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Oct 8, 2013

customers

Secrets of Small Business Success: Your Best Strategy for Attracting New Holiday Customers is Hiding in Plain Sight

Sure, the holiday rush is exciting and a great boost for business, but what’s your strategy to drive even more business and keep those customers coming back all year long? Donna Fenn spoke with two successful entrepreneurs on how they tackle the holiday season and keep customers coming back for more.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

@VisaSmallBiz

Your Best Strategy for Attracting New Holiday Customers is Hiding in Plain Sight

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Author and Expert

At this time of year, consumers are more willing than ever to pull out their wallets to begin to make progress with their gift lists.  That means all you need to do is sit back and watch your sales multiply, right? Wrong! Yes, your tried and true customers are probably thinking of you already, but what about new customers? They’re out there, but you may need to make a special effort to reach them.  Do it right and you’ll not only increase sales over the holidays, you’ll add a significant number of new loyal customers to your database.  Here’s what two smart entrepreneurs have planned:

Ada Polla, the CEO of Alchimie Forever, a family-run skin care business, has struggled with the dilemma that “skin care is not really a gift product.”  No one really wants to open a wrinkle cream or anti-cellulite gel on Christmas morning! Her solution: create a new product specifically for holiday giving. “We tweaked the formula of our hand and foot cream to make a dry skin balm that’s neutral in terms of skin type,” she says.  She priced the product at $25, packaged two of them in a pretty gift bag and will price the package at $41. “We learned that if we just put two products together in a gift package and sell them at retail, that isn’t enough,” she says. “There has to be value.”  Another lesson learned from previous years is to take the gift package off the website after December. “We used to leave them on for the whole year,” says Polla, “but we found that people were buying them for themselves at the discounted price, and I don’t want that. We want them purchased as gifts for new customers.” Plus, she says, the gift packages appear more special if they’re more scarce.

At Back to the Roots, an Oakland company that makes grow-your-own mushroom kits and aqua farms (you can grow herbs and baby greens on top of a beta fish tank!), co-founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez also came up with a product-related holiday strategy. Their mushroom kits are currently on sale for $20 at retailers such as Whole Foods, Home Depot, and Safeway, but for the holidays they plan to produce a “mini” mushroom kit that will retail for just $9.99.  “Buyers tell us that when the price tag of an item goes from $12 to $10, it often doubles or triples sales,” says Arora.  “Going from $20 to $10 opens up a whole different world and will be a huge opportunity to drive sales and maximize our exposure and sell-through.” And $10, he says, is “a perfect stocking-stuffer price.” The company will also tweak its packaging to add a holiday theme that will appeal to retailers and encourage them to display the products prominently.

Bottom line: whether you make a product or deliver a service, you don’t need to launch an entirely new offering to attract attention over the holidays. Your best strategy may be hiding in plain sight, in the form of an existing product or service that can be tweaked with a holiday spin.

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on October 8, 2013 at 8:02 am

Jul 16, 2013

Your Best Customers: Know Who They Are and What They Want

 

Last week, Donna interviewed founder and CEO of an award-winning company, Marketing Zen Group, Shama Kabani, on how small business owners should communicate with customers via social media. This week, Donna chatted with successful entrepreneurs on how they find and reward their best customers.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

All customers are not created equal. A handful of them are exponentially more valuable to your business than the rest. So it’s to your advantage to know who those customers are and to reward them accordingly. But it’s not as simple as just tallying up who spends how much and then writing a nice note, although that’s not a bad idea. You need to do some deep thinking about the definition of “best,” and the most effective reward for the customers on that love list. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to loyalty programs, but here are a few thoughts from successful entrepreneurs to get you started:

Reward frequency. Brian Adams, CEO of Rumber Materials in Muenster, TX, sells lumber products made from recycled rubber and plastic to some of the largest companies in the world. But he values frequency far more than volume. “We’re constantly in touch with our top ten customers,” he says. He sends them pecan pies from Goode Company in boxes with Rumber’s logo. But even more important than a sweet surprise, he visits them annually. “We go to their offices, sit down and listen to them, take them out to lunch or dinner and a ball game,” he says. Last year, he made twenty visits, many of them to small manufacturers. “For every dollar I spend, I get back ten in additional business,” he says.

Measure Satisfaction. For Brian Scudamore, the CEO of three Vancouver-based companies, 1-800-GOT-JUNK, WOW 1 DAY! Painting, and You Move Me, the best customer is one who will recommend his business to others. “With all of our brands, the most important question we can ask is ‘would you refer us to friends?’” he says. So every customer is contacted within three days asking, on a scale of one to 10, how willing he or she is to recommend the company. People who answer 9 or 10 are “promoters” and frequently receive discount cards. 

Offer a Loyalty Card.  Armadillo Willy’s, a chain of eight barbeque restaurants in Northern California, offers customers a loyalty card with a non-traditional spin. The company partners with FiveStars, a platform that ties a restaurant’s loyalty card into its POS system and enables it to track spending and reward customers accordingly. “Customers get rewarded according to how much they spend,” says Armadillo Willy’s CEO Bob Deagen.  “They can then redeem points for free food.” The platform also offers social media tools and allows the restaurant to segment customer data in order to target VIP customers via email campaigns. Armadillo Willy’s loyalty program members have spent more than $850K since the program began a year ago. That’s the kind of data you won’t get with a punch card.

Do you have a successful loyalty program at your company? Tell us about it.

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on July 16, 2013 at 9:47 am

Feb 19, 2013

#LoveCustomers Tips for Small Business Owners: Keeping Customers Coming Back—Getting Customers to Love You

Last week, we shared tips from our Love Your Customers guide on how small business owners can attract new customers. In this week’s blog, small business expert and USA Today columnist, Rhonda Abrams, shares her secrets to continuing the courtship with your customers. 

Janet – @jzablock

Once you’ve landed a customer you certainly want to keep them. After all, it costs a whole lot more to get a customer in the first place than it does to sell repeatedly to a current customer. But, often, small businesses (and big corporations too!) spend more time courting new business than in serving the customers they worked so hard to get.

What’s the best way to keep customers coming back? To make them fall in love with your company? By offering stellar customer service. Customers value great service. Many companies are renowned for their customer service and have built entire marketing strategies around it.

Some small businesses assume they’re doing just fine by way of customer service because they don’t receive many complaints. But you can’t judge how well you’re serving your customers merely by the number of complaints you receive; the unhappy customer who doesn’t complain is almost certainly a lost customer.

Give customers little reason to complain. Train your employees in customer service. Be flexible so you can handle unusual requests. Empower employees to make certain customer service decisions on the spot. And solicit customer suggestions and feedback so you know what they’re thinking – and how you can improve.

For some small business owners—and their employees—the first step in providing great customer service may require an attitude adjustment. Approach interactions with customers as a means to nurture the relationship, not just to execute a transaction.

Four key elements to superb customer service are:

  • Be honest in all your dealings. Honesty is not only the right thing, it also directly affects your ability to make sales, retain customers, and (ultimately) stay in business. In an age when any customer can rate your company on online user-review sites, you must treat each and every customer with care, respect, and honesty.
  • Promise only what you can deliver. This has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and how you’ll be rated. It’s much better to under-promise and over-deliver than to oversell and overhype and then disappoint your customers.
  • Follow through with commitments. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Period. If you promise to be on call to customers 24/7 to fix any problems make sure you do exactly as you’ve promised.
  • Make it easy for customers to contact you. Provide an online contact form, phone number, or an email address. Or handle inquiries on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites.

Visit www.visa.com/business/loveyourcustomers to download the Love Your Customers guide and learn more!

Enjoy!
Rhonda Abrams @RhondaAbrams
USA Today Small Business Columnist and Expert

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal and financial advisors. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on February 19, 2013 at 9:12 am

Feb 15, 2013

#LoveCustomers Tips for Small Business Owners: Laws of Attraction—Getting New Customers and First-time Buyers

It’s the time of year to share love with your nearest and dearest. For small business owners, beyond their families, that also means loving customers. Last October, together with small business expert and USA Today columnist, Rhonda Abrams, we developed the Small Business Holiday Success Guide. We heard from many sources that the guide was valuable and contained easy-to-implement tips for navigating the holiday hurdles. To continue building on that tradition, we are pleased to bring you our next small business resource – the Love Your Customers Guide. Inside are tips to help target, acquire and hold on to the best mix of customers. In this post, Rhonda Abrams shares some of her top tips to get new customers.

We hope you enjoy.

~Janet @jzablock

“If you build it, will they come?” Not necessarily. Entrepreneurs are rightfully proud of the products or services they create, but how do they get customers to know about it?

Just because you’ve created something new, something better, or something cheaper doesn’t mean customers flock to your door. It takes a lot of work to get the word out to customers. And even more work to motivate them to buy.

There are lots of reasons customers don’t rush to a new and better offering. Most of the time, the culprit is that customers don’t know about your offerings. And when they learn about you, you haven’t given them sufficient reason to change. That means you’ve got to put effort to get the word out to prospects—as well as offering incentives for them to try you out.

Given that most customers are set in their ways and don’t switch providers easily, what can you do to convince a customer to switch to you? The table above outlines some successful methods for encouraging customers to give your business a try.

First things first – customers have to know about you! You need to effectively get the word out about your product or service—and keep repeating your message. Some of the ways you can do this are through:

  • Advertising. You have endless advertising options to get the word out about your company, from billboard ads, to search engine marketing ads, to ads in traditional media—print, radio, and TV.
  • Social media marketing. Promote your deals on your social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and so on. Reach out to key bloggers and post your offers on your business page of user review sites. And you can purchase ads on these sites too.
  • Public relations. The best advertising often comes in the form of free publicity in the media. But that takes PR work and getting your message to journalists. Generating positive reviews by influencers is especially helpful for attracting new customers.
  • Open houses. Offer freebies to introduce new customers to your store, restaurant, or service and to stimulate publicity.

Visit here to download the Love Your Customers guide and learn more!

Enjoy!
Rhonda Abrams @RhondaAbrams
USA Today Small Business Columnist and Expert

Disclaimer:  Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal and financial advisors. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on February 15, 2013 at 10:08 am

Dec 10, 2012

#HolidaySuccess Tips for Small Business Owners: Post-Holiday Management

The New Year’s light at the end of the tunnel is near, but don’t let the last few holiday moments distract you from making the most of the holiday rush.

Our final blog series from USA Today small business columnist Rhonda Abrams, reminds small business owners what they need to do to help take advantage of the final days of the holiday season and make them last throughout the New Year.

For more information on other holiday planning advice, download the full Small Business Holiday Success Guide at www.visa.com/holidaysuccess

Happy Holidays!

Janet – @JZablock

Phew! We’re almost to the end of the holiday season. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the holiday woods. You’ll still have post-holiday customers, and you certainly want to find ways to keep the customers you acquired during the holidays and turn them into year ‘round fans.

As you prepare for the post-holiday season, concentrate on four major objectives:

    1. Keeping holiday customers
    2. Redeeming gift cards
    3. Handling returns
    4. Planning post-New Year promotions

Keeping holiday customers. Every name and email address you capture, with consent, every new follower on Facebook or Twitter, is an extremely valuable lead and potential future customer for your business. After all, these folks have already sought you out—either by walking into your storefront, visiting your website, “liking” your Facebook page, or otherwise connecting with you.

Be creative about how you capture contact info. Of course you can simply ask people for their information at checkout, but you can also hold weekly drawings for gifts when people give you their business cards at your place of business or “like” you on Facebook or other social media, offer discount coupons on your eCommerce website if prospects register for your newsletter. (You do have a newsletter, don’t you?)

Just be sure to ask the customer’s permission before adding them to your mailing list – and of course, promptly honor any unsubscribe requests you receive.

Gift card redemption. One of the best things you’ll deal with after the holidays are all those customers coming to redeem gift cards, if you’ve offered them for sale during the holidays. Many of these customers may be new to you—the happy recipients of a gift card. So make sure you encourage them to sign up for your newsletter or Facebook page. Also, make certain you’re set up to give them excellent service—have enough inventory and staff to handle demand. Keep in mind, many gift card recipients spend more than the amount of the card, so be sure to merchandise your products or services well during this time.

Handling returns. If you have a physical location or are an eCommerce company, you’ll likely have some returns. Make sure you schedule extra staff for the first week or so after Christmas specifically to handle returns. And have a very clear and specific return policy in place (ideally, this should have been clear to buyers before they made a purchase). Your policies may be very strict, such as no cash refunds, only merchandise exchanges, and only items unopened in original boxes, but such policies discourage future purchases. You can certainly have more lenient policies if returns are rare. Whatever your policy, make sure your employees understand its terms. And emphasize to your staff the importance of accepting returns gracefully. Few things are more off-putting than a store that handles returns impolitely. Remember, your goal is to create lifelong customers!

Post-New Year promotions. Last but not least, as the holidays wind down, start thinking of creative ways to keep people coming in, even during the typical doldrums of late January and February. Tactics include:

  • Beginning-of-the-year sale
  • Two-for-one specials for slow periods
  • Multiple purchase packs of your goods or services
  • Loyalty programs
  • Free trials

If you’re diligent about capturing contact information (paying close attention to getting your customer’s consent first) throughout the holidays—and afterward—you could have a large audience for your 2013 marketing campaigns.

Enjoy!
Rhonda Abrams  @RhondaAbrams

Disclaimer:  Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal and financial advisors. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on December 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Dec 3, 2012

#HolidaySuccess Tips for Small Business Owners: Keep Them Coming Back with Email Newsletters and Gift Cards

In the flurry of making sales during the holidays, we sometimes forget how the influx of “today” customers, can be turned into “future” customers.

As part of our #HolidaySuccess tips for small business owners, USA Today small business columnist, Rhonda Abrams shares a few tips on how to take the holiday momentum through the New Year!

For more information on other holiday planning advice, download the full Small Business Holiday Success Guide at www.visa.com/holidaysuccess

Happy Holidays!

Janet – @JZablock

How do you connect with holiday customers now and keep them coming back after the new year? Two great marketing strategies make it easier for you to make money during this all-important season and build ongoing relationships with customers at the same time:

  1. Email newsletters – the number one way to encourage online customers to return, according to Forrester; and
  2. Gift cards – one of the most popular gifts for the holidays—often redeemed after the new year.

Email newsletters. If you don’t have an email newsletter, start one now. It can be easy, inexpensive, and effective.

Having an email newsletter gives you a reason to collect contact information from the many customers and prospects you interact with this holiday season. Take the opportunity to collect their contact information for your email newsletter campaigns. Just be sure to ask for their permission first and make it easy for them to opt out if they change their preference.

Once you’ve gathered names for your newsletter, you’ll need content. Keep it simple. You don’t have to be a great writer. Check out the Small Business Holiday Success Guide on what to do next!

Gift Cards. You like them. Your customers like them. Most everyone likes getting a gift card.

Offering gift cards is one of the easiest sales you can make this holiday season—and one of the easiest gifts your customers can buy.

Gift cards are one of the best ways to ring up more sales during the holidays. They’re a tremendous last-minute or impulse gift, so they’re particularly popular with those who put off their holiday shopping ‘til the last minute (don’t we all know someone like that?).

There’s a major added benefit as well. Gift cards can bring new customers to your business—often after January, when your sales may have slowed. They can give you a chance to develop an ongoing relationship with the user and turn a one-time holiday sale into a long-time customer.

Enjoy!
Rhonda Abrams @RhondaAbrams

Disclaimer:  Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal and financial advisors. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

READ MORE

Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on December 3, 2012 at 11:23 am