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Communication Converts Leads

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: March 21, 2013

Honesty is the best policy. Adopting an attitude of being clear and upfront has many benefits in life, from reduced stress to better relationships, but it can also be valuable in your business and key to converting leads into real customers. SCORE mentors will tell you that developing an open and honest relationship with your leads is important for several reasons: - Honesty creates trust. If a lead feels comfortable sharing their needs and concerns, you can address them directly. - An honest dialogue will determine if your business is well suited for addressing their needs. - When choosing from multiple providers, a lead will choose the one that makes them feel most comfortable and capable of fulfilling their needs. If you are able to honestly communicate your business’ capability to the leads, it brings you much closer to closing the sale and gaining a customer. Converting leads into sales is really about being a good match for client needs and effectively communicating that pairing. Here are some tips for effectively communicating your business to your potential customer: KNOW YOUR COMPETITION AND KNOW WHERE YOU STAND If you’ve positioned your business correctly, then you offer something different than your competitors. But it’s important to stay on top of how your competitors are changing and evolving their products and services. Check out their websites, follow them on social media and stop by their retail location. This will allow you to communicate your uniqueness to your customers in an informative way. SEE WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS SEE Remember – you are a consumer too. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about things like “What’s the first thing I would want to see upon walking into a specific business?” If you’re having trouble seeing from that perspective because you are too close to your business, ask your friends, family and colleagues for their opinions. TAKE ONE STEP FURTHER If you’ve effectively communicated your business to a lead and their needs align with what you can offer—but they are still hesitant, you must nurture that lead. If this is your first time in sales, and for many small business owners it is, this can be an uncomfortable proposition. Think of lead nurturing efforts as friendly reminders. Here are some tactics for lead nurturing. See which works best for your customer base and your personality. 1. Be concerned 2. Be persistent 3. Remind of benefits GET FEEDBACK It is crucial to take stock of how your lead conversion efforts are working and modify as necessary. Solicit feedback from both successful and unsuccessful conversions to see what you’re doing right and where there’s room for improvement. For unsuccessful conversions, ask questions like, “Did we effectively communicate how we could meet your needs?” and “What caused you to choose another provider for this product/service?” For successful conversions, ask questions like, “What made you choose our business as your product/service provider?” As with most things in life, honesty about you and your business is the best policy.

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

Is Your Business Moving? 6 Tips for Attracting Customers To Your New Location

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 21, 2013 Updated: September 20, 2016

Businesses move for all sorts of reasons. Existing rents may be too high; neighboring anchor tenants may have left; or perhaps you just need a bigger premise for your growing business!

But how can you ensure your existing customers move with you and how can you go about attracting new customers to your new location? Here are six tips:

1. Communicate Pre-Move and Post-Move

First, be sure to use every available touch point to communicate with existing customers about your impending move—and well in advance. Utilize e-mail lists, your website, direct mail, flyers, blog, social media, advertising, press releases, in-store signage—the works. Be sure to include directions, information about what else is going on in that neighborhood and, if your move is for positive reasons, be bold and share those details. For example, if you are expanding, include a message that thanks your customers for their patronage and stresses your commitment to providing top notch service.

If you haven’t been keeping a record of your customer emails and mailing addresses, use the news media and other avenues (see below) to spread the word about your move.

Don’t forget to leave flyers with your neighbors after you’ve moved and request that they display them in their windows or at the point of sale.

2. Update Your Online Listings

Search engines are increasingly locally-centric in their search results. For example, if you enter “Italian restaurant” into a Google search, it will automatically display local businesses in your area first. So update (or create if you don’t have them) your online listings, whether they are on Google+ Local, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook, Trip Advisor or others. And, of course, don’t forget to update your own website “Contact Us”, “About Us” or “Find Us” page.

Google Search

3. Use Location-Based Services to Attract Passersby

Don’t forget to take advantage of mobile technology. Promoting your small business to passersby using mobile apps that target consumers in the vicinity of your business isn’t that difficult. Groupon, Living Social, FourSquare and ThinkNear, among others, let you post information about your latest offers and limited-time deals to consumers within a certain distance of your business. You can also schedule deals to get delivered during key hours—for example, if you’re looking to boost foot traffic during off-peak times.

4. Give Existing Customers an Incentive to Visit You at Your New Location

Your customers are your livelihood, treat them that way. Offer them incentives to stop by your new location. Make sure the offer is time-bound so they have a reason to check out your new digs soon!

 5. Host an Event to Attract New and Existing Customers

Give customers a reason to fall in love with your store—not just for its products, but as a place to get together. Retail stores, bars, restaurants and other food service businesses, in particular, can benefit from hosting events. These can be educational in nature (bring in a guest speaker from a vendor or supplier if you don’t have much to say yourself) or appreciation events (offer a sneak preview of your new location to your top customers). Events can also be tied to themes (date night or wine night) or holidays.

6. Don’t Forget Customers That May Not Have Checked You Out for a While

Your new location might be more convenient to some of your older customers. So consider running a campaign that targets not only your active customer base, but those who may not have purchased from you in a while. Special offers or other incentives specifically targeted at that group and paired with a, “we’d love to see you again,” message may just do the trick.

For more tips about attracting customers to your new business location read: 7 Ways to Increase Foot Traffic to your Small Business.

Useful Resources

  • SBA SizeUp Tool – Want to know how your business stacks up against the competition? Where your potential competitors are located? Where the best places are to advertise your business? Use SBA’s SizeUp tool to help you crunch millions of data points and get customizable reports and statistics about your business and its competition. Just enter your industry, city, state and other details. SizeUp then runs various reports and provides maps and data related to your competition, suppliers and customers. It also highlights potential advertising opportunities.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Creating Customer Loyalty Programs

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: March 19, 2013

 

These days, loyal customers are hard to come by. So when you do have customers who are faithful to your business, returning day after day and year after year, you want to reward them. But how? There are many ways to reward your loyal customers, from simple paper-based methods to mobile apps and more. Here’s a look at some different options to consider.

Rewards cards: Depending on your customer base, your budget and how sophisticated you want to get, you can start at the basic level with paper punch cards (“Buy 10, get one free”). You can also use plastic loyalty cards that you swipe to track customer purchases and other data, which can be more useful in helping gather information for your future marketing programs than are paper cards.

Discount programs: Consider rewarding loyal customers by giving them a discount when they reach a certain purchasing level or if they buy a certain number of items within a specified time.

Give a gift: One great way to encourage loyalty is simply by tracking a customer’s relationship with you and other important data. For instance, if you record the date of first purchase, a customer’s birthday or other relevant dates, you can give them a gift on those “anniversary” dates. You can also offer gifts with purchase (like cosmetics companies do, with great success) when customers buy a certain dollar amount or volume of product.

Create a VIP program: Allow customers to sign up for a VIP program where they get some type of reward relevant to your business. This could include discounts on purchases, special sale days just for them, advance notice of sales or access to special information such as a VIP email newsletter.

Hold events: Events for loyal customers can be a great way to reward them. Consider opening your store or business at a special time for them to shop; holding a special dinner at your restaurant that only your “regulars” are invited to; or holding a seminar or training session for your faithful service business customers. The ideas are limited only by your business.

Mobile apps: Applications such as Belly, Spendgo and Womply streamline loyalty by enabling customers to enter or swipe their account information, using smartphones or tablets, to win prizes, get store credits or free products, or get cash-back rewards for making purchases. You can customize the rewards programs to work with your goals.

Get personal: Sending a handwritten thank-you note or making a phone call are very meaningful ways to thank your loyal customers that they won’t soon forget. In fact, in today’s digital world, these old-fashioned methods just might be the most memorable and effective customer loyalty tools of all.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

June 29, 2004  - Final rule, Control of Emissions of Air Pollution From Nonroad Diesel Engines and Fuel, published in the Federal Register

August 20, 2003  - Letter to Jeffrey R. Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, Environmental Protection Agency, regarding the Proposed rule Control of Emissions of Air Pollution From Nonroad Diesel Engines and Fuel.

January 5, 2004 - Final rule, National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Lime Manufacturing Plants, published in the Federal Register.

December 20, 2002 - Proposed rule, National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Lime Manufacturing Plants, published in the Federal Register.

August 23, 2004 - Final rule, Effluent Limitations Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards for the Concentrated Aquatic Animal Production Point Source Category, published in the Federal Register.

September 12, 2002 - Proposed rule, Effluent Limitations Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards for the Concentrated Aquatic Animal Production Point Source Category, published in the Federal Register.

Need Financing to Buy or Grow a Franchise? New Franchise Industry Programs Can Help

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 18, 2013 Updated: September 20, 2016

The franchise industry, like all businesses, was not immune to the economic crisis of 2008 and the ensuing credit crunch. But the vital signs of a recovery are there. According to the International Franchise Association (IFA), many of the country’s business sectors currently starting to show growth mirror those sectors expected to be the leading drivers of employment in franchising this year. These include food service, health care, hospitality and construction—all sectors with a high concentration of franchise businesses.

“For those Americans dealing with long-term unemployment or a lack of growth opportunities in their current jobs, franchise ownership offers a viable way to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” said IFA President & CEO Steve Caldeira.

The Franchise Industry Tackles the Credit Crunch Head-on

Despite these indicators, financing remains a problem for potential franchise owners.  According to Entrepreneur magazine (January 2013), there’s still an 18 percent lending shortfall in the franchising industry. In a bid to boost franchise ownership, many franchisors are taking matters into their own hands and offering financing programs of their own. Meineke, The UPS Store, Gold’s Gym, Masasge Envy and Instant Imprints are just a few examples of franchisors now offering financing to qualifying first-time and multi-store franchise owners.

Want to know more? IFA President and CEO, Steve Caldeira offers the following tips (courtesy of Entrepreneur magazine) to would-be or existing franchise owners looking for an alternative to traditional financing options.

Which Franchisors Are Offering Financing Programs?

Approximately 75 to 100 franchisors are offering or working on offering creative financing programs for start-up franchise owners or those looking to expand. Programs range from zero-percent financing for a limited-term, lower license fees, reduced royalties and minority stake ownership by franchisors in multi-unit outlets. Each brand has its own offering, so down payments and collateral requirements will vary.

In addition, the franchise industry is also experiencing a growth in companies dedicated to helping franchise owners secure financing. Two such firms are BoeFly (which matches borrowers to lenders online) and Franchise America Finance (who provides custom lending solutions for franchisees and works with franchisors such as The UPS Store, Popeyes, and Jersey Mike’s).

Always Do Your Franchise and Financing Due Diligence

If you are new to franchise ownership, be sure to do your research and due diligence about the franchise system you’re interested in. Study the Franchise Disclosure Document (required by law) and speak to other franchisees about the brand and the financing program on offer. Next, try to understand what your financial responsibilities as a franchise owner will be. This blog offers some pointers on this: Buying a Franchise – How to Determine What it’s Going to Cost You.

Other Franchise Financing Options

Many banks and credit unions offer financing for franchise purchases, so be sure to compare any franchisor lending rates and terms with these. When you approach a bank, be prepared to disclose all your financial information. While your credit rating is important, you’ll also need to provide a personal financial statement, copies of tax returns and information about the source of your down payment funds.

You should also be aware that your choice of franchise will influence a bank’s decision to fund you. Franchises with strong brand names, a track record of consistent profits and cash flow—plus an ability to perform well across a variety of diverse locations—are going to stand you in good stead when you meet with your bank manager.

If your bank is hesitant about a particular franchise system’s performance, or your finances aren’t as strong as they could be, you might want to consider an SBA loan. SBA doesn’t lend to business owners directly; it provides a repayment guarantee to banks and lenders for money they lend to small businesses, making it less risky for the banks. Use this search tool to find the right SBA loan for you.

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

What is the Best Small Business Credit Card for Establishing Creditworthiness?

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: March 14, 2013

With fast access to cash, convenience and all the perks that come along with it, a business credit card is a standard tool used by business owners.

But did you know that less than 50% of the credit cards obtained by business owners nationwide are actually in the company’s name?

It’s a shocking reality, to say the least, but the good news is there are plenty of business credit cards that cater to savvy business owners like you who understand the importance of establishing business credit.

The majority of cards one can obtain for a business also have a great deal of benefits such as cash back rewards, rewards points, travel rewards and detailed reports.

Those aiming to strengthen the credit of a business must understand that it’s vital to obtain cards that report payment activity to a business credit agency.

When applying for credit, one of the ways to identify a non-reporting issuer is by what’s required on the application. If all that is required is to supply personal information, a social security number and business name, then this card issuer in most cases will solely report to a consumer credit agency.

Take it a step further and simply read the disclosure section on the application. It will read something like, ‘I Authorize the receipt and exchange of credit information on the business signer, including the exchange of information between XYZ credit card issuer and its affiliates.’

Nowhere here does it disclose that the ‘Business’ will be included in the receipt and exchange of credit information it just states the business signer. (That’s you!)

If this is the case, then be aware that you will be personally liable for all debt your company incurs on this card and all payments and any revolving debt will be reported to a consumer credit agency. This type of business credit card is nothing more than a glorified personal credit card with your company name on it.

Now don’t get discouraged, because there are cards that may require a personal credit check. But the good news is payment activity is reported to both consumer and business credit reporting agencies.

While credit cards that fall right into this category may not be my first recommendation, at least it helps establish company creditworthiness because it reports to several business credit agencies.

The downfall is that your company’s revolving credit card debt is still reporting on your consumer credit reports, resulting in a negative impact on your personal credit scores.

Ideally, the best small business credit card is one that reports only to business credit reports. Thankfully, there are issuers offering these types of cards despite the challenges in the economy.

But before you get too excited, know that most issuers will require a personal and business credit check. The most important thing to remember with these cards only your business credit reports will reflect your revolving debt, therefore protecting your personal credit scores.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

5 Tips for Hiring and Empowering Great Employees

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 14, 2013 Updated: September 21, 2016

Hiring employees is probably the most important decision any entrepreneur will ever make. But relinquishing some of the responsibility of your business to others is tough.

The key to getting it right is finding employees with the right value alignment and attitude (often easier said than done). Of course, you need to work at it too. Once you’ve built your team, learning to let go and empower employees is critical if you want focus on growing your business.

These steps are explored in one of SBA’s Learning Center videos–Hiring and Developing Employees—which features insights and tips from successful small business owners who’ve struggled with many of these issues and challenges themselves.

Here are five tips they suggest for growing your business through hiring and developing great employees:

Learn How to Let Go

As you start a business, you’ll likely be wearing many hats. But if your business is going to grow, then learning to let go is critical: “You are a leader for the business,” explains Eileen Spitalny, co-founder of Fairytale Brownies, a $10 million a year online and mail-order baking business headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. “In the beginning, we did bake the brownies; we did wash the pans. But you need to trust people, give them parameters, let them learn on their own, give them feedback and be there as their mentor, not over their shoulder. This is our philosophy.”

Both Spitalny and co-founder David Kravetz acknowledge that letting go didn’t come easy for them: “Looking back, we took too long to let go, and now we realize our team members are going to grow with the more responsibility we give them.” Fairytale Brownies encourages its employees to be proactive in their feedback, offering incentives such as movie tickets in return for suggestions on how they can better run the business.

Encourage Decision-Making Among Employees

Part of learning how to let go is looking for ways to empower your employees and give them decision-making authority. But how much trust can you instill in them without feeling the need to constantly monitor performance or simply “be there” for them?

After reading a self-help book on management skills, Fairytale Brownies were inspired to launch a “$100 Empowerment Policy.” This simple solution gives any team member the authority to spend up to $100 of company money to solve a customer problem without having to ask. “It’s taken a long time to get them to actually give up the money and a lot of times we’ll have to remind them,” explains David Kravetx, “Ninety-five percent of the problems can be solved with $100, whether it’s re-shipping a gift or refunding…and they don’t have to come to me to ask...it’s money well-spent for us.”

Hire the Right Values and Attitude and the Rest Will Take Care of Itself

For Steve Bell, owner of Pacific Cabinets, a multimillion dollar Washington state cabinet business, alignment of values and the right attitude is more important than experience. “If people have the same core values that we have—if they have a great attitude…if they have the ability to learn—then we can hire them and teach them anything they need to know in the business.”

For tips on finding a good match, read: 4 Interview Questions That Get to the Heart of a Candidate’s Potential.

Consider a Trial Employment Period

A new-hire trial period is another option that service-based businesses might consider to ensure a good match. Holly DiTallo, a trainer and co-owner at Scottsdale Education Center in Arizona, uses a two-week trial program to assess new educational contractors, “that’s just about long enough for us to be able to say come back another time or we don’t really think you’re the right fit.”

Fire Quickly if Things Aren’t Working Out

It goes without saying that your goal is to hire great people, but Fairytale Brownies—like many small business owners—learned some tough lessons with problem employees. “We would spend sometimes a year or longer living with an employee who we knew deep down wasn’t working out. We tried to change their personality and we learned that you can teach skills but if someone’s not working out, we will let them go a lot faster than we did at the beginning,” explains owner, David Kravetz.

What hiring challenges has your business encountered? How have you overcome these? Leave a comment below!

Don’t forget to visit the SBA Learning Center for more free self-paced online training courses, quick videos, web chats and more to help small business owners explore and learn about the many aspects of business ownership.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

5 Tips for Ensuring Your Blog Doesn’t Get You into Legal Trouble

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 13, 2013 Updated: September 27, 2016

More and more small companies are using blogging to promote their business. In fact, in 2012, “small business” was one of the fastest growing categories in Technorati, a global blog search engine, with 20 percent growth that year alone (source: Small Business Blogging Proved Effective for the Year 2012 by Rahul Manekari).

Why? Blogs are a great tool for connecting with your customers and sharing your expertise. They also improve your company’s search engine rankings. Search engines love fresh, relevant and local content—and blogs deliver on this need.

While you’re busy wondering what you should be writing about (the articles at the end of this blog offer tips on that), it’s important to assess any potential legal risks you might be taking. Think about it: many bloggers combine original content that they’ve written with quotes, references and even ideas from other bloggers. But at what point does this become plagiarism or an infringement of copyright? Likewise, if you’re planning on showcasing customer quotes or testimonials in your blogs, is this even legal?

Here are five tips for ensuring you stay out of legal trouble as you write your business blog!

Don’t Get Slammed for Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is the number one reason that bloggers get into trouble. Never copy or paste the content of others, whether it’s words, images, video or music, unless you have written permission to do so. For a deeper dive into this topic (in plain English) read: Can You Use or Reproduce the Work of Others on Your Website or Blog?

If you do reference the work or opinion of others, give them credit (you can see an example in the opening paragraph of this blog).

Don’t Bash the Competition

Blogging is about building community and trust, and helping customers feel good about doing business with you. It’s not a vehicle for bashing the competition, price comparisons, or other marketing tactics. Blog writing lends itself to a conversational voice, so slamming the completion can often come across as “catty” and unprofessional. That’s not to say you can’t talk about your products or business in the context of the competition, but focus on how you are different (how your products are made, how people use them, or how to get more out of them)—not how bad/poor/expensive the competitive marketplace is. 

Be Careful When Mentioning Customers by Name

A great way to differentiate yourself is to have customers share their experiences of doing business with you. A nice quote or interview with a satisfied customer would make for a great blog topic. But wait, did you know you must have written permission from a customer before you can use their name or endorsement? The Federal Trade Commission enforces regulations that govern how customer endorsements are used in marketing materials. For a few quick pointers on how to abide by these regulations, plus tips on using customer testimonials in your marketing materials or blogs read:  “Great Service, Will Use Again”: How to Use Customer Testimonials to Market Your Business.

Be Truthful About Any Claims You Make About Your Business

The FTC has clear guidelines on what constitutes “truth in advertising” or “misleading claims”. So be sure that any claims you make about your business or its products and services are correct and can be backed up. This is especially true if you are sharing blogging duty with other employees. If you’re not sure when you might be crossing the line in praise of your products, check out the rules.  More info here: How Lawful Are Your Small Business’ Advertising Claims? – Tips for Getting it Right.

Understand Third Party Blog Terms of Service

If you use a third party blog tool to host your blog, familiarize yourself with its terms of service. For example, who has intellectual property rights for the content you post and what procedures are in place if you believe your intellectual property has been violated? How can that third party use that content? Many blogging sites have terms of service that grant that party a license to host, store, reproduce, modify, publicly display and distribute your content. If this is of concern, then you may want to consider hosting your blog on your own website.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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