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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

The Social Storefront – How to Sell Your Products and Services on Facebook

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 11, 2013 Updated: March 11, 2013

Have you ever considered extending your small business storefront to Facebook?

According to The New York Times, small retailers are having more success than their larger counterparts when it comes to selling socially with Facebook storefronts proving to be a successful outlet for small businesses with less than $100,000 in revenue and fewer than 10 employees.

Yet Facebook storefronts present business owners with a number of challenges. For example, if you have a business page on Facebook, you do not own it; Facebook does, and as such, it is free to change the look, feel, security and functionality of your page when it sees fit. Furthermore, many consumers may be reticent about conducting financial transactions on social media.

If your small business is interested in exploring this new revenue stream, here are some tips to help you get started building your social storefront:

1. Build Your Facebook Storefront

Facebook storefronts are wholly independent of Facebook and are enabled by third party apps and services from companies such as Ecwid, BigCommerce’s SocialShop application and VendorShop Social. Alternatively, you can also have an app developer build you a custom storefront.  

These apps offer a number of social shopping features that you can add to your Facebook business page. Some are free, with options to upgrade for increased functionality, while others charge a low monthly subscription fee. (Note: The Facebook store provider market is an emerging one with new start-ups popping up regularly. Furthermore, established players are increasingly targeted for acquisition. So do your due diligence on this one. Look for providers with a good customer service track record and try not to get locked into time-bound contracts.)

Whichever app you choose, getting started is quite easy. Once your app is installed, you can add product listings; a welcome page to showcase certain products and promotions; a shopping cart; and a variety of payment options such as PayPal. Some apps also include tools to promote your storefront to your fans, via email, your blog or website. 

2. Personalize Your Storefront

Next, personalize your storefront to reflect your brand and appeal to the fans and customers you are hoping to engage with and sell to. Think about adding a human element to your banner image—this will help connect you with your potential buyers. To maximize your Facebook sales, look for ways to engage and connect—post tips that relate to your industry; share articles, images and blogs that might be of interest; and have a dialogue with your fans. Above all, inject some personality into your page—this is a huge differentiator for small businesses, so use it!

The New York Times also suggests pinning and tagging status updates and photos to attract fans and keep your page dynamic. For example, you could run a contest that encourages customers to tag your products in the photos they post on their Facebook page. In doing so, you’ll get free visibility on that person’s wall for all their friends and followers to see. You can also use the pin feature to highlight a product of the week or a special discount.

3. Be Social, Build a Community

Make your page an active one—treat it as you would your own bricks and mortar store. Meet and greet fans, and engage with them. Encourage them to post by asking open-ended questions in your status updates; comment on and like the interaction that follows.

You can also grow your community outside the confines of our own page. For example, follow business pages that relate to your products, industry or neighborhood and interact with folks on those pages (without being overly promotional). For example, if you own a retail store on Main Street, look around and find out who else is on Facebook—your local coffee shop, library, community newspaper? Give them a like (using your business page profile) and join in the conversation with other business owners and their customers. Your business will appear on their wall and help increase your visibility and likeability!

4. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

It’s unlikely that Facebook will ever be your only sales channel. So test the waters before you set up your store and ask your fans and customers if they’d be interested in buying from you via Facebook. Then, once you are up and running, don’t ignore your website or retail location. Small businesses are known to get as much as 15-30 percent of their sales from Facebook, but remember that not everyone is on Facebook, and not all are comfortable doing business there.

5. More Reading

For some real-world examples of how small businesses are using Facebook storefronts, check out this article from The New York Times: Small Retailers Open Up Storefronts on Facebook Pages.

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

Conozca a Angelique Adjutant, Oficial de Relaciones Públicas en la Oficina de Distrito de Puerto Rico e Islas Vírgenes

By AshleyC
Published: March 7, 2013 Updated: October 28, 2013

Angelique Adjutant, Public Affairs SpecialistCuando un amigo o familiar te pregunta qué haces para ayudar a las pequeñas empresas, ¿qué les dices?

Les digo que soy responsable de fortalecer la presencia de SBA en la comunidad, para que otros puedan realizar sus sueños de independencia económica, de crear empleos y proveer para miles de familias.  La SBA tiene una misión extraordinaria que siempre respaldaré.

 

De todas las cosas que la SBA hace para las pequeñas empresas, ¿cuál es tu favorita?

Tendría que ser la creación de oportunidades. Oportunidades de aprendizaje, mejoramiento, crecimiento y éxito para los pequeños empresarios.

¿Existe una “historia de éxito” de alguna pequeña empresa en particular que te venga a la mente cuando piensas cómo la SBA ayuda a las personas?

Me vienen a la mente muchos empresarios exitosos, y me siento afortunada de haber podido conocerles y contar sus historias.  Pero si tuviera que escoger sólo una, sería la de Jatniel Vázquez, fundador y presidente de Jayvee Air Conditioning en Bayamón, Puerto Rico.  De orígenes humildes, hoy Jatniel es dueño de una exitosa empresa dedicada a sistemas de aire acondicionado industriales y comerciales que genera más de $2 millones en ventas anuales; emplea a más de 15 personas, le paga la carrera de Ingeniería a su hermana, emplea a miembros de su familia y le compró a su madre la casa de sus sueños.  ¡Y todo eso antes de cumplir 30 años!  Jatniel se benefició de los programas de préstamos garantizados de SBA para expandir su negocio y crear empleos.

¿Tienes algún consejo para empresarios y dueños de pequeñas empresas en general?

Empieza pequeño pero siempre piensa en grande.

¿Algo más que desees añadir?

Sí. Como en todo lo demás, la perseverancia es crítica en el alcance de los sueños de cualquier persona. Para citar a Winston Churchill, “nunca te des por vencido, nunca, jamás”.

 

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