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Customer Feedback: Why Ask if You Do Not Really Want to Know?

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on December 3, 2009 in Small Business Customer Service |

Do you want to just laugh when you have a lousy interaction with a company’s customer service department and then they ask you to take a survey about their customer service?

The other day I dealt with customer service at a software company. The representative blew me off, his supervisor did the same, and the top dog manager was only mildly accommodating. At the end of all this merry-go-round, they asked me to take a 3 question survey to rate their customer service. I told them they had to be joking!

However, there are companies that do manage to make excellent use of customer feedback, and I definitely want to highlight one example.

Royal Resorts: 5 Ways to Make Use of Customer Feedback
Every year we go down to Cancun, Mexico for 5 weeks with the family. We stay at a timeshare called Royal Resorts. These five-star resorts have customer service that will meet or beat that of any of the top hotels like the Hyatt or Ritz-Carlton. Here are 5 things that Royal Resorts does with customer feedback that allow me, as a member, to know that my comments are being heard.

#1 – Be Persistent in Asking for Feedback
As with most timeshares, the Royal Resorts timeshares are sold in weeks that start and end on Saturdays. Every Friday, our bill is delivered to our villa along with a survey form. The survey form covers every resort service, from maid service and maintenance to restaurant quality and salon services. When we go to pay our bill, on Friday night or Saturday morning, the staff already knows whether we have turned in our survey form. If not, they ask us to please take a few minutes to complete the survey. They ask very politely, but they are persistent.

We attend yoga classes every weekday morning. On Fridays, the yoga instructors always remind us that it is the end of the week and that they would appreciate us filling out the survey forms, noting especially the quality or lack thereof of their yoga class. This serves as a further reminder to fill out the form.

#2 – Reward Feedback
Every time we fill out the survey form and turn it in, we are entered into a drawing for a free week’s stay at one of the resorts. I’ve never been picked for this prize, but the extra incentive always helps!

#3 – Respond to Feedback via Corporate Communication
All members of the Royal Resorts receive monthly e-newsletters, and can also sign up for additional information feeds from the company’s website. In addition, magazines that detail any new developments at the resorts are mailed out quarterly. The company uses these communication methods to respond in general to the feedback pay for someone to write your essay they receive, especially to the more common requests.

For instance, in the last couple of years many guests from the U.S. have requested that the resorts have wireless internet in the rooms. The company put out a survey asking whether people would be willing to pay for wireless internet on a weekly basis, and if so, how much? A high percentage of members jumped on the survey, and the results were displayed live on the website. Most guests from the U.S. would easily have paid for the service. The result? There is now wireless internet available in the villas at the Royal Sands, one of the newest resorts. While it is clear that resort management can’t quite figure out why American workaholics want to work on vacation, they nevertheless listened to and acted on the feedback.

#4 – Pay Attention to the Smallest Details
The villas at each resort are beautifully decorated with stone floors. While the stone floors are certainly pretty to look at and easy to maintain, they create a lot of noise when you move furniture across them. For instance, every time I pushed a chair back from the dining table, the chair scraped across the floor so loudly that the sound could be heard in the villas above and below us. I know this because I could hear chairs scraping across the floors above and below us.

In one of our comment forms, we suggested that the company place felt pads under all the furniture to prevent this noisy scraping. Boy were we surprised when we arrived the next year to find felt pads on every piece of furniture in the villa. That’s a lot of felt pads! There are at least 10 chairs (with 4 legs each) in each villa, not to mention the dining table, coffee tables, and nightstands. That attention to detail made me want to fill out the survey forms with more zeal than ever.

#5 – Educate the Staff to Respond to Feedback
Not every customer request can be accommodated, of course, so having a knowledgeable staff that can explain the reasons behind certain policies is important. For instance, we requested a recycling program for several years in a row but saw no results. When I queried the front desk about this issue, the clerk was well-informed and responded immediately. He said that while most Americans were conscious about recycling, many Mexican visitors found recycling a hassle, especially on vacation. As a result, the resort staff simply collected all the garbage from the villas and sorted out the recycling by hand.

Ick! That grossed me out, but I was totally impressed by their willingness to recycle as well as respect the needs of their Mexican guests. Moreover, I was impressed with how the clerk immediately knew the answer to my question. The same has been true of almost any other question I have posed to the front desk staff.

Today, there are recycling bins located in each villa as well as all around the resorts. Over the last several years the company has been educating its guests about the importance of recycling, and it seems that at last most people agree with this policy.

I’m Impressed, Are You?
As you can probably tell, I am impressed as heck at the level of customer service at these resorts. Any company that gets down to the nitty-gritty and takes action on a tiny suggestion like adding felt pads to the furniture has earned my loyalty for life. And I’m not the only one. The first of the resorts in this chain opened back in the 1970s, and since then families have been passing their timeshare weeks down through the generations. Based on a straw poll I did around the pool, I would say that the multiple generations of members coming to the resorts are just as rabidly loyal as me.

What about you and your small business? Are you asking for feedback from your customers? If so, are you really listening to what they have to say?

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Why Cranky Customers Can be Good for Small Business

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on December 1, 2009 in Small Business Customer Service |

small business customer loyaltyHave you noticed that the number cranky customers is on the rise? This isn’t a huge surprise, since the current economic situation tends to make people testy about anything to do with money, including shipping fees, taxes, and product cost. And while it may be irritating to deal with unhappy customers, finding ways to soothe these customers can actually increase your small business profitability and generate customer loyalty in the long run.

Cranky Customers and Profitability: An Example
Recently I have had several interactions with cranky customers that has reshaped the way I handle customer service for my small businesses. In one case, a customer complained about the shipping cost for a single bottle of nutritional supplements he ordered from my small business website.

The bottle of supplements cost around $55 and the shipping ran about $8.50. The customer sent in a rude email complaining about the greed of my small business, and how my small business was taking unfair advantage of people suffering from economic woes by charging super-high shipping costs.

Unfortunately, being the distributor rather than the producer of this product, I wasn’t able to change the shipping charge. I sent the customer an email explaining this, and offering to send him a $5.00 check to ease the situation. After a few more grumpy emails back and forth, the customer finally realized that while my small business was not responsible for the actual shipping charge, I was offering to help.

When he finally understood the situation, he commented, “This says a lot about the integrity and helpfulness of your company. I will buy from you again.” While the $5.00 shipping reimbursement does cut into the profit margin for this single order, I now have a loyal customer who will shop with me again in the future. The value of that loyalty? Priceless!

Cranky Customers Just Need More Love

Everyone is under economic stress and, as a result, crankier than usual. If your small business encounters an unhappy customer, try this three step process to deflate the customer’s anger and create a loyal customer instead:

  1. Realize it’s not personal. Everyone is under stress. Once you realize this, you won’t be as tempted to get angry.
  2. Discover what the customer really wants. Try to see through all the bluster and find out what the customer is really asking for. Sometimes it’s just an apology, while other times it is a small token of appreciation, like the $5.00 shipping credit. In other words, most cranky customers feel bad (for whatever reason) and just need a little love.
  3. Take necessary action promptly. Once you reach a mutually acceptable solution to the problem (even if the customer wants to return the product for a full refund), take action now. Prompt action is another way to show consideration, and will often create customer loyalty even if the current transaction does not reach completion.

We are building an incredible customer base by following these three steps. With many retail stores, banks, and other large organizations are “under the gun” and failing to offer customers any freebies, instant and friendly customer service from your small business can often garner you loyal customers who would normally shop with larger companies.

 

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Small Business Owners: Do You Suck at Personal Finance? Go Scrooge Yourself

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on November 24, 2009 in Small Business Cash Flow, Small Business Opinion-Making, Small Business Strategy |

Asking if you suck at personal finance can seem insulting, but the question is not meant to be insulting. It’s just that, being a small business owner and having recently taken a deep look at my personal finances, I have to say that I suck at personal finance. A lot of my small business owner buddies do, too. How do I know this? Because we have all been taking the 30-Day Challenge by Ramit Sethi of the Scrooge Strategy, and it has been truly eye-opening.

What is the Scrooge Strategy 30-Day Challenge?
Basically, it’s an ebook written by national bestselling author Ramit Sethi. The challenge is to see if you can save $1,000 in 30 days by doing the steps in his ebook. There is one step per day.

There’s nothing really revelatory in the book but one message comes through loud and clear, especially for small business owners:

Most of us are far too busy maintaining our business finances that we let our personal finances fall by the wayside.

Or, to put it another way, we are too tired, lazy, or burned-out at the end of a business day to do the steps that Ramit suggests in his ebook. Being a small business owner can be difficult, and at the end of the day many of us want to take refuge in comfort rather than engage in the drudgery of personal finance.

An Enlightening Example of Why We Suck at Personal Finance
When it comes to saving money, most of what Ramit talks about is common sense. He calls it the “well, duh!” factor. An educated small business owner might read one of the personal finance tips, find it to be common sense, and say, “Well, duh! I already know that.” And that’s the end of it.

That’s all well and great, but just knowing about something and taking action are two completely different things. One example he gives in the book is pretty relevant as we move into winter and colder weather. One of his tips is to turn your thermostat down by three degrees to save money. He gives specific savings figures for several major cities so that you can estimate the amount of money you will probably save by turning down your thermostat.

Well, duh, right? OK, suppose you actually decide to turn down your thermostat. You bounce out of bed in the morning full of enthusiasm for saving money, and crank the sucker down by three degrees. Fabulous. Good for you.

Off you go to your small business, where you have a lousy day and waste lots of time fighting fires and producing little. You drag your butt home at night, feeling worn out and looking forward to a cozy evening on the couch with dinner and a glass of wine.

What a shocker when you open the front door and are greeted by the arctic temperatures inside your house. Oh yeah, you cranked your thermostat down by three degrees that morning. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Now it seems like a totally lousy idea invented by a complete moron. You are tired, hungry, and not in the mood to suffer. You rush to the thermostat, turn the dial up to 85 degrees, and promise that you’ll do better tomorrow. In actuality, the thermostat stays at 85 degrees and never goes back down.

That’s what Ramit means about the “well, duh” factor. We know better than we act, and thus our personal finances suck the big one. To fix this problem, he suggests that we stack a fuzzy robe, hat, and warm slippers by the front door before we leave for work in the morning. That way, when we drag our butts home at night, we will not only be reminded of why we turned the thermostat down, but we will have some immediate warmth to help us get through the shock of the cold air inside the house.

What’s the Moral of This Story?
The moral of this story is that if you are like most small business owners, you work yourself to the bone to squeeze the maximum profit out of your business, only to squander it with lousy personal finance skills.

Hmmm … sounds like a quandary to me. After all, why am I busting my butt at work only to end up with very little to show at the end of the day, week, month, or year? That seems silly. I might as well quit my small business, flip burgers for a living, and use some savvier personal finance skills to get ahead.

That’s why the Scrooge Strategy ebook has been so valuable to me. It helps me retain more of what I earn through my small business. Sound like a good idea to you? You can download the book for free and read it for 30 days. If you hate it, you don’t get charged. If you love it, there’s a one time charge of around $28. It’s been a heckuva deal for this small biz owner.

 

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Small Business Owners: Never Give Up!

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on November 17, 2009 in Small Business Leadership |

With the current business environment, small business owners are definitely struggling and “giving up” may start to look like a better and better option. While only you can decide when enough is enough, I heartily encourage you to consider staying in the game as long as possible.

For one thing, small businesses are the engines that really drive our economy, so just by keeping your doors open you are helping the economy to recover. Second, if you have been in business for more than 5 years, you have already beaten the odds, since 95% of small businesses fail by their fifth year. If you have come this far, maybe it’s worth trying to keep your small business afloat a while longer.

Inspiration from Winston Churchill and Abe Lincoln

Whenever I feel like having a pity party because one or more of my small businesses is floundering, I always turn to the examples of two inspiring leaders: Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.

Consider Winston Churchill, who survived two world wars, much criticism (as well as praise), and the turmoil of British politics for many decades. He was definitely a maverick, and suffered the indignities that are often heaped upon such characters. When invited to give a commencement speech at Eton, a well known private school in England, Churchill endured the 20-minute introduction, and then stood up and said:

“Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never.”

Then he sat down. In just nine words, Churchill captured the very essence of his indomitable will to succeed. Do those words ring a bell for you?

And then there is Abraham Lincoln, who demonstrated a similar sort of stubborn persistence that eventually led to success. Although many of us are familiar with parts of Lincoln’s political career, many are unaware of how many failures he suffered before he became President. Here’s a short chronology of Lincoln’s career:

1831  Failure in business

1832  Defeated for Legislature

1833  Failure in business again

1834  Elected to Legislature

1835  Sweetheart died

1836  Nervous breakdown

1838  Defeated for Speaker

1840  Defeated for Elector

1843  Defeated for Congressional Nomination

1846  Elected to Congress

1848  Defeated for Congress

1855  Defeated for Senate

1856  Defeated for Vice President

1859  Defeated for Senate

1860  Elected President

While Lincoln wasn’t recorded as saying, “Never give up on what you want,” it’s clear that he never did. Twelve defeats and major life losses marked his life, yet Lincoln never faltered in going after what he wanted.

Feel Inspired About Your Small Business Yet?

So if your small business has hit a bump in the road, be it a minor pothole or a major road hazard, think of Lincoln and Churchill. Perhaps by comparing the scale of your problems to the scale of the problems these two men faced, your business problems will shrink into perspective. In this time of economic correction, we need more small business owners with Churchill’s spirit and Lincoln’s will to step up and lead the way to recovery. So perhaps Churchill’s commencement comments can become a battle cry for your small business (as it has become for mine):

Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never!

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The Art of Monkishness for the Small Business Owner

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on November 10, 2009 in Small Business Management |

Adrian Monk is one of my favorite characters on television, probably because my husband resembles him so much … everything has to be “just so”! I catch reruns of “Monk” on the tube at least once a week, and I love how he uses his OCD mind, which is truly detail-oriented, to solve crimes. It has occurred to me more than once that small business owners could benefit from a little Monkishness to create a more efficient and productive business.

Small Business Owners and Adrian Monk
It’s true that Monk’s OCD tends to hinder rather than help him on a daily basis, since he spends so much time staying sanitary and clean. However, his “devil is in the details” approach is pretty useful for the small business owner.

Why? Well, think about this. How time do you spend looking for stuff (files, documents, phone numbers, etc.) that you’ve misplaced somewhere? How often do you dig around trying to find a business card? How many times have you tried to find that important email in the masses of them stacked in your inbox?

If you are like the typical small business owner, the answer is clear: a lot! The typical small business owner is a business-savvy risk taker who is adventurous but not necessarily organized. Lack of organization results in a lot of wasted time.

A Monkish Example
Let me give you a simple example. At the moment we are in Cancun, vacationing for 5 weeks. We have digital room keys. The first few days, I just carelessly laid my room key anywhere that was handy, often dropping it, along with sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm, on the counter or night stand. Sometimes I left it on the kitchen counter or dining room table of our condo. Wherever.

Those few days I spent at least 15 minutes per day looking for that darned key! Not that it makes a big difference on vacation, but it illustrated an important point: not knowing where stuff is wastes a lot of time!

My husband and I decided after a few days to always put our room keys on top of the television so we wouldn’t waste time looking for them. After all, looking for our keys one day made us late for a taco party!

Tools for the Monkish Small Business Owner
Misplacing a room key is a small matter, but throw a few of these “time wasters” into your business day and you’ll easily lose an hour or more hunting down stuff that should be at your fingertips. Luckily, there are a number of useful tools for the small business owner who wants to be more like Adrian Monk. Here are a few of my favorites.

Password Agent
This encrypted software safely stores your login and password information, as well as notes about anything important. If you are like the average small business owner, then your online accounts abound. With this software, when you need to login to a website, all you have to do is open it and access your login information. Because this software is encrypted and lives on your computer rather than in your browser, it gives you an added layer of protection. This software comes in a free “Lite” version, which allows you to store a limited number of records, or a full version which gives you unlimited records. Free downloads are available at Tucows and other software download sites.

Chaos Intellect
I recently purchased this software for contact management and email list management. The software is quite inexpensive and allows you to easily store contact information about customers, vendors, and business partners. Best of all, it allows you to easily group contacts and send emails to entire groups at a time. The email-sending function on this software throttles the sending speed, so you don’t overwhelm your email server. Finally, contact records are linked to documents, emails, and any other form of correspondence, so that each contact record automatically stores a full record of every email or piece of correspondence sent. Compared to better-known but costlier contact management software programs, this program is a good buy.

Memo to Me

I love this online software because through it I can program email reminders to myself, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or on a specific date. I don’t like to have “reminder software” running in the background because it often eats up RAM, but having reminders come through email is convenient, since I check email at least twice a day. The software is available for an inexpensive subscription fee or you can get the free lite version.

I adore all three of these software programs because they keep all my necessary information at my fingertips. If you’ve got some nifty tools that help you be a more Monkish small business owner, I’d love to hear about it. As always, the pursuit of a more productive business life that allows more time for fun is ongoing!

 

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How Five Ideas per Day Might Save Your Small Business

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on November 3, 2009 in Small Business Management, Small Business Marketing |

Here is something to think about:

One of the most successful businessmen I have ever had the pleasure to talk to, Bob Block, credits his success in great part to his practice of developing five ideas per day to improve his businesses.

This is a practice he developed when he was just starting out as a salesperson in a mid-western state. He would think of five ideas, every single day, for improving his business.

While he admits that most of the ideas were worthless (about 95% of them), the few that were valuable were fairly priceless.

With small business owners struggling to keep their heads above water, don’t you think this practice might help generate innovative new ways to do small business?

The Value of Five Small Business Ideas per Day
I’ve recently started this practice and I can already see the benefits to my small businesses, and to me as a small business owner. Here are the benefits I have discovered so far:

  • I’m forced to think outside the box (all the “in the box” ideas were used up in the first few days)
  • I practice making mistakes every day, since most of the ideas are useless and can be considered “mistakes” … thus mistakes become an accepted part of learning to improve my businesses
  • I think of things only crazy people would think of, and historically crazy ideas are often the ones that result in quantum leaps in the business world
  • Many good small ideas pop up, and these ideas are useful for helping me patch up the “leaks” in my businesses, whether they relate to excess spending or lack of linkage between my online media outposts
  • This process prevents me from being lazy and conducting “business as usual,” which I tend to do when I think I’m too tapped-out to do more.

I really like this process and it has produced some excellent ideas for my small business. What about you? Care to give it a whirl?

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Small Business Owners: Stop Spending Money on Stupid Stuff Just Because You Can

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on October 27, 2009 in Small Business Management |

As the economy slides headlong into the dumper, it amazes me to watch small business owners continue to spend money on stupid stuff … just because they can or just because they always have. I can make this statement with impunity because I’m one of them!

What Constitutes “Stupid Stuff” in a Cash-Poor Economy?

So let me clarify what I mean by “stupid stuff.” Stupid stuff equals goods and services that your small business used to buy but, in today’s economy, which it can no longer afford.

I’ve recently gone through my small business expenditures and come up with a list of “stupid stuff” that my small business is no longer going to buy. I’ve listed some examples below. It is by no means a complete list, nor is in prioritized order, but it does cover a wide gamut of “stuff” just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Stupid stuff for my small business includes:

– extravagant holiday gifts for business partners
– fancy business cards
– business services that don’t come with a full estimate or fixed rate
– accounting and other services that could be had for less or for barter
– pretty pens (a weakness of mine)
– impulse buys (who needs a third Palm Pilot?)
– 80% of my business meetings over coffee or lunch (I can meet and not eat)
– colored anything just because they are prettier than white (file folders, for instance)
– office munchies for me and the crew

As I said this list isn’t comprehensive, but it does give you and idea of how my small business could save some cash in this economy. On the other hand, I am increasing small business expenditures in certain departments, despite the economy.

What Isn’t “Stupid Stuff” in This Economy?
Just because I am reducing small business expenses in some areas does not mean that my small business does not spend money on anything. In fact, I have increased expenditures in certain areas of my small business. These include:

– online courses in online marketing
– a small business spending savvy course
– backup equipment to safeguard business data
– software to improve the efficiency and data analysis for my marketing efforts

The ruler by which I measure whether my small business spending is “stupid or savvy” is whether it ultimately goes toward the bottom line. A third electronic gadget, while pink and very pretty, does not qualify. A software package that improves the “white hat” quality of my online marketing efforts definitely qualifies. See the difference?

If you have any guidelines of your own for small business spending which differentiate between stupid and savvy, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment and let me know!

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How to be an Efficient Little Twerp in Small Business

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on October 20, 2009 in Small Business Management |

I’m kind of a manic-depressive small business owner, sometimes super-focused and other times distracted to pieces … not a good personality type for running a small business. I figured this out about myself a long time ago and realized that the only way I would ever succeed in small business is to become this:

An efficient little twerp.

What’s an Efficient Little Twerp?
“Efficient little twerp” is the phrase a friend recently used to describe me in the way that I run my small businesses. Being an efficient little twerp is how I manage to be successful in my small businesses despite my major personality flaws, and boils down to three things:

1. Being good or hiring someone better.
2. Knowing the devil is in the details.
3. Accepting AFGOs as part of business (Another Friggin’ Growth Opportunity)

So these three things make me an efficient little twerp and allow my small businesses to run smoothly. They might help you, too, if you run small businesses and suffer from some sort of personality flaws. For instance, manic-depressive cycles are just one of mine. I’m also a lazy, arrogant, in need of external validation, and a host of other foibles. Any of these sound familiar to you? In any case, here are three little rules to being an efficient little twerp in small business that may help.

1. Being Good or Hiring Someone Better
If small business owners are to be faulted in one major area, it’s usually that we believe we are super-heroes and can do EVERYTHING for our businesses. Not only can we do our main area of expertise, but feel we can also do marketing, strategizing, bookkeeping and accounting, customer relations, business development, legal work, and heavy lifting.

Not gonna happen.

We may be able to do all of these things, but chances are that we won’t do all of them well. Part of being an effective little twerp in small business is figuring out what you’re good at, and hiring people to do the rest.

For instance, I’m fairly good at writing, marketing, and online interaction. I suck at legal work, accounting, and phone-based customer support. These I hire out to people, which makes me sane, allows my business to run smoothly, and, of course, makes me the efficient little twerp that I am.

2. Knowing the Devil is in the Details
Having just said that I hire out the work at which I’m not very proficient, I have to now add a caveat. To be an efficient little twerp, I also have to understand something about the work that I’m outsourcing the others. I have to understand the details of the work I hire out, even if I don’t do it myself.

Here’s a prime example: a week before corporate taxes were due, my current accountant (not the new one I’m going with in the coming year) call me up and tell me I owe a few grand in corporate taxes. This did not sound in the least correct to me. I had sent in a payment with my extension early in the year, and didn’t understand why the taxes I still owed were so much higher than the extension. Having done my own corporate taxes for a few years, I smelled a rat.

Instead of just “rolling with the punches,” I pulled up the tax figures I had sent to the accountant and compared them to the corporate return. Bingo. I caught an accounting error where a few income sources had been doubled, which accounted for the major tax I supposedly owed. I called the accountant, got it straightened out, and now have a tax credit.

So even though I hire out my accounting work (because I know I can’t keep up with current tax law), I know enough about HOW small business accounting works to know when something is wrong. The devil is in the details, and this case, not knowing the details could have cost my business a few thousand in unnecessary taxes. Sure, I would have eventually gotten a refund, but why pay the government unnecessarily in this cash-tight economy? Now that would not be typical “efficient little twerp” behavior.

3. Accepting AFGOs as Part of Business
This is a PG-rated article, so I can’t say what AFGO really stands for, but Another Friggin’ Growth Opportunity kind of gives you the idea, right? Part of being an efficient little small business twerp is figuring out when you’ve made a gaffe, learning from it, and then moving on.

A lot of small business owners are good at figuring out that they’ve screwed up, but then they stay in “screw up land” forever. So you screwed up. Big deal. Learn from it and move on. The other day I got myself banned from an online site. Bummer … my online marketing activities really took a hit. I researched the steps needed to get unbanned, but after reading what everyone else had to say, realized that it wasn’t going to be possible in the short term. So what’s an efficient little twerp to do? Move on. There are lots of branches on the online marketing tree, so if one branch gets chopped of, just focus on some other branches for a while. No biggie and no only. It’s how I learn to better run and promote my small businesses. AFGO. It’s a good thing. Really. And every efficient little twerp not only accepts them, but eventually learns to welcome them.

I hope this small rant on the three rules I’ve discovered about being an efficient little twerp in business may in some way bring a smile to your face, give you a giggle, and maybe even help out a bit!

If you have any suggestions on being a twerp, or otherwise running a small business better, cheaper, or more enjoyably, please, leave a comment. I’d love to hear!

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Triple Your Small Business Capabilities Fast Without Adding Staff

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on October 8, 2009 in Small Business Leadership, Small Business Management |

So there is a small business guy around here I really admire – Mike of All Wet Sprinklers. This economy has been just as tough on Mike as on every other small business owner. People are slamming their wallets shut, and fewer people want new sprinkler systems installed on their properties.

So Mike, being the totally ingenious Italian dude that he is, decided that he would expand the services his small businesses offered so he could get more work. The sprinkler system market was shrinking, so Mike decided to expand into other markets, including landscaping, masonry, supplying firewood, and dog walking (actually, I’m not sure if he actually walks dogs or he’s just pulling my leg).

How to Triple Your Small Business Capabilities
So how did Mike go from sprinkler dude to landscaping, rock-working, firewood dude? Well, he didn’t take on any new staff. Instead, he partnered up with a couple of other small business folks in the area who were also feeling the economic pinch.

Chris, a stone mason, knows how to build you a giant wall in nothing flat. Mike’s significant other, Candy, works a regular job but knows landscaping like the back of her hand, so she helps Mike with the landscaping plans when she’s off work. And then there’s some other dude I haven’t met who does the firewood thing.

So Mike shows up to give us an estimate on a little irrigation project for our back field. He’s got Chris with him. We find out Chris is a stone mason and we ask him to give us an estimate on putting our patio and planter rocks back together. The rocks were falling so fast we just about needed to put up a “Danger: Falling Rock” sign. Chris and Mike gave us estimates and we gave them thumbs up.

They tackle the irrigation project first. Mike knows all about irrigation so he does most of the planning and buys the right parts. Chris does the grunt work. Then they move onto the rock work. Here, Chris mixes the all-important mortar and Mike does the grunt work. At the end of the jobs, they divvy up my check. Each of them made less on the total job than they would have alone, but each earned more than an unemployment check.

Mike’s now working on getting me some firewood from his buddy. Same deal … split the check, earn less than usual, but bring in solid work in a lean economy.

See how it works? Can you see how that might work for your small business? Got any lean and hungry business associates who might want to partner up?

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Three Crucial Questions for Small Business Owners

Posted by Stephanie Valentine on October 6, 2009 in Small Business Leadership, Small Business Management |

There’s no doubt that most organizations, from small businesses to large corporations, are struggling. It’s been a darn hard time for most people. And yet giving up just really isn’t an option for many small business owners since the job market doesn’t offer a lot of hope and many retirement plans have suffered serious setbacks.

But even though the economic situation is less than perfect, it does present us small business owners with a perfect opportunity to ask some penetrating questions. It allows us to ask ourselves what is important about our small businesses. It helps us remember why we started our small businesses, and determine whether those reasons are still important to us.

That’s why it’s important for us small business owners to ask themselves three crucial questions. The answers to these questions will either get you back to feeling great about your small business or clarify the fact that you need to move into some other form of livelihood.

An Example: My Four Small Businesses
For instance, I run four small businesses. Three are well-established and require fairly passive management on a daily basis. The fourth is a startup, not quite a year old, and one that I hope to grow within the next two years. The startup takes some fairly active work to keep afloat, not to mention monetary investment, but I don’t resent the investment or the elbow grease. Having done three other startups, which are now established businesses, I know the length of time it takes to launch a startup. I know the patience required.

On the other hand, there are days when I just want to give up the ghost and call it quits. Some days I get very little done or I’m just too tired to even stagger over to my cigar stash for a relaxing puff. It’s off to bed so I can get up and do it all over again tomorrow. These are the days I ask myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” These are the days when the two years I’ve given myself to build my startup seem like the equivalent of living in purgatory …forever. These are the days when I have to sit down and reflect on why I have small businesses, and why they are important to me.

Three Questions for Small Business Owners
On those DODs (days of despair, not Department of Defense), I ask myself three questions:

1. What do I get from my small businesses and what do I pay?

2. Are the original reasons I started these businesses still important, and if not, are there new reasons to keep going?

3. Is there a way to change my business model to fit this new economy?

My Answers
It would be too long-winded and boring to list my answers to those questions for all my small businesses, but I will give you the answers for one business, just for grins. So one business I have is an online school that teaches magic (like spellwork and Tarot) and shamanic traditions. Answers to the three questions are as follows:

1. What do I get from my small businesses and what do I pay?
I get to spread this esoteric information to people all over the world, especially in countries where this kind of information isn’t readily available, like Nigeria and New Zealand. I get to play a part in spreading magic into the world. I also get a solid paycheck.

Aside from regular operating expenses, I pay in elbow grease … in the attempt to reach the right audience. The information we offer is for people who really want to learn the art and science of magic and shamanism, not for people who want a free online spell to help them win the lottery. I pay to develop my own patience and tolerance while wading through hundreds of “send me a free spell” emails.

2. Are the original reasons I started these businesses still important, and if not, are there new reasons to keep going?
Yes. Not only do we have a group of advanced students who have been with us for more than a decade and really take part in bringing magic and shamanism into the world, but teaching the classes and creating the materials keeps me in touch with my own spiritual practice.

3. Is there a way to change my business model to fit this new economy?
Definitely. Offering the information in different online forms, from YouTube videos to webinars, is the way I’m going. It makes the information more readily available, and can be transmitted at the speed of light. It takes work to convert the material to online form, but it’s happening little by little.

What About You?
So those are my answers, good, bad, or ugly. What about you? How is your small business treating you, and how are you treating it? Is it time to re-evaluate your reasons for owning a small business? Is it time to change the way you run your small business? Most importantly, do you still remember what is important about your small business?

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