Tag Archives: Small Business

5 Reasons Why You Should Not Use A Service Provider Email Address

Actually there are probably more than 5 reasons to not use service provider email addresses. You know what I am talking about. These are the email addresses we all get “FREE!” from our cable, telephone, or other service provider. The email addresses we might have for personal or small business use.

It’s a BAD IDEA to use those email addresses. Here’s why: Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Technology, Marketing, Small Business

Starbucks’ New WiFi Plan: Building Customer Loyalty

Howard Schultz’, CEO Starbucks, announcement yesterday on two changes in Starbucks’ WiFi services demonstrates how even a large corporation must pay attention to customers on a local basis. The announcement took place at the Wired Business Conference “Disrupted By Design”. I’ve written about Starbucks before and how they shift their business model to meet customer expectations.

There is a lesson for small and local businesses in this change at Starbucks.

First, starting July 1, 2010, WiFi service at Starbucks will be free. This move reinforces the neighborhood/community aesthetic at the heart of Starbucks’ marketing. The free model follows a trend already instituted at most airports and many other public spaces. Moving to a for-pay model is a disconnect in the “public plaza” feel Starbucks customers expect, especially after experiencing the free model outside the Starbucks store door.

This is the second step to free WiFi service at Starbucks, a couple of years back they shifted from a pure for-pay model with T-Mobile to ATT with a model featuring  two-hours free daily with a registered Starbucks card and small service charge following the first two hours in a day. Granted, that’s not an expensive proposition, but just typing it cramped my fingers and it confuses many less technically comfortable customers. This change is much easier for customers to understand and act on.

Second, a new Starbucks Digital Network will be introduced later this fall. A partnership with Yahoo! and featuring free access to paid sites such as the online Wall Street Journal and other premium sites, the Starbucks Digital Network offers a new reason for Starbucks to be the preferred choice for customers. McDonald’s wired up 11,000 of their restaurants in 2009 and offered free access to customers and McDonald’s coffee business is major competition to Starbucks, so this new Starbucks access model is probably a response to McDonald’s marketing.

Main Street businesses are always looking for a way to build loyal customer relationships and gain an edge over their competition. Small businesses can use this example from Starbucks as a guide for another way to find a way to differentiate themselves from their competition. Of course, a small business will probably not get the national or international news coverage nor will they probably be able to swing a deal with Yahoo! or other major corporations to present exclusive offerings, but small businesses can find equally enticing draws for their local customers.

4 Comments

Filed under Business, Small Business

WordCamp Portland Day 1: Why Am I Here?

I made it through the first day of WordCamp Portland 2009, not the type of conference I normally attend. But I learned a great way to help some of my less-technical customers develop continuously updated content on their web site by using Microsoft Live Writer to add to their WordPress based web site.

This may not seem like a major breakthrough to sophisticated web developers, but making it easy for non-technical people to add content to their web site has been difficult. Most non-technical people quickly choke and their eyes glaze over when presented with a typical CMS or blogging dashboard. Although there are millions of bloggers using similar tools on blog sites, most of these sites restrict the tools to a range of flexibility that meets the needs of the most basic author and avoid confusion.

I support a web site for a dance company, Dance West, where having dancer-created information would be an excellent addition to the site (this is a site built on WordPress using a variation of the K2 theme). The problem is that these dancers are not technically proficient and they already blanched when confronted with the dashboard.

Using Microsoft Live Writer allows them to work within a familiar user interface to “type” in their content, adding photos and videos as they go, in what looks like a simplified version of Microsoft Word, an application they are all familiar with. I’ll be starting them using Live Writer in the next couple of weeks and I think there may be another client or two who will be interested in using this same process to engage their employees and speak to their audience.

This post is my first using this method as a trial.

This is one of the valuable ideas I picked up on the first day at WordCamp Portland 2009. I also enjoyed the talk with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, and a discussion on plugins used by WordPress designers to extend the capabilities of WordPress for different businesses. More to come tomorrow.

2 Comments

Filed under Business Technology, Small Business, Social Media

Five Reasons Small Businesses Should Use Twitter

Small business marketing can be tricky, it needs to reach your customers quickly and easily without costing an arm and a leg. Twitter, no matter what the buzz you’ve heard, is a great communication tool that can help you with marketing and sales. Here’s why:

1. Most business is small business.
More than 99% of business in the U.S. is small business, defined by the SBA as under 500 employees (more staggering, the percentage is actually 99.7%). But 500 employees is a really large business in most of our eyes, so a more important number for this discussion is that over 98% of businesses in the U.S. have fewer than 100 employees. Mike Clough, a serial entrepreneur and SCORE consultant, has a very readable blog post that helps parse the dense SBA figures (and you might want to read Mike’s blog on a regular basis).

Why are these numbers important? They show that if Twitter can be used in business, and I’ll write more later on businesses using Twitter, then the overwhelming majority of businesses using Twitter will be small businesses.

2. Your customers are using Twitter.
And more will begin using it this week. According to Nielsen, Twitter grew 1382% between February 2008 and February 2009, rapidly expanding from less than a half-million to over 7 million users. The overall numbers are still small, but this growth rate means over 91 million people using Twitter next February.

Twitter users are not kids. Better yet, the sweet spot of Twitter use is in the 35-49 age group, this group represents roughly 42% of all Twitter users and the core age group of the working world. This number will definitely change as Twitter use continues to grow, but it is an important age group for small business sales.

3. Your competitors are probably using Twitter and they are talking to your customers.
Come one, you already know this. When was the last time you tried some marketing or sales activity and you didn’t find out or know that a competitor was already doing this? The boom in Twitter business use followed the boom in Twitter users, it’s an organic growth curve, but you can still get started now.

The New York Times recently covered business use of Twitter and mentioned some small retail business uses along with the typical array of large corporations, but they left out the backbone of American business. They left out the business-to-business, industrial/commercial aspect of business. Twitter talks to and through your distribution chain, reaching your reps, distributors, and retailers, as well as your end customers, affecting end-to-end marketing along your entire distribution chain, no matter how many tiers and branches in that chain.

4. You can extend customer loyalty.
There’s a period following the purchase process where the customer becomes loyal to your product or company. Continuing that loyalty can be hard for small businesses, especially when repeat business is spread over longer periods. You can use Twitter can keep customers in the loop on your product or service, keeping them in a positive purchase state long after the sale is complete, possibly through to the next sale. And the word-of-mouth

Even better, it doesn’t matter whether your customers are local or geographically dispersed. Your regular sales skills are the main requirement in Twitter, the same as the conversation on the phone or in the office. One good difference is you can reach multiple customers at one time and then handle individual conversations through other methods appropriate to the customer need.

5. You determine how much time you spend using Twitter.
Twitter use grows organically, it is a self-defining use responding to the conversations surrounding your business. Yes, there is the group that tweets what they had for breakfast, but far more serious questions and discussions also happen on a minute by minute basis. Finding these discussion depends on your customers and their habits, but the best place to start finding them and listening to their discussions is by using a form of search.

Use TweetDeck or Seesmic, desktop applications that will continually track and report uses of searchable terms used in your business. Or use TweetBeep to get search term uses emailed directly to you (be careful with TweetBeep, it’s great for lower search activity but can overwhelm your email inbox if a search term is heavily used). These tools can get you started effectively using Twitter in business, but there are many other methods as well.

So that’s five reasons to start using Twitter today. There are many more reasons, but they will be specific to your business needs, feel free to comment here or email me with specific questions and I’ll try to give you some quick general answers to your possible uses.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Small Business, Social Media

When Hertz Thinks Differently

Yesterday’s announcement by Hertz that they are moving into the local hourly car rental business represents a big shift by a large enterprise (pun unfortunate, but intended) that will heavily affect some smaller businesses.

This is an excellent example of an elephant shifting strategy. Hertz, known for decades as a car rental company for out of towners needing local transportation for a few hours or days, now is moving in on Zipcar and Flexcar. The New York Times has all the details.

Important for us is to see that Hertz has recognized market conditions have changed, fewer people are traveling. They have also redefined their customer from business air travelers and tourists to urban dwellers needing short time-period individual transportation. This service is available in the US in only in New York City and New Jersey (and London and Paris), but with 40,000 cars in NYC versus 1400 cars for Zipcar, the odds are that Hertz can handle the incentory requirements.

The big question for Hertz is how small they can become. Can they match the pick-up and drop off locations? Can they actuallymatch the lightweight aspect of small business? What expectations are attached to the Hertz brand that may not translate well to this new business operating style (i.e., match the time-share mentality with the Hertz delivery)?

This is somewhat similar to Enterprise Car Rental. Their niche was working with auto dealers and repair shops, then they expanded into direct cutomer rentals and used car sales. While Enterprise successfully made the switch, there were some bumps along the way. It will be interesting to watch Hertz navigate similar obstructions.

The lesson for a small business is to keep moving because the elephants, like Hertz, are always shifting. What elephants are in your business segment? The end of the year is a good time to review your market niche and your alternatives for expansion should one of the elephants in your segment shift closer to your niche.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business

Rethink Your Customer Contact Process: Is It Time For Texting?

Adjust your marketing to your market changes.

OK, that idea seems obvious to the extreme. But sometimes what should be obvious is hidden in the mundane.

A report came out recently from the CTIA, the mobile phone trade association, that points to some changes we all may want to make in our customer marketing, especially at the small business level. According to Nielsen Mobile, an arm of the familiar Nielsen survey folks, cell phone calls have remained at a fairly constant level each month for the past two years. But the CTIA reports, that Americans are now sending more texts than phone calls each month–by 150%, 357 text messages versus 204 calls!

June 2008 reported 75 billion text messages sent by Americans (yes, that’s billion, not a typo), a 160% increase over the 28.8 billion text messages sent in June 2007. Of course, this rise in use is driven by teens in the 13-17 year old age group, but my anecdotal evidence says some of those messages are also going to parents and their text numbers are rising along with the teens, just at a slower rate. I would show some of these charts, but the CTIA is being fairly protective of the information; you can download a 10-page summary of the report.

Here’s what this means for small business: It is time to think about changes in the ways we contact customers. Some customers will prefer a text message, especially when a simple notification is all that is required. Think about the dental appointment reminder call; the pharmacy pick-up call; waiting for a table at a restaurant; the car servicing reminder and the call for pick-up; the dry cleaning; all simple daily actions that take time for a business and time for the customer. This model extends to all sorts of services businesses where customer contact is infrequent, services such as landscapers and pest control businesses.

In the commercial business, this same texting works for businesses that have a regular product delivery to their customers. A simple follow-up text to the department head or purchasing agent after each delivery when the delivery is handled by a driver and the receipt is handled by receiving clerk, the text action fills in the gap between sales calls and operates as a constant positive reminder of service and products delivered.

A side benefit is that you collect the cell phone numbers of your customers; not to be abused and heavily marketed to, but to be used as a way to build your brand while delivering superior business value. This actually is a very efficient post-sales activity masquerading as great service. And you build a closer relationship with your customer as well as gaining another contact point through their cell number.

One drawback is that texting costs money, but many cell phone users have unlimited texting plans which are available for very little cost. You can hold the text cost down on the business end by using the online texting services or sending to the phone by email. You can even automate a portion of the action, but remember this is a post-sales activity and there should be some personal interaction in the message (quantity delivered, time delivered, any number of important aspects of the delivery). This represents an opportunity to head off mistakes before they become a big problem.

This is not social media as we generally define it these days, but it is a medium which is social and two-way communication is possible if the customer chooses to communicate. This is not the broadcast social media of Twitter, with Twitter’s constant status updates to a broad group of followers. Twitter has it’s place for business, especially following and solving service and brand problems (you can Google the stories on Comcast and others solving customer problems through picking up hints on Twitter).

This is definitely something to think about applying in your business before your competition gets there first.

1 Comment

Filed under Business

Lessons Learned From The Lehman Letdown: Who Owns The Clients?

OK, the big news over the weekend and today was the crushing letdown of Lehman Brothers. Lots of news outlets are carrying the story, bu the lesson for businesses, especially small and medium businesses, was i a small quote from one of the Lehman staffers to the Financial Times. He said:

“I’ve had people calling me from telephone boxes. In the old days you’d just pick up your Rolodex and you’d bugger off. Now everything in your life is with the company,” said a former employee.

The point is that technology has made one of business’ age-old problems simpler: getting a handle on customer lists.

Traditionally, sales people kept their Rolodex with a list of customers and Finance kept a customer list, and neither list matched because the sales person met with a user and the finance department met with a customer finance person. Now days even a very small business can keep a single list of customers, and larger small businesses (oxymoron intended, companies are still defined as small businesses up to 1500 people) and medium business use applications like SAP to run hings and maintain customer lists that mine sales opportunities.

Collecting and maintaining that customer data was difficult when sales people maintained their own Rolodex, and the value of the information often left with the sales person. But now the value of the information can and should be maintained in a central database that informs and tracks customer activity in a way that enhances customer service and company sales, along with securing the customer list in a way that aids customer retention.

The business owns the customer relationship. The sales person may own the face to face relationship, in fact the sales person is instrumental in creating and maintaining the business relationship, but the business owns the financial responsibility as well as the customer access.

Does your business own the customer relationship? Do your sales people have outside lists of your customers? Do you have a plan in place to centralize the information so you can ue it as a strategic sales advantage and in case there is a need to recover the informationwhen a sales person is unavailable for some reason?

You would be surprise at the number of companies that still do not own their complete cutomer lists and the tumult that transpires when a sales person goes missing.

Let us know how you address owning the customer list and share the strategies you use.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business