Bootstrap Business Development

Taking steps to build your business


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Meet Blog Formatting Guru Delia Rusu

 

A huge part of my mission at Bootstrap Business Development is sharing valuable resources with small business owners.  Today I’d like to introduce you to Delia Rusu.  I just “met” her today via Decisive Minds Ultimate Blog Challenge (BTW you should take Michele’s challenge on if you’re posting a blog.)

Delia is all about formatting your blog – and I love her tagline “Helping Women Bloggers Stay in The Genius Zone.”

While Delia’s focus is on formatting (she doesn’t ghost write or create content for clients) you’ll want to subscribe to her blog as her writing is as entertaining as it is informative (which is very meaningful to me as this is what I strive for as a content writer.)

In particular, I especially want to recommend her post “How to Set Up Categories and Tags for Your Blog” – she drills right down and is able to make what for many have found to be really difficult (and perhaps have read a few other posts that seemed to confirm that fear) very simple.

 

Dull to Shine

 While you’re there be sure to sign up for this easy to follow tutorial

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What a Trip to a Great Hair Stylist Can Teach Small Business Owners

by Annie Kile

OK – for all you fella’s out there who might think there’s nothing it for you to read this post just think about the last time your wife or girlfriend came home with a haircut or hair color she wasn’t happy with.  I’m going to bet you either said (or were at least thinking) “Why didn’t you just let the stylist know what you wanted?”  Maybe they did let the stylist know. Maybe the stylist didn’t listen.  Maybe the stylist didn’t ask.

Great hairstylists provide their clients with great consultations.  They know that’s the only way to discover their client’s wants, needs, problems, and preferences.

Every small business owner (male or female) needs to discover their customer’s or client’s wants, needs, problems, and preferences.

And that, my friends, is what this post is all about.

Expert versus Know it All

I’ve suffered through a few pretty awful haircuts but I’ve come to learn I know when I’m in trouble.

Scenario #1:  The stylist washes my hair, walks me back to her chair, pulls out a comb and scissors and is ready to start chopping after asking a few superficial questions such as “So, how much do want me to cut off?”

Scenario #2:  After letting a stylist know what I wanted, looking in the mirror, I’m thinking this doesn’t look like what I asked for. Upon questioning, the stylist says “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”

Unfortunately, sometimes it appears to our customers and clients that we aren’t listening, or even all that interested, in what they have to say.  After all, we’re the experts, we know what we’re doing, and we’re here to serve our customer’s best interests.  That’s rather hard to do unless you are completely clear as to exactly what your customer’s “best interests” are.

You might be thinking “I don’t do that!”  But you just might have fallen into a rut where you ask the usual suspect questions – which may, or may not, serve to identify your client or customer’s wants, needs, problems, or preferences.  And this can translate into a new customer going elsewhere, or losing a customer whose wants, needs, problems, or preferences have changed.

Take a Seat

Style Seat is an online service “to discover and book a salon, spa or professional online.”  They posted a piece on their blog :  “Tips on How to Give an Amazing Client Consultation.”  The tips they’ve included are as true in a hair salon as they are at any small business.

The first point they make is a critical factor in small business success:

“Consultations are crucial to making your client feel like you’re listening to them and that they’re being taken care of.  The better you can do this, the more they’ll return and refer you to their friends.”

Every savvy business owner knows that keeping an existing customer is less expensive than finding new customers.  Additionally, a general rule of thumb is that 80% of your business should come from referrals – again, having an existing customer refer new business to you is less expensive than finding new customers on your own.

The second point they make is equally critical:

“Consults can get tricky because a client may not speak up if they have questions or concerns.”

It’s really easy to think when a customer or client doesn’t express any concerns or has few (if any) questions during our presentation or consultation that we’ve hit the nail on the head and are certain to make a sale.  Actually, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ve missed the target completely.

One of the worst haircuts I ever got in my life occurred when I was too timid to ask questions or voice my concerns – and this was done by a stylist I’d been going to for over a year!  It will come as no surprise that I never returned and certainly didn’t refer anybody to her ever again.  You think I would have learned, but this same train wreck of an experience happened again with a stylist I’d never used before when, once again, I didn’t speak up.  Never went back or referred to that stylist either.

Neither one of these hairstyles were so bad that I couldn’t be seen in public.  But they weren’t want I wanted, didn’t meet my needs, and certainly weren’t styles I preferred.

How to Give and Amazing Consult

So far we’ve been talking about what can happen when we fall into the trap of thinking we “know what’s best” when, in fact, we don’t have enough information.  However, while I’ve gotten butchered enough to know when I need to get out of a stylist’s chair – I’ve also come to know when I am in good hands.  Again, the tips Style Seat provides for giving an amazing style consultation hold true for any business.  Here’s my interpretation of those tips from a perspective that holds true for any small business:

Communication is key.  If you’re working with a new customer or client it is useful to first establish some common ground.  While people’s time is important and they don’t necessarily want to “chat” – a few pleasantries exchanged can be essential as this helps gain your customer’s trust and they will also tend to be more comfortable about asking questions and sharing concerns with you.

You don’t know if you don’t ask.  The key to asking the “right” questions during a consultation is to be sure you are asking open-ended questions.  What are open ended questions?  The simplest definition of an open ended question is a question that is impossible to respond to with a “yes” or a “no.”  Instead, they are questions that are designed for a response that will provide you with information and insight into your customer.

Show and tell.  Even though you’ve asked the right questions, it is still possible to misinterpret your customer’s response.  Neither you, nor your customer, necessarily sees the world or interprets what’s been said in the same way.  Not to mention that your customer or client might not be exactly sure what it is, or how to express, what will meet their wants, needs, problems, and preferences.

What will solve this problem is a good old demonstration.  No, I’m not suggesting that you present some kind of “infomercial” – demonstrating comes in many forms.

Provide an example.  An obvious example when selling a product is the product itself – but when you include examples of how the product has worked for others this can lead to the customer clarifying or declaring a concern.  This also works when working with clients for those of us running service-based small businesses.  Rather than demonstrating a product, creating charts, graphs, infographics and the like will provide the same opportunity to receive clarification and uncovering concerns from clients.

And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that stories are perhaps the most powerful way to give your client a “real world” example.  For one, a story “shows” the value of your product and/or service.  And, even if the story doesn’t resonate – when you tell a story during a consultation (such as how your service helped another business or customer successfully) if the client you’re in front of doesn’t relate to your story, they are apt to tell you why (giving you more information.)   It is also important to note that stories are a two-way street.  Encouraging your customer to “tell you their stories” can provide you with information they may not have shared via those open ended questions you’ve asked.

Don’t tell – educate.  While we don’t want to come off as a “know it all” and while we’ve established how important communication, demonstration, and examples are for gleaning the information we need in order to best serve our customer’s best interests – there is still a need to educate customers and clients.

This is true even though today’s consumers are perhaps the best informed consumers in history.  The Internet literally places information at the fingertips of your customer, and it is a rare consumer who has not done at least preliminary research online before heading out to buy a product or service.

However, this doesn’t mean your customer or client is an expert or has a complete handle on what is, in fact, best for them.  If this is the case, rather than telling a client what they need, educate the client.  Educating the client involves “who, what, where, how and why.”  For example, the “who” might involve educating a client about why they need to outsource because they simply don’t have the time or the people on board in their business.

You may need to educate about “what and how” by explaining a process step-by-step.  You may need to inform a customer as to where a product comes from and/or how it is produced.  And, it almost goes without saying that customers who understand “why they should buy from you” are customers that do, in fact, buy from you.    

Listen – don’t lead.  Listening is a completely different process than hearing.  You hear what someone is saying simply because they are speaking out loud.  Listening requires attaching meaning to what is being said.  Too often we’re thinking more about what we’re going to say before we’ve really listened to what our customer is saying.  Which isn’t listening, instead this kind of “listening” usually results in leading or prompting a customer to “say what we want.”  It also contributes to our interrupting a customer before they’ve finished – both of which often result in our not hearing important information from the customer.

The goal of a truly expert hairstylist is to know that every time their client looks in a mirror they think “Wow! I love my hair!” and they know the first step to achieving that goal is an amazing consultation.  Our clients and customers may not literally be looking in a mirror, but we can think of our services and/or products as mirrors – and when our customers take a look in that mirror we want them to think “Wow!”  We want them to be completely satisfied and happy with their decision to buy from us.  And we know that the first step to achieving that goal is an amazing consultation.

Content is definitely King. If you’re business isn’t providing dynamic, meaningful content to your customers and prospects that develops their trust in your business, you are losing business. Not enough time to do that? That’s where I come in.

 


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Why SMEs Should Get Engaged to their Employees

by Annie Kile   March 2013

Recently I wrote a guest post on Merchant Processing Resource’s Small Business Corner.  This short, but power-packed post is all about how Small Business Owners can leverage employee engagement to attract and retain high-performance, highly-productive employees.   It also gives employees who work for over-controlling bosses some sound, logical arguments that it is in the best interest of the business for their boss to “Get out of the way and let me do my job”  without making the mistake of actually telling them to get out of the way and let you do your job.

Hop on over for a quick read you can take to the bank.  I’d love you to come back here and leave a reply that tells the tale of how Participative Management Principles (they’re in the post) have impacted your small business or your relationship with your boss.

Oh, and while you’re here, take a minute to sign up to subscribe to my blog — button’s to your left 🙂


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Promises, Promises

Today I worked on an article about branding a small business for a client.  In my travels I came across this great list entitled “The 100 Most Influential Tag Lines Since 1948.”

First, it’s just really fun to go through the list – not to mention that doing so points out just how “influential” tag lines can be.  However, it’s also really important to remember that your tag is NOT your brand.  A simple way to think of branding is building your small businesses’ reputation – and one way your brand does that is by making a promise (or promises) to your customers or clients.

Sure, a tag line should be memorable – which is why so many of us who were born “B.C.” (Before Computer) still remember tag lines on this list that are 30 (even 40) years old.  Tag lines can be funny, they can call forth emotions, they can be practical – but, whatever they are, there should be some component of the tag line that implies the promise  your small business makes.

For example, Maytag has been using the tag line “Our repairmen are the loneliest guys in town” since 1967.  It’s easy to remember – but what is the implied promise?  “Our appliances are reliable.”

And then there’s the National Pork Board’s “Pork.  The other white meat.”  Certainly it’s catchy – but this tag line is especially clever.  It piggy-backs on the well-known reputation of chicken as being “healthy” and, at the same time, removes identifying pork with the less recommended (by a majority of nutritionists and other health professionals) “red meat.”  The implied promise?  “Pork is just as healthy a protein choice as chicken.”

Reading these tag lines motivated me to re-evaluate my own:  “Taking steps to build your business.”   I think it’s still a keeper.  The promise I’m making to my clients is that partnering with me will help to build their business.  I’m very passionate about and work hard to deliver on my promise – and it is a promise that has meaning for my clients as building a successful business is their goal.

Go ahead have some fun going down Tag Line Memory Lane – and after you’re through take a look at your small business tag line and ask yourself three simple questions:

What promise does it make?  Are you keeping it?  Is it a promise meaningful to your customers?


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Saying Good-Bye to a Client or Customer

Ending a relationship with a client is never an easy thing to do – no matter what the circumstances might be. 

Tomorrow I need to let a client go.

In my case this will be a “no fault” severance; but it’s still not something I’m looking forward to.

Now, some of you might belong to the “business is business” camp; however, relationships with customers and clients are just that – relationships.  And relationships involve complex human emotions.  When it comes to letting a client go those emotions can be all over the map – even conflict with each other.  In my view, that’s because ending a relationship with a client in many ways is the end of a living thing.  If you don’t end the relationship, it continues and therefore “stays alive” – if you end a relationship, even a business relationship, it “dies.”

No matter what the cause  – the emotional turmoil when considering ending any relationship, including a business relationship, often mirror stages similar to those Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified as the “Five Stages of Grief.”

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Yes, you’re likely to grieve ending relationships with clients – even those who turned out to be real trouble makers.  You’ve invested a lot of emotion and energy into the relationship.  You’ve likely integrated the relationship into the image you have or yourself and your business.

Being aware of the stages of grief can help you to end relationships are no longer working in ways that protect the integrity of the way you do business.

Denial – Not Just a River in Egypt

We’re all familiar with denial.  This is the refusal to accept facts as they are.  We humans have a tendency to use denial as a defense mechanism to try to reduce stress.  In the case of letting a client go, if we deny any cause or reason to do so exists, we don’t have to deal with it.  How long we stay in denial varies; however, taking too long to recognize a problem exists allows more time for the problem (and our stress) to get worse.

There are times when it is all too apparent we need to end a relationship with client (i.e. they don’t honor the contract, you find out they engage in unethical business practices) which will hopefully shorten the length of time you remain in the limbo of denial.  Other times, you may just keep denying feelings that “things aren’t right” which means you are in the danger zone of letting things get worse before taking steps to make them better.  Trust me, if you feel something isn’t right, there’s a good chance you are experiencing denial about the true nature of the relationship.

Anger – I Can’t Believe You (or I) Did That!

Anger shows up in one of two ways – either you’re angry with someone else, or you’re angry with yourself.  For instance a client’s expectation that you have a responsibility to deliver more service without being paid than described in the scope of the contract makes you angry.  Or, you’re angry at yourself because you lost new business because you’d committed to providing more service without pay to an existing client.

Anger is a powerful emotion, but it is also an emotion that can get in the way of making reasonable assessments and rational decisions.  If you’re feeling anger associated with or directed towards a client, take a deep breath and a few steps back.  Instead of letting your anger dictate your response, use an objective tool (for instance a mini SWOT analysis of the situation.)  Doing so will not only assist in making a rational decision, but also behave in a professional manner.

Bargaining – Let’s Make a Deal

When facing death it is common for people to attempt to bargain with the God they believe in.  “If you let me (or someone else) live, I promise I’ll do (fill in the blank.)”  When contending with the end of a relationship, people are often so uncomfortable with the idea of ending the relationship that they first attempt to bargain compromises that can allow the relationship to continue, bargains that, while made with the intention of making things “better”, don’t always serve the best interest of either party.  Those “bargains” can be between you and the other person, or they can be bargains you make with yourself.

Bargaining can certainly make good business sense in situations where you’re contemplating ending a relationship with a client.  However, as with anger, using objective tools such as SWOT or discussing the situation with a knowledgeable, yet neutral, third-party is a good idea.  If you don’t you can end up making compromises that aren’t true solutions; compromises can also just extend the period of time you spend in denial.  Compromises that aren’t true solutions can also serve to make you angry.

Depression – This is Happening Now

Being depressed at the idea of having to go through the process of letting a client go may not seem to be a positive thing, but it can be.  Allowing yourself to feel emotions that range from a sense of sadness, loss of energy, as well as a sense of “loss” means you’re actually in a space preparing yourself for the inevitable.   Denial, anger, and bargaining are all focused on putting the notion of ending the relationship off thereby keeping it in the realm of a “future event” that is not happening now.

Strange as it may sound, when you get a bit depressed over an existing situation, this can be the first step to making decisions that lead to positive solutions.  However, feelings of depression must be handled carefully as depression can motivate – but it can also paralyze.  If you aren’t careful, depression can develop into feelings of hopelessness and bleed into your “world view” of your business.  If you find yourself “stuck” in depressive mode, make it your business to get feedback from a mentor.

Acceptance – It is What it Is

Acceptance is one of the most powerful emotions when it comes to getting things done.  That notion can appear rather counterintuitive.  Acknowledging “It is what it is” seems to negate any idea of doing anything to make the situation different.  However, it’s pretty difficult to do anything that produces positive change in situations we either deny exist, are too angry to think rationally about, engage in continuous yet fruitless bargaining, or are stuck in paralyzing depression.

Accepting “It is what it is” means one of two things:  acknowledging that we have the power to change a situation or acknowledging that we don’t.  Either way, acceptance allows us to move on, to progress, to take action.

In the case of the client I’m letting go it is due to a change in focus of my practice.  There’s no longer a contract in place, so it is an “at will” situation – meaning I needed to decide whether or not create a new contract.  I began by denying that there would be an issue providing service outside my focus to this client (this was motivated by the fact that I liked the client and didn’t want to “let them down”), then I got angry at myself for continuing to work for the client (yes, without a contract in place) even though that meant robbing myself of other opportunities that fit my now evolved business model because I felt “obligated” to help them, then I made a bargain with myself that I’d just complete this one last project, and then I got depressed as I realized that I was only putting off the inevitable by continuing to work with the client.

FINALLY I accepted that continuing the relationship wasn’t fair to myself or the client because I wasn’t passionate about the relationship and passion is the fuel that makes what I provide my clients unique.  Passion is what drives me to meet my client’s needs and solve their problems in meaningful, effective ways.   Passion is what creates the exceptional quality I deliver my clients.

Fortunately, I came to accept that by not ending the relationship I wasn’t doing anyone any “favors” – instead I was acting out of ego (they need me) and without integrity.  Acting with integrity is a value that drives everything I do in my business and in my life.  Integrity guides my behavior and lets me know when I get off track.

Fortunately, I did no harm to myself or my client as I didn’t linger in any stage for too long a period of time.  But only because I had an idea of what was happening.

Hopefully, reading this will allow you to quickly recognize, allow yourself to grieve, and then end relationships with clients when necessary in a professional manner that serves the best interests of your client and your business.

What’s really great about online social media is that we can learn from each other.  Take a minute to make a comment to pass your wisdom along – or maybe you’re stuck in one of the above stages and looking for feedback.


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Market Data: The Short Story

Maybe you’re a small business owner who happens to be sweating out putting your business plan together.  Maybe you’re a small business owner and thinking of capturing a new market. Maybe you’re a small business owner who just wants to gain greater insight into the demographics or consumer trends in your existing market.

On the other hand, you may be a small business owner who thinks (hopes) their so small that any sort of market research outside of the occasional customer survey is over kill, simply a waste of time.  But that would be wrong.  Market research allows you to create effective business strategies.  “I think it might work” isn’t an effective success strategy. You can have the greatest idea in the world – but until you marry that idea with market data you don’t have a complete picture.   Market data helps you get from “I think it might work” to “This is the best strategy for success.”

However, when it comes to market research, many small business owners don’t pursue it as they think of it as an “all or nothing” process.  Either you’ve got to be in a place to spend a ton on expensive consultants, or don’t do it all.

But you’re not just any small business owner, you’re a bootstrapper – and I’m here to help.  Here’s the short story on how to conduct market research:

1.  Put together the objectives you want your research to meet.  You can do that by asking three simple questions:

  • What the purpose of doing the research? (i.e. I want to introduce a new product/service)
  • How will the information be used? (i.e. see if there is a need, figure out how to price, determine if there is a local market for my product/service)
  • What kind of information do I need? (i.e. check out the competition, demographics of prospective customers/clients)

2.  Research and collect information that already exists.
3.  Collect information that doesn’t exist (i.e. surveys, focus groups.)
4.  Review and analyze the information you’ve collected.  (This is a fancy way of saying:  Look at what you found out; assess how it impacts your objectives; use that    assessment to create and then implement success strategies.)

The place where many small business owners get stuck is #2.  Here are some online resources to help you locate existing information:

http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/conducting-market-research-here-are-5-official-sources-free-data-can-help

http://www.library.wisc.edu/guides/govdocs/census/econ.htm#countbus  (Great for local business – You can check out business patterns in your county on this one.)


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Helping People Online Find Your Local Business

Manta’s tip of the day is about local search ranking.  Some small biz owners – everybody from homentreprenurs to small retail to B2B – may not have this on their radar.

You definitely should.

 

Local search marketing tactics can be your ticket to gaining on “Big Gun” competition.    You might not think you’ve got anything you can leverage over Big Time competitors – however, the fact that you are local can actually be quit the competitive advantage.

The fact that you are smaller than the Big Guns can work in our favor as well because you can leverage your ability to provide more personalized service.

Manta’s advice is to “have a dedicated page for each of your company locations.”  But what if you’ve only got one location?  Easy – create separate landing pages customized for local neighborhoods in your specific community.  Remember, landing pages have domain names (i.e. different “web address”) than your businesses’ main website.

You can also customize landing pages the target specific “customer profiles.”  For example, one page that targets Boomers and one page that targets Millennials.  Again, each of the pages are dedicated to specific communities or neighborhoods.

Creating these pages can also assist in having your business picked up and placed on the “Google Box 7” – which means having your business pop up on Google’s first seven on SERP results.  Very powerful.

If you click the image on the top of this post you will see results for a search for a florist in San Francisco.  The image to the right shows what happens when a person living in the Mission District looking for a local florist performs their search.

Have landing pages optimized for both is an excellent tactic for achieving greater visibility and ups the opportunity for your local business to be found online.