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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7 Things Dumb Small Businesses Do That
You Can’t Afford (Especially Now)

curious chihuaua

Last time we covered the painful, expensive mistakes made by Big Dumb Companies. That was fun, but the clever Michael Martine had the brilliant idea of talking about what small companies do that’s just as dumb.

Which saved me all the trouble of bending my brain to think of a post topic, so yay for Michael.

This week I’m going to try something new. Instead of giving you one post that’s zillions of screens long, I’m breaking the post up into more manageable chunks. We’ll see if you guys like it or freak out to get multiple posts a week from me. Let me know!

So today you get Dumb Thing #1:

Dumb Thing #1: Deciding you’re “Just Not Good” at marketing

I hear this all the time from solopreneurs. “I have the best handknitted dog sweaters/organic tattoo parlor/gourmet hair products in the city, there’s no one else coming close to putting out stuff as nice as mine. I’m getting some clients here and there, but you know, I’m just not good at marketing. I’m working 18 hours a day, so I figure it’s got to work out eventually.”

Do you tell the IRS “I’m just not good at bookkeeping”? (If you do, you might want to rethink that.)

Do you tell your vendors “I’m just not good at paying invoices”?

I can’t remember who I’m stealing this from, but if you’re going to decide it’s ok to give up on marketing, you might as well take all your working capital to Las Vegas and blow it on whatever combination of hookers and drugs that might appeal to you. It saves time, and the end result is the same.

It’s not rocket science

Business is about relationships and solving problems. Marketing is just communication about those things. If you have a working language center in your brain, you can get good at marketing.

A strongly related dumb thing is thinking you can turn the whole shebang over to an ad agency. (See: Crucial Facts Your Ad Agency Forgot to Mention). Agencies have useful resources, but they’ll never know your business or your customers like you do. And most agencies that handle small business are, frankly, terrible. (A few are amazing. But I’ve seen a lot of terrible.)

You need to know your marketing message so well it’s completely second nature. Know your unique selling proposition, know your benefits and your features, know your individual story, know your customers, know the media that make sense for those customers and that message.

Then and only then will you be ready to make good use of an agency. Until then (sorry), you have to get good at marketing.

Let us know in the comments what about marketing you just don’t think you can get good at! We’ll help.

7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do

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Relationship Marketing Series #2: Don’t Be a Bad Boyfriend

smoking-creepy-dude

Most businesses spend most of their marketing budget finding new customers. That’s because finding new customers is expensive.

Prospective customers tend to spend a lot of time viewing you with fear and suspicion. They know you’re trying to sell them something, and they don’t trust anything you say. After all, you just might turn out to be Hannibal Lecter.

So you do the work (which fails most of the time) of establishing rapport, developing a low-risk offer, building trust, repeating contact, guiding them through a purchasing funnel and basically coddling the holy hell out of them until they become trusting, happy customers.

All that is fine. It’s good, in fact. Over the long haul, you need to bring in happy new customers to stay healthy.

Here’s the other thing you need to stay healthy . . . and you need it every day.

You need happy existing customers

Your existing customers really want to like you. They’ve spent money on you already, so if they don’t like you, they feel like idiots–and feeling like an idiot is painful.

You’re familiar. The last time they did business with you, you didn’t eat their liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. You represent a low risk, which means if you’re reasonably good, you’re probably good enough for them to use again next time.

So out of the customers who end their relationship with businesses, on average, what’s the reason about 2/3 of them go?

They don’t feel appreciated.

You can’t say ‘I love you’ just once

There are boyfriends out there who think that if they’ve admitted to loving you once, that ought to do it pretty much forever. (If this is you, repent immediately.) Your customer, like the object of your romantic affections, wants to hear it all the time.

The magic words are actually amazingly similar. “We love our customers. Thank you for [describe specific thing you love about them].”

Just like in a romantic relationship, you have to use the words and you have to show you mean it. Send your best customers little gifts, just because you love them. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be memorable and they should be relevant to your relationship. Be careful about falling for pointless widgets that are mostly remarkable in a “WTF?” way.

Some great gifts include small trial-size versions of your product (this isn’t just for shampoo–put some creativity into this one), buy one/get one offers just for longtime customers, customer appreciation sales that are closed to the general public. You get the idea.

Don’t only give a present when you want some lovin’. Referral gifts or premiums with big orders are great, but you also want to give a little gift sometimes just to say “thanks for being with me, I love you.” Give a gift without asking for anything in return.

(How often? Slightly more often than you think is necessary.)

Don’t treat the waitress better than you treat your date

I have a friend who has his milk delivered by a dairy. The milk is really good–it’s much fresher than you can get at the supermarket, and the price is similar. On the other hand, it’s a slight extra hassle–writing another check every month, remembering to bring in the milk on delivery days, etc.

He went on vacation recently and his delivery didn’t start up again when he had expected it to.

He called the nice customer service lady. She gave him a probably overly long explanation (excuse) about why it hadn’t worked the way he thought it should. That was ok.

He asked if she would be able to send him some milk in the next day or two.

“Sorry, we aren’t set up to do that.”

“OK, but I see your sales van here twice a week with free milk samples for people who haven’t signed up yet–could he just bring a half gallon by?”

“Oh, no sir. That milk is just for new customers. We can’t let him deliver milk to existing customers, it’s against the rules.”

My friend dumped the dairy.

Never treat strangers better than the nice, loyal folks who fund your payroll month in and month out. (And if you are dumb enough to do that, don’t get caught.) Understand that it costs you five or ten or twenty times more to find a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

If for some strange reason you have to piss off a prospect to take care of a customer, that’s the smart thing to do every time. (And if you tell your prospect why you’re doing it, she’ll remember the kind of company you are.)

Understand, too, that crazy-in-love customers will jump at the chance to act as your unpaid sales force. They’ll bring new customers to your door for a tiny fraction of what it would cost a formal marketing campaign to entice a stranger.

And that referral business tends to be an overall far more pleasant experience for you and your employees. Referred customers are less sensitive to price. They whine less. They’re less likely to ask you to jump through hoops to prove yourself. They’re less high-maintenance, in other words. More June Carter Cash, less Alanis Morissette.

(This is getting a little too far into Big Love territory, sorry about that.)

The rules are easy to learn and easy to forget. You won’t rememember it unless you make a point of it. So sit down with your calendar and work out when you’re going to give your customers a great big sloppy, sincere “I love you.” Don’t just calendar one occasion–calendar a series to cover all of 2008.

It’s either that or risk spending mega marketing dollars on the equivalent of dial-a-date. Up to you.

The Relationship Marketing Series