New Look for Remarkable Communication

As you may have seen, we released the Prose theme for WordPress today, and in honor of that, we decided to switch Remarkable Communication over.

I’m really enjoying the new look, and I hope you are too! I wanted to return a bit more to the “earthy crunchy” look I had early on, but keeping a nice professional design.

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The 5 Lies of Entrepreneurship

image of kittens in cat carrierI was past 40 before it occurred to me that I could really be an entrepreneur.

Even the word always seemed to carry so much stress.

Mortgaging your house to make payroll. (And then having the company die anyway.) Dumping an unfair workload onto your spouse. Broken promises to your kids.

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The Spooky Secret to Designing
Your Perfect Business


Recently on the Remarkable Marketing Blueprint* forum, some folks were saying nice things about the space I’d created.

And I have to admit — I love it there. The members are generous and supportive, everyone is working their tails off and making progress like crazy. It’s exhilarating and warm and fuzzy all at the same time.

But here’s the thing.
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How to Quit Being a Badass

biker guyI have a friend who’s creating a business.

Actually, I have lots of friends who are creating businesses. And this is a story that reflects many of their journeys. One person inspired this particular story, but her story is the story of many people I know.

She got an idea she was passionate about. She collected great advice. She worked out a plan. She dreamed big. She found her courage. She leapt.

You know that expression “leap and the net will appear?” The net didn’t appear. In fact, it looked like it was the floor that was going to appear. Quickly.

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Handling Angry Customers:
#1, Phone Trees from Hell

As promised, here’s a quote from a long letter I’m working on to business that encountered me as a cranky, unhappy customer.

Your phone tree, like that in many businesses, is a service nightmare. If I want technical support, it tells me to hang up and call another number. Then when I call that number, I get transferred back to the original number that can’t help me. If your system can transfer me from the second number to the first, why did I have to hang up and redial to get from the first to the second?

I will tell you that if I had tried to order the product by phone rather than the Web, I would have hung up and taken my business elsewhere. Your phone tree isn’t saving you money, it’s costing you sales.

When I finally reached an employee, he didn’t know the answer so he transferred me back into the phone tree. An employee should never transfer a customer into another phone tree. Customers need to be transferred to people who can answer questions.

The next employee I finally managed to talk with gave me a rushed, brusque answer. It was incorrect. More of my time wasted.

I’m convinced that American businesses flush more money down the toilet with bad phone practices than in any other way.

You say you want to build a relationship with customers. If that’s true, and not lip service, you need to be calling your own phone number every week. Better yet, get a relative to do it, or someone else who’s not too familiar with the systems you have set up.

Watch over her shoulder while she tries to figure out what button to push to answer her question. Listen to the frustration build in her voice as she just tries to reach a human being. And monitor the conversations she has to find out how your employees are treating people who call.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment, Your Customer Does Not Live in New York. I think you’ll like it even if you do, in fact, live in New York.

Turning Crap into Gold: How to (Gracefully) Handle Angry Customers

turning crap into gold

One of the most unpleasant parts of running any businesses is dealing with customers who are mad at you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a dog walker or a graphic designer or a neurosurgeon. One of these days, someone’s going to express some significant dissatisfaction with what you do or how you do it.

When you’re still a small business, it feels like they’re attacking you. (Or, worse, attacking your baby. Those heartless rats!)

But bigger businesses foul this up too. We all take it too personally—it’s human nature.

The fact is, customers who care enough to get mad at you can provide a wonderful blessing. A cranky, ranting customer represents one of several possibilities.

The customer is nuts

This is the one that doesn’t help you at all. If the customer is truly delusional (some people are, you know), you’ll just have to set a boundary and walk away.

If you can afford it, give them all of their money back. And make it very clear that you won’t be doing more business with them.

Be very polite, set a very clear and firm boundary, and disengage.

The customer is right

Here’s the one that hurts. Your service/product/attitude/delivery were unacceptable.

When you were getting started with your business, you were going to do everything exactly right. You were going to have the best service in the world, wonderfully fair prices, amazing quality, the most remarkable product.

Then reality started to sink in. (This business thing really does have a lot in common with parenting.)

Perfection only exists in dreams. When you get off your tail and actually do stuff, you mess some of it up. And you know, there are a lot of good reasons so much service is terrible, and so many products aren’t what you hoped they would be.

The first thing to do is to, in Ben Zander’s wonderful suggestion, throw your hands in the air, smile, and say, “How fascinating!”

(Do not do this in front of the customer. She will kick you in the pants.)

Screw-ups mean you were trying something that wasn’t dead easy for you. Congratulations! You get 1,000 gold stars for getting out of your comfort zone. Almost no one is willing to do that, and you did. Please allow me to give you a hug.

Picking up the pieces

Now, back to addressing that pesky problem. A good screw-up generally means there’s something in your systems that needs a tweak.

If you can manage it, try not to freak out and overcorrect. The first thing to ask yourself is, Realistically is this going to happen again? If the answer is really no, do what you need to do to cool the customer off, and try not to dwell on it.

But usually there’s an opportunity for improvement. A better process you can put into place. A better system for managing client questions, or for packaging orders, or for setting expectations so people aren’t disappointed when they get their stuff.

Since I recently had a customer service experience that left me unreasonable, angry, frustrated, and generally feeling rotten, I thought I’d unpack that for you here. There are some really good lessons about the kinds of things that make people angry, and solutions for fixing them.

I won’t name the vendor. There’s no point, and they’re not really the Satanic minions I felt they were when I was having my problem.

And this isn’t about them. It’s about you. And me. And getting better.

Since this easily could be one of my ten-screen marathons, I’m going to break it up for you. The first installment of my letter to the vendor is tomorrow. (Ooh, cliffhanger!)

Where Are Your Blind Spots?

Everyone should follow the golden rule, right?

No, no, not the one that says “he who has the gold makes the rules.” I’m talking about the golden rule we all grew up with.

Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Works for kindergarten and it works now, right?

The key to wealth, health, happiness and world peace?

Not necessarily.

The platinum rule

There’s another rule, sometimes called the platinum rule.

“Do unto others as they would want done to them.”

The platinum rule doesn’t take your likes and dislikes as the standard. It gets your ego out of it (as much as possible) and puts your customer at the center, where she should be.

(One hotel management pundit even came up with a double platinum rule, where you’re expected to anticipate what your customer would like if only she knew about it. Sounds suspiciously like marketing to me.)

How to use the golden rule to drive your customers up the wall

I have a friend who runs a service business. He’s extremely conscientious. It’s very common for him to spend three or four unbilled hours researching the cheapest possible solutions for his customers.

There’s just one problem. His customers are ready to strangle him.

In almost every case, they don’t actually want the absolute cheapest way to solve the problem. They prefer a solution that’s packaged for convenience. Or that comes with a help desk so they can ask dopey questions. Or that just gives them the nice warm feeling of certainty they have when they buy a name brand.

His efforts to save them money too often cost them time and aggravation. And even now, most customers will be happy to spend money to save on time and aggravation. (They at least appreciate being given the option.)

He’s living by the golden rule. He would love it if a vendor bent over backwards to save him money, and he assumes that’s what his customers want.

It’s not. But he can’t get out of his own head long enough to see that.

Making it about their needs

It’s incredibly hard to think like another person. We all believe we do, but we have blind spots.

My friend can’t conceive of a customer who’s got bigger worries than cash flow.

I have a hard time remembering that most customers don’t want an overwhelming map of all the territory they could cover, they just want a fast map to get where they want to go.

You’re not going to be able to wave a magic wand and get completely out of your own head. No one is so enlightened that they don’t fall into this trap. Even the Dalai Lama probably assumes that everybody likes yak butter.

How to find your own blind spots

The next time a customer gets mad at you, try to listen for what might really be going on. Did they take your professionalism for condescension? Did your relatively minor screw-up make them look bad in front of a friend?

What assumptions did you make about this client relationship? Try to look at even the ones you think are ridiculously obvious. If you can get into a productive conversation about it with the customer, that’s fantastic. It will make the customer feel good and it will help you get smarter.

Surveying your customers works, too. To get out of blind spot hell, remember to leave things open-ended. If you create multiple-choice questions, you’re just asking people to validate what you’ve already decided.

How about you?

What blind spots have caught you up lately? Let us know in the comments.

Flickr Creative Commons photo by woodleywonderworks

Dumb Things Small Businesses Do
#7: Following the Herd

Human beings are wired funny.

We were given these giant brains so we could be creative, could think of new ways to do things, could come up with incredible new inventions. We even have opposable thumbs, with which we can make all kinds of nifty tools like the wheel, the printing press, and Twitter.

But we also have a big scary alarm that goes off when we’re doing something different from the tribe. We’re wired to “think different,” but not too different.

We can respond to adversity with tremendous creativity, but too often we need adversity before we’ll buck the crowds.

Most people, in most endeavors, are clueless

Remember when we used to use the expression “rocket scientist” to mean someone who was incredibly on the ball? Then NASA showed us that, although they hire lots of amazingly smart and educated people, rocket scientists aren’t immune to following one another off a cliff.

Brain surgeons, nuclear physicists and assembly language programmers* are smart, but they’re not so smart that they wouldn’t do something incredibly dumb because someone else did it.

Despite what our moms tried to teach us, if our friends jumped off a bridge, we absolutely would too. Don’t assume that you’re smarter than the 909 people who drank poisoned Kool-Aid at Jonestown. You’re just in a better environment.

(Yes, if you’re a young’un, that’s where the expression “drink the Kool-Aid” comes from. Pretty horrific, actually. If you can stand to think about it–and mostly, I can’t–Jonestown offers one of the most striking and stark sets of lessons on mass psychology you’ll find anywhere. Robert Cialdini’s essential book Influence spells the lessons out so you don’t have to wreck your entire night reading about Jonestown on Wikipedia.)

Nearly everyone looks to the left and the right to see what to do

Human beings learn by imitation. We have such incredible richness of cultural diversity because each of us, when we’re little, learns how to be a human being by watching the big ones. We can learn all kinds of complicated and illogical behaviors that way. And in fact, each of us does.

Monkey see, monkey do. But humans are a lot better at that game than monkeys are.

A few people in a thousand manage to be contrary-minded enough to escape. By nature, they’re wired to zig when everyone else zags. In dark ages, they burn these folks as heretics. Today, they’re Warren Buffett and Richard Branson.

Remember that when you think the world is going to hell. Heretics are billionaires now.

You don’t have to be born a contrarian.

You can learn it. And you should, if you want economic and personal freedom.

Just opening your eyes and seeing that “most people do what most people do” allows you to at least question whether the herd knows where the hell it’s going.

Which puts you into that category of one or two in a thousand. Incredibly simple, actually.

Assumptions worth questioning

Dan Kennedy likes to yell at entrepreneurs who immediately assume that interesting business tactics won’t work in my business.

I won’t yell at you, but I will encourage you to always question that assumption. The weirder an idea looks to you, the better payoff you might get. Spectacular successes have been created by coming up with creative ways to implement ideas that first seemed irrelevant or off the wall.

  • If you do everything online, question the assumption that direct mail is too expensive.
  • If you do everything offline, question the assumption that the online world is too confusing for you to figure out, or that your customers don’t use a computer.
  • If you’ve got a great way to get leads, question the assumption that it’s always going to work the same way it does now.
  • If you’ve built an orderly, comfortable business, question the assumption that you can’t handle a good dose of creative chaos.
  • Always question the assumption that you have to compete on price.
  • Always question the assumption that you, personally, can do it better than anyone else.
  • Always question the assumption that the middle of the road is the safest place to be. If you don’t believe that’s a damaging assumption, ask a squirrel.

How about you? Are you willing to become a creative contrarian? Willing to find a few juicy opportunities by zigging when everyone else is zagging right off a cliff (and bitching about it the entire time)? Let us know about it in the comments.

7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do

* P.S. Thanks to my Twitter buds, in particular Coyote Squirrel, for giving me some good plausible alternatives to “rocket scientist.” What a bunch of sweeties.

If you liked the posts in this series, please link to or Stumble them!

Dumb Things Small Businesses Do
#6: Ingratitude

chihuahua dressed as a turkey

So instead of the obligatory Thanksgiving post where we talk about gratitude (don’t get me wrong, I think gratitude is awesome), I’m going to assume you know enough to stop for a second and remember how much amazing stuff is in your life. How many fantastic people, how much material abundance (even when it doesn’t feel that way), how much freedom.

Instead, today we’re going to talk about a dumb mistake that lots of businesses make. Big businesses are actually dumber than small ones on this topic, but if you think I was going to pass up the chance to use this photo, you’re nuts.

Anyway, most big businesses are too inflexible to turn this around. But you’re small and maneuverable, which is why you’re going to clean up.

The Easiest Way to Make Money

Even in the midst of all this financial panic and freefall, there is a nice big pot of delicious money sitting on the table for you.

No painful mountains to climb, no spiteful deities to appease, no hefty entrance fee to pay.

That pot of money is held by the customers who already trust you and know that you’re cool. They would like to give you some more money. But they need a little bit of help to do that.

Let Them Know They’re Appreciated

Customers drift away because they don’t think you love them. They don’t hear you saying how grateful you are for their business, and they don’t hear that they’re valued and cared for.

So many businesses think “marketing” is the same thing as “lead generation.” In other words, that marketing equals chasing down strangers so you can wrestle them through a conversion process and turn them into customers.

Lead gen and conversion are expensive. They’re either costing you time, money, or most likely, both.

Lead gen and conversion are important. But if you want to make life a lot easier and more enjoyable, set aside some of that time, money and attention and put it into existing customers.

Existing customers already know you’ve got good things to offer. They’ve demonstrated that they’ll pay for what you provide. But they need to know you appreciated their business last time.

Keep Making Yourself Useful

One of the smartest things you can do is to consistently and systematically put yourself in front of customers. Not to keep hammering them with requests for business, but to offer a hand of friendship and support.

If you can call your existing customers up regularly to ask how they’re doing and if they need anything, that’s great. But most businesses can’t scale that kind of individual attention. Instead, create a warm, personal-feeling communication system that reminds customers of why they bought from you in the first place.

My free e-class on email marketing walks you through all the basics on how to create this kind of communication. And you can use the same steps for blogs and paper newsletters as well.

In fact, a paper newsletter, while obviously more expensive to send, is also very likely to gain you better response and put more dollars into your pocket. Could you create a quarterly snail-mail newsletter for customers, with email editions to fill in the gaps?

Don’t let your perfectionism kill you on this one. Make it simple, print it up on your photocopier or at Kinko’s, and get it out there. Unless you’re a graphic designer, your newsletter doesn’t need to win design awards. It needs to communicate with your customers.

Ask for Their Business

No, you don’t want to pound your customers (or prospects, for that matter) with nonstop messages to buy-buy-buy.

But don’t neglect to make the offer, either. You never know when any given customer is going to be in the perfect place to buy from you.

Keep wrapping up your stuff in attractive offers. You might offer a special free gift to existing customers when they buy from you. (Special free gifts don’t have to be expensive, but, please, they can’t be lame.) Think about how you can wrap your expertise in interesting new boxes and ribbons. Offer those up regularly.

When you do make an offer, don’t mumble. Be incredibly clear about what you want them to do, how you want them to do it, and what they’re going to get out of it.

If you think you’re being overly specific, you probably have it about right.

Ask for Referrals

Make your newsletter content irresistible, then invite your customers to forward it to their friends. Let customers know that their friends are your very favorite source of new business. Give a nice, thoughtful thank-you gift for a referral. (See the note above about non-lameness of gifts.)

When someone spontaneously thanks you for doing a great job, immediately ask if you can turn those words into a testimonial. Nearly everyone will happily say yes. Then quickly work up some wording that gets the essence of what they said, send it to them, and confirm that you may use it and their name in your marketing.

What if You Don’t Have Any Customers Yet?

Find someone who has the customers you want. If you’re a nutritionist, maybe this person is an acupuncturist or a personal trainer or the manager of a health food store.

That person is not following up with their customers either. Show them this post and help them put together some great customer communication. Work through the email class together. (Let’s face it, you’re a lot more likely to act on what you learn if you’ve got a buddy to work with.)

Introducing you is a great way for your new partner to kick off a customer communication program. And you and your partner can come up with twice as much tasty, beneficial content, split the work, and double your customer base.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do

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Dumb Things Small Businesses Do
#5: The Worst Number

Primordial marketing guru Dan Kennedy likes to say that “One is the worst number in business.” I agree with this, and I’ll take it a little farther.

If there’s an important “one” in your business, you don’t have a business. You have a project that may or may not continue to make money.

Especially in times of rapid change and uncertainty, “one” is the enemy.

There’s no stability in one. Which does a better job of keeping its tires on the ground–a unicycle, a bicycle, or an 18-wheeler?

Don’t wobble around by trying to balance your business on a critical “one,” or even a “two” or “three.”

One strategy for lead generation

If you exclusively use Google AdWords or SEO to find new business, what happens when Google changes its algorithms overnight?

You can ask the thousands of businesses that went under the last time they did it. It’s called a Google Slap, and it comes with no warning and no apologies.

If you only use direct mail, what happens when we get another anthrax scare? Same answer as above. No one opens envelopes from people they don’t know, and you get no new business.

Even referrals, wonderful though they are, can’t be your sole source of finding new customers. Find a new way to bring leads in the door and implement it, even if you do so on a very small scale. If your current lead generation strategy dies without notice, you’ll have another faucet that can be opened up any time you need to.

One customer

If losing any one of your customers would cripple your business, you have a major problem.

I don’t care how much they love you. I don’t care how much they need you. Your customer can die, go bankrupt, outsource to Indonesia, or just fall in love with someone else.

If your biggest customer calls you today and tells you the relationship is over, what’s your plan? What system do you have in place to create more big customers?

What systems are you creating to sustainably scale your business, so you can handle 5 or 10 or even 100 big customers?

One provider

Have a credit card merchant account? Get a second account with another provider. If one freezes your account for 60 days because you made too much money too quickly (it happens, especially if you do business online), or their server goes down or their service starts to slip, you can instantly make the switch to the second provider. Small increase in monthly fees; large improvement in the stability of your cash flow.

This goes for your graphic designer, your copywriter, your computer person, even your employees. Cultivate a network of first-rate freelancers you can mobilize when you need to execute a great new project.

Create redundancy in any systems that are critical to your success.

One product

I don’t care how you do it, chasing down a new customer is expensive. It’s expensive in time or money, and usually both.

Your real profit starts with the third sale. Your marketing cost has dwindled to pennies, and you’ve created a foundation of trust that allows you to charge premium prices (provided, of course, that you deliver better-than-premium value).

You can work through nearly infinite cycles of “what’s bugging you / here’s a solution” with your existing customers. It’s incredibly cost-effective, and it’s also just more fun than constantly hitting up strangers.

If your raving fans don’t have any way to give you lots and lots more money, you have a problem. You also have a very exciting opportunity.

One partner

Brian Clark is kicking off a series today about collaboration in the 21st century. You probably know that I’ve been fortunate enough this year to work closely with Brian myself, and I’ve learned an amazing amount.

Brian knows that partnerships are the key to taking his own talent and know-how and multiplying their effects exponentially.

You’re not good at everything. In fact, chances are you’re not even barely competent at everything.

And even if you’re a DaVinci who masters everything you put your hand to, there’s only one of you. Restrict yourself to what you personally can get done and you’ll leave lots of money on the table.

Working with partners is also just enjoyable. Let’s face it, your family and friends have no idea what you do. 98% of the people you meet think business is black magic. Finding like-minded partners and fellow entrepreneurs will build your confidence, sharpen your thinking, and open your mind to all kinds of amazing new ways to grow your business.

One plus one equals a lot more than two. Start nurturing a network of potential partners you can call on to execute new projects. There are folks out there who will let you solve your customers’ problems in all kinds of fascinating new ways.

Those partners really want to meet you. Open yourself up to finding them.

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