Dear Diary, I Lost Another Customer Today

It is easy to tell when my car needs gas. There is a gauge on the dashboard. If I am not paying attention, a light comes on when the fuel level gets too low. Finally, the car will simply stop when the tank is completely empty.

However, my car (unlike more sophisticated models) gives no warning when I need an oil change. Even if your car displays remaining oil life, you must first remember to scroll through the display periodically to check it. Jiffy Lube, Kwik Kar and other oil change franchises solve that problem by putting a small transparent sticker on my windshield to remind me at what mileage I need to change oil.

Doctors, dentists and veterinary clinics have long sent reminders when annual checkups are due. Same principle!

Most consumer products that require periodic maintenance or replacement give no obvious warning. Filters on furnaces and air conditioners, and batteries in smoke detectors and watches all come to mind. Many things around the home and office including HVAC equipment, computers, alarms systems, pool equipment and so on all need periodic service for optimum efficiency.

If you sell replacement parts or service on products that fall into this category, create a diary system, a sticker or something to remind customers to schedule a service call.

Here are some additional thoughts to keep customers coming back to you for maintenance and service work.

  • Have the customer indicate how they want to be contacted for a reminder when they initially purchase the item or sign up for service. Provide several options such as email and phone calls. Both are cheaper and more likely to solicit a favorable response than mailing a card. Whatever diary system you choose, it is sure to improve customer retention.
  • Create a sense of urgency by including a limited-time special offer with the reminder. A 15% discount, a free month of service or other incentive will discourage customers from procrastinating or purchasing services elsewhere.
  • Everyone who subscribes to magazines has received next year’s renewal notice within a few months of renewing the current year. In some cases, the marketing strategy may be to hope the subscriber forgot they still have 10 months remaining on the current subscription. However, the publisher usually offers substantial discounts to renew early, especially if pre-authorized to charge your credit card at renewal.

The same idea applies to remind clients to renew annual contracts, maintenance agreements and so forth. Do not wait for the customer to contact you, and do not risk losing a sale simply because you forgot. Again, offer customers a discount or an extra month on the contract if they renew by a specified date.

Enjoy the long weekend as we celebrate the unofficial end to summer and our 118thannual Labor Day. Thank you to our Canadian neighbors who came up with the idea ten years before Grover Cleveland copied it!

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

 

It’s Nice to be Lucky

Someone recently asked why I prefer consulting to corporate positions. The truth is I am not sure I do. However, the question got me thinking. That got me writing, so here I go.

A number of years ago, family circumstances forced me to leave the corporate arena, where I had established a 25-year record of success. Consulting offered the only viable opportunity to feed my family.

Back then, the World Wide Web as we called it was still in its infancy. Only large companies had websites. E-commerce was virtually nonexistent. Facebook would not be introduced for another four years. My personal computer provided email access. However, many people still lacked an email address, especially at home. I cannot recall whether I could attach documents. I suspect not. Cell phones typically cost hundreds of dollars per month, largely due to a now antiquated practice of assessing “roaming charges” for long distance calls. Blogging? That sounded more like something my Rottweiler does after she eats grass than a mass communications tool.

I did not have a marketing clue, let alone a marketing plan!

What I did have was a telephone. It attached to the wall with a long wire. You may remember the device, having seen one in your grandmother’s house or perhaps a museum. It could serve as a fax, but only if the recipient also had one. Although it sometimes seemed to weigh 500 pounds, I was occasionally able to muster the strength to use it.

The third phone call I made landed a million dollar client. It also launched what became a 15-person consulting firm. You can choose to characterize the call as pure dumb luck, divine intervention or anything in between. I will find no fault with whatever label you assign. The bottom line is consulting supported a comfortable life style for several years, while allowing me to address challenging family issues.

A decade later, circumstances beyond my control again forced me into consulting. Since then, I have defined my value proposition (I had no idea what that was 12 years ago) by offering cost effect advice to small and medium sized businesses. My advice is usually very specific, lengthy and often somewhat technical.

Today I will depart from my recent path. Instead, I will present two brief and decidedly nontechnical suggestions. I share both from very personal experience.

1. Mr. Tom Lewis, an online marketing consultant from “across the pond” put the whole concept of small business marketing in a rather interesting and concise perspective. He said, “All these new media buzzwords like social networking and technology like LinkedIn are just new ways of complementing (some would say avoiding) personal contact. Get out there and get your face known! Pick up the phone and call some potential clients. Speak at some networking events. Knock on some doors.”

As Mr. Lewis’ quote insinuates, there is a significant difference between merely communicating and actually connecting with customers and prospects. I can instantly communicate with thousands of people with the click of a few buttons. Yet even with the myriad of now common “high tech” options, the only better way of really connecting with someone other than the lowly telephone is in person. Unfortunately, that option is often unavailable.

My first suggestion is therefore quite simple. Include some “low-tech” tactics in your marketing plan. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Your next large client may be waiting at the other end! Mine was.

2. As of July 2011, 13.9 million Americans (9.1% of the civilian workforce) were unemployed. Over 6 million people are deemed long-term unemployed, Washington-speak for out of a job over six months and desperate. Motivated by a lack of alternative employment opportunities, large numbers eventually migrate into their own business or consulting, as I did. Unfortunately, many are fundamentally unprepared for the operational and emotional challenges that line the road to successful self-employed. Nevertheless, they are more in need of a simple word of encouragement than business advice.

I end with a quote by Thomas Edison. He said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That is as true in today’s difficult economy as it was in 1879 when Edison perfected the light bulb after experimenting with over 10,000 different filaments.

That leads me to the shortest and most basic suggestion I have ever dared offer. Hang in there!

Until next time, I wish you good fortune in all your business endeavors. Let me know if I can be of assistance.

 

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 3

Last week I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my files have had more than 4,100 combined views, 3,200 for one file alone. On Monday, I discussed how to make SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts.

Today I will conclude this topic with a discussion of ways to make PowerPoint slides more effective online, and how to take advantage of SlideShare to save printing cost. Here is the final part of the list:

9. I was pleased to see that PowerPoint speaker’s notes are visible for each slide. Even if you do not usually take advantage of this feature in your presentations, you should consider using it to replace whatever narrative you would ordinarily add in a live venue.

10.  One PowerPoint feature that will not translate through SlideShare is animation. I typically have numerous visuals enter and exit slides as appropriate to support my verbal narration. In reviewing my posted slide shows, I quickly noticed that all visuals are in screen. In my case, this made for some very busy slides. Consider tailoring your uploaded slides accordingly.

11.  If you decide one or more slides do not convey the full story after you view them online, you can simply adjust your PowerPoint or pdf document and replace the original file with a new upload. This will save
having to reenter descriptions and tags, something I learned was necessary after I deleted several files to make minor changes. It also maintains continuous viewing statistics.

12.  I am always surprised by the cost of printing projects. My frustration over this expense is magnified by the need to “bring a few extra copies” just in case more attendees show up than expected, while knowing most will be left behind or eventually tossed in the trash. SlideShare presents an opportunity to reduce or eliminate this outlay. I suggest presenting only a cryptic outline of your presentation at the event, probably no more than one or two pages. The purpose of this short handout is merely to facilitate note taking. It has the added advantage of directing attendees’ attention to you rather than flipping through a voluminous handout. Allow attendees to download their own slides, either before or after the seminar. Since they will only print those of interest, this is a legitimately green initiative.

As a last bit of advice, if you are one of the almost 15 million unemployed Americans, please consider creating and posting a visual resume on SlideShare.net. It will add another venue for prospective employers to find you, while demonstrating your communication skills and knowledge of current social media tools.

Well, that is my entire list. I hope you will find something of value, and more importantly that it will encourage you in your continuing pursuit of the low-cost marketing experimentation I talked so much about in my book, Highly Visible Marketing – 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity.

Finally, for the record the other two Chinese proverbs are “May you come to the attention of powerful people” and “May you find what you are looking for.” Again, both would seem to apply to my small business and
middle-market target audience, especially when you consider that the most powerful person of all is the customer whose attention you are looking for!

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2

On Friday, I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my seven files have had more than 3,400 combined views, 2,800 for one file alone.

I shared the first three items on my list. They discussed how to start your profile, upgrade options and social media connections. Part 2 will discuss suggestions for making SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts. Here is today’s list:

4. I preach a simple 12-word marketing strategy to clients and friends. It is this: Communicate one message, promoting one brand, to multiple audiences, at no cost. While Friday’s item #3 fully supports this strategy, do not stop there! I issued three free press releases (one of which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/ipIFnF), published this information using several free article marketing websites and periodically retweet links to the presentations.

5. The first slide of a PowerPoint presentation or the first page of a pdf document will appear as a small icon link on your profile page. It should be readable, attractive and descriptive to invite viewers. I display my logo and blog URL on every download. You will also be asked to provide a description, category and tags for each file. Making this information keyword rich makes it easier for interested views to locate you slide shows and videos. Making something keyword rich simply means using certain words and phrases that potential customers are likely to use in search engines when looking for your company, products or  services.

6. SlideShare gives users the option of allowing viewers to download files. Since you are posting files in a very public venue, I see no reason not to allow downloads. Additionally, presentations can be made available only to authorized viewers with any of the upgraded versions. It is then a viable option to share private files that are simply too large to email. An example might be a large contract or proposal in pdf format.

If you do not know how to create a pdf file, download CutePDF Writer at http://cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp. It is a free version of commercial PDF creation software. CutePDF Writer installs itself as a printer subsystem. This enables virtually any Windows applications to create professional quality pdf documents.

7. SlideShare can be used to promote and support your event marketing efforts. For example, you can make advanced copies of upcoming seminars available online to help invitees decide whether to attend, or provide copies to interested parties who are unable to attend.

8. Users and their followers can post additional information on their wall, very similar to Facebook. I posted a notice of a free seminar based on one of my uploaded files, along with a link to EventBrite for event details. Viewers can also post comments on individual slide shows.

Please return Wednesday when we not only complete the list of 12 things I learned, but will reveal the final two Chinese proverbs.

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 1

“May you live in interesting times” is the English translation of the first of three Chinese proverbs. These are very interesting times indeed for business owners struggling to market their products and services without simultaneously emptying their bank account. It seems not a week goes by that I do not learn about another free or (almost as good) low-cost marketing tool on the Internet.

This week was no exception! CFO America opened an account at SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Users can upload files in PowerPoint and pdf formats, among others. It is comparable to YouTube, but is primarily for slideshows. Launched in 2006, the website was originally intended as a vehicle for businesses to share slides with employees. However, it has since expanded to host slides and videos for entertainment, educational and other purposes.

SlideShare claims 50 million visitors and 90 million page views per month, ranking it as one of the top 250 websites in the world. The White House used SlideShare to publish President Obama’s birth certificate in
April 2011. The impressive list of blue ribbon users also includes NASA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, several branches of the U.S. military, Dell and the University of Texas.

Today I present the first of a three-part series on this subject. I will cover the basics of how to get started and how to increase your market exposure. I will complete the series next week.

Here are the first three things I learned about SlideShare that will help you “Avoid Market Obscurity“:

  1. Begin your exciting marketing experience by opening a free account at http://www.slideshare.net/. You will be asked to create a public profile that includes a description of your business, address and contact information, logo or picture, website link, industry, keyword tags, and other basic information. Start by visiting CFO America’s profile at http://www.slideshare.net/CFOAmerica.
  2. Like most “free” online services, this one has several upgraded versions. They range in price from $19 to $249 per month. The extra fees buy customized channels, expanded functionality, visitor analytics and the removal of banner ads, among other advantages. All upgrades include Zipcast, a virtual meeting service similar to the better-known and admittedly more robust GoToMeeting. The advantage is that subscribers receive a customized link to share with their attendees. Those attendees merely click the link without the need to download software or open a SlideShare account. Regular readers already know my advice on this one! Even if these features appeal to you, I suggest you resist the urge to upgrade until after you have had an opportunity to evaluate your experience over the first thirty to ninety days. You may find the additional cost is unnecessary. I should add that the free service includes unlimited slide shows and documents, plus three videos per month.
  3. SlideShare collaborates with social media giants Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote and share content. For example, you can embed presentations on your Facebook Fan Page, your LinkedIn profile or your blog. I embedded a document on my Fan Page, a simple matter of coping and pasting a code supplied by SlideShare. The document can now be opened in full screen. Viewers can also like, retweet or otherwise
    share presentations with their followers and connections.

Three of my PowerPoint presentations had over 200 combined views during their first 3 days online. One of my pdf documents (a reprint of this article) was featured on SlideShare’s home page, and was viewed over 1,500 times during its first 36 hours online. I am confident this activity, which puts to shame my YouTube statistics, was largely the result of the other social media services. Take full advantage of these capabilities for maximum market exposure.

Have a great weekend, and please plan to read Twelve Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2 on Monday. As an added incentive to returning readers, next week I will share the final two Chinese proverbs.

Surely you won’t want to miss that!

Showing Appreciation Without Spending Money

John Willard Marriott, the late founder of the hospitality chain that bears his name, summarized the ultimate reason why every business must energize their work force. He said, “Motivate them, train them, care about them, and make winners out of them. They’ll treat the customers right. And if customers are treated right, they’ll come back.” Given Marriott International’s $11.7 billion of revenue and 34% return on equity in 2010, I must assume Marriott employees are still treating customers right, 25 years after his passing.

One of the traditional motivational tools employers use is an employee benefits package. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that most businesses cannot afford to compensate valuable employees as much as they would like to. Providing a competitive benefits package is even more difficult for small and mid-sized businesses. In a challenging economy, many do well just to be able to offer continued employment. I previously wrote about the value of offering discounts to employees. This is especially applicable in retail businesses that sell consumer products like clothing and jewelry.

Here is a variation of that idea that may help employers in your area while generating significant sales for you. Offer discounts or special services to someone else’s employees. I once worked for a 400-employee company that arranged (at my suggestion) a pickup and delivery service by a local dry cleaner. Another employer provided a weekly car cleaning service. Since employees paid for either service as they used them, both examples created a cost-free benefit from the employers’ perspective. The services created value since they allowed employees to complete personal errands they would otherwise have to address on their own time. More to the point, these examples also presented a large one-stop customer base for the service providers.

This strategy may work especially well as a means of extending a business-to-business relationship to your customers’ employees. For example, if you repair their employer’s computers, employees will already be familiar with your service and reputation. Offer them a discount for home computer service, especially if they can save you a trip by bringing personal computers to work.

Finally, if you have employees (almost 80% of American businesses do not), try to arrange similar on-site services and discounts from businesses used by your workforce.

Nine Things I learned about YouTube-Part 1

A few weeks ago, having recently published Highly Visible Marketing, I had a guilt-stricken moment. You know the experience, the one where you suddenly realize you’re not following
the very advice you so freely give to others. In my case, it was driven by having advocated YouTube as a free marketing tool in your social media arsenal, something I had yet to do myself. Having resolved to “practice what I preach” I published my first YouTube video yesterday. The experience was so cathartic that I decided to blog about it.

Frankly,  my video has yet to snag an Academy Award nomination for best cinematography or sound editing. I am especially disappointed at being ignored for Best Costume, given that I wore a freshly laundered shirt. However, I did learn a few things in the process that might save you time and money, and might encourage readers to “take the plunge” into producing their own YouTube videos.

Today, I’ll share the first four things I learned, those dealing with required hardware and software, and how much you can expect to spend. Here is today’s list:

  1. I began my YouTube adventure expecting to spend several hundred dollars to get the hardware and software I’d need. That did not prove to be necessary. I initially explored several software packages that would provide basic editing capabilities. Each had a price tag of around $100. It turns out my Windows operating system already had two pieces of software that provide all the functionality I need. Unless you fancy yourself as the Steven Spielberg of social media, so does yours! They are Windows Live Movie Maker (“WLMM”) and Sound Recorder.
  2. Although most computers have a built in microphone, the audio from mine sounded muffled and distant. I invested $15 in a basic headset (available at any big-box store that sells computers or audio equipment), which although far from perfect, greatly enhanced the sound quality.
  3. You will need a video camera to complete the full range of input options you’ll want. Almost any digital camera or cell phone will work, but video quality and ease of uploading to your computer can be issues. I initially planned to buy a Cisco Flip video camera, the preferred camera of most people I know who are active on YouTube. I quickly learned this brand has been discontinued. Instead, I bought a comparable Sony Bloggie camera for $149. One word of advice is to make sure your camera has a tripod mount.
  4. Finally, I also bought a mid-range web camera, which was on sale for $15. This tool could replace the need for a microphone and a video camera. However, I found the sound and video quality both somewhat lacking. More significantly, I would be forever tied to filming in front of my computer. With a son in the military and the free availability of Skype (an awesome product I plan to discuss at length in my next book), the money was still well spent.

On Friday, I will discuss the final five items. I’ll see you then! In the meantime, locate WLMM and Sound Recorder on your computer and start drafting that first script!

Energizing Your Work Force

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics once said, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, make me feel important. Never forget this message when working with people.”

Her quote applies to both customers and employees. Today, I want to apply it to your employees. Make sure every employee fully understands how important the accomplishment of his or her individual goals is to achieving overall company success. Publicly praise them when they accomplish a major milestone toward achieving those goals.

Do not assume every employee knows all they need to know about your products, services, company policies or even the basics of sales and customer service. Make the effort to ensure they are adequately trained on all critical aspects of your business. Simply teaching them to up sell by always asking the equivalent of the fast food industry’s standard question, “Do you want fries with that order?” will go a long way toward increasing average customer purchases.

Why is this important? Alan J. Zell, author and retail marketing expert says, “Every business needs more business. That is an accepted fact. The unaccepted fact is that most businesses don’t use all the opportunities available that will bring them additional business. When one looks for additional business, the primary goal should center around getting second sales. What are second sales and why are they important? Second sales are add-on sales, repeat sales and sale by referral. They are important because they are much less expensive to get than first sales.”

If you would like to see Mr. Zell’s advice in practice, try leaving a shoe store without being asked if you need extra laces, polish and a few extra pairs of socks to go with your new shoes. It cannot be done!

I talked earlier about the importance of networking. Here are two simple suggestions that will make your employees feel appreciated, and give you the opportunity to grow your business through their network contacts.

  • If there are too many networking opportunities for one person, have a key employee join a group or two. It will be a growth experience for them and it demonstrates your trust and appreciation.
  • I can still remember my excitement over 35 years ago when, having just graduated college, I brought my first business card home and presented it to my father. I do not know who was prouder, my dad or me. I also gave copies to everyone I knew, and probably strangers I passed on the street. However, what I attributed to pride, my employer probably chalked up to that cheap advertising I talked about in Chapter 3. Order business cards for all your permanent employees. They are sure to hand them out generously.

Let’s meet again on Wednesday. And remember, you have just one week to submit your entry for CFO America’s contest and a chance to win a $100 gift card. Please visit http://bit.ly/iImrPd for details.

Multi-cultural Marketing

I want to expand on an idea I first suggested several weeks ago. I mention it again because I believe that for many small and mid-sized businesses, it has tremendous potential to tap into largely ignored or under-served market segments.

The suggestion is simply to consider offering your products or services to non-English speaking customers. Here are some statistics that might influence your strategic decisions. The social impact of this data is
profound. You must decide its marketing significance.

  • A U.S. Census Bureau report titled Language Use in the United States: 2007 estimated 55 million Americans over the age of five (20% of the population) spoke a language other than English at home. That compared to 23 million in 1980.
  • According to the same 2007 Census Bureau report, 35 million Americans over the age of five speak Spanish as their primary language at home. Only half considered themselves able to speak English
    very well. That percentage is comparable to those who speak Asian and Pacific Island languages at home. With 8 million Americans and a 250% increase since 1980, this is the fastest growing of any language group reported.
  • The report found that California, Texas, Florida and New York reported a combined Hispanic population of 27 million people, with nine other states having populations in excess of 500 thousand Hispanics.
  • According to the 2009 Annual report of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility or HACR, 10 million U.S. Hispanic households represent a consumer market of $1 trillion.
  • A March 22, 2011 article in USA Today by David Lieberman had an indication of how prominent the Hispanic culture has become in the American Southwest. That article reported that Texas alone now has 154 Spanish-speaking radio stations, up from 25 ten years ago. The same source reported that the number of Hispanic radio listeners increased by 1.1 million in 2010.
  • Finally, according to the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation, 30% of all new business owners in 2010 were Hispanic, compared to 13% in 1996. Overall, immigrants are more than twice as likely to
    start businesses as people born in the United States are. These statistics are especially relevant if you have a significant business-to-business component in your value proposition.

Have I convinced you of the sales potential of some level of bilingual marketing? If so, start by perform a cost-benefit analysis of bilingual resources that includes your staff, marketing material, social
networking platforms and basic company forms such as estimates, proposals, invoices and statements.

Let me end with a tip that may make this idea affordable to even the tightest budget.

  • According to a May 2009 article by Al Neuharth (founder of USA Today) titled College Decision Day, there are 4,352 colleges, universities, and junior colleges in the United States. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business reported in Business School Data Trends and 2010 List of Accredited Schools that there are 454 institutions offering MBA programs.

Many of these institutions include unpaid internships as part of their curriculum requirements. As you consider today’s idea, consider also whether a bilingual intern could assist you in its implementation.

I look forward to meeting again on Monday. Until then, please read http://bit.ly/iImrPd for details of how you can help me celebrate my birthday next week and win a $100 gift card from the Olive Garden in the process. You can then post your contest entry at  http://www.facebook.com/CFOAmerica.

More on Dues-fee Networking

Last Friday’s post discussed ways to network without incurring dues. Here is one more idea on that topic. Use your burgeoning networking skills to form your own merchants’association.

I was in a frozen custard store a few months back. (Note that if I were making this story up, I would have said a health food store.) As I was leaving, the cashier handed me a 25% coupon. There was nothing unusual
about that. However, this coupon was for another retailer selling totally unrelated products. The reality is the second retailer (assume it was a shoe store) would happily hand the identical coupon to any new customer who walked through their door. This idea is effective because except for the coupon, I would have never given the shoe store a thought.

Many malls and similar retail venues have a merchants’ association to promote its members. For example, you can plan facility-wide marketing events (festivals, special sale days, etc.), or one-on-one partnership
promotions like the custard store illustration. Another common practice is to offer gift certificates that can be redeemed in any member’s store. The concept works well for participants in close physical proximity and if marketing partners know and trust you, and are familiar with your product or service. Assuming you can obtain the help and support of other members, create an association newsletter or similar forum to keep members informed about matters of common interest like law changes, community events and so forth.

Let me now end the discussion on networking with a quote from Mr. Tom Lewis, an online marketing consultant from “across the pond” who I thought put the whole concept of networking in a rather interesting and
concise perspective. He said, “All these new media buzzwords like social networking and technology like LinkedIn are just new ways of complementing (some would say avoiding) personal contact. Get out there and get your face known! Pick up the phone and call some potential clients. Speak at some networking events. Knock on some doors.”

Thank you Mr. Lewis, I agree.

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