads stressed the grease-cutting power, But the message sent to the Vocalpoint mom's focused on how fun the foam was for kids to use--so fun they would be asking to help wash the dishes. They also received a sponge shaped like a foot and a dozen $1.50 coupons. The result: sales in the three test markets were double those in markets where Vocalpoint was not used.

Sound expensive and difficult to manage? I don't think it has to be. Here are five simple steps to get your Buzz Force going and your sales increasing:

  1. Make it worth their while. Proctor and Gamble offers two things: product samples/discounts and a sense of empowerment. Both make their participants feel like a VIP or an "insider." That is your goal. Price the coupons such that you will be happy to see your "buzz force" using them and remember the pay-off is not just your participant coming back in with the coupon but the friends they are talking to and the feedback they are giving you.
  2. Invite your customers. The need to invite is obvious, the method can vary. Proctor & Gamble places ads to attract those interested. That can be expensive. Why not just invite your customers as you complete your transaction with them? There are several ways to do it. You can start by asking for feedback and then follow that up with an invitation to stay in touch. Another option is to invite them to join a birthday or some other kind of club and then develop the relationship from there. Finally, is the direct approach. "Interested in joining our fan club? You get discounts and sneak previews you can pass along to your friends."
  3. Give them a message worth telling. Hopefully your business is so remarkable that your customers will be anxious to tell their friends about you, but don't leave it to chance. Remember Proctor and Gamble always gives their buzz agents a specific message that is easy to share with friends. Put yourselves in your customers' shoes--what would be an easy way for them to tell their friends about you? Maybe it is "privileged" information: "Did you hear Subway is coming out with a new sandwich?" Maybe it is a great deal. "Hey, next time you need a hair cut let me know, Sport Clips gives me great coupons." Or maybe it is something just plain remarkable, "I got two movie tickets today from my insurance guy!"
  4. Give them another message worth telling. This shouldn't be a one time campaign. Stay in touch regularly. Those who have "opted-in" want to hear from you. The more ideas you give them to talk to their friends, the more likely one will work for them and you'll start seeing their friends.
  5. Listen and Learn. Perhaps this one should have been first rather than last, because it is very important. Those who join your buzz force can become your best source of market intelligence. They know and like your product, they know how people react to your product, and they are willing to put some effort into your product. Ask them what they think and listen carefully. Look to their feedback for message ideas and ways to improve your offering. How do you think the Proctor and Gamble folks figured out kids like the foam? It didn't happen in a board room.

Still sound like a lot of work? There are tools that can be used to greatly streamline the time and effort required to manage a word-of-mouth marketing program (Caution: shameless plug approaching). PromoterZ is one such tool. In simple terms, it gives users a quick and inexpensive way to invite participants, gather feedback, send messages (including online coupons), and even includes an easy online way for the buzz force to pass the word to their friends. It handles the logistics so that you can focus on the message. Check it out at www.promoterz.com.

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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