Author Archive

4 Steps to Attracting More Referral Business

Thursday, June 29th, 2023

Despite all the money businesses spend to attract new business, one of the best ways to gain new customers and clients is through referrals, or having others recommend your product, service, or company to someone else. Used synonymously with “word of mouth marketing,” referrals and recommendations actually generate $6 trillion in consumer spending each year. 

Referrals are big business. 

A study done in 2013 by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported that referrals, or word of mouth marketing, are between 2 and 10 times more effective than paid advertising at generating sales. 

More recently, Nielsen’s 2021 Trust in Advertising Study found that 88% of consumers trust referrals from people they know more than all other types of marketing. Because we trust the opinion of people we know, like, and trust, we are also more likely to act on a recommendation made by someone in our circle of friends and family.

Yet while 83% of your customers and clients may be more than willing to refer you more business, the sad truth is that only 29% actually will, according to an article in Texas Tech Today. But because referred customers are four times more likely to buy, says Nielsen, they are the best kind of prospect.

So, what can you do to boost the number of referrals you receive?

Educate your customers about your target clientele

People are more likely to refer business to you when they know your ideal customer and understand what you can do for them. Your customers may be familiar with what you do for them but not realize the scope and breadth of all your services, for example. They may associate you with one type of product but not another. 

It’s up to you to inform and educate the market about what you can do. Make sure they’re on your email list and connected with you on social media so they can be exposed to all your marketing messages.

Ask for them

Given that referred customers can increase your profit margin and improve your sales conversion rate by up to 70%, it’s surprising that many small businesses don’t have a referral program in place. 

In order to get referrals, you need to be sure your customer base knows you welcome them. That means asking for them.

Many marketers advise waiting until a project is completed and the client is happy and relieved with the finished product to indicate that you would welcome any business they could refer your way, although some suggest you shouldn’t wait until the very end. 

When customers are appreciative of your hard work is generally the best time to ask for their assistance.

Invest in marketing

Once you’ve asked your current clients to consider referring their colleagues, friends, and/or family your way for similar products or services, the next step is staying top-of-mind. They can only refer you business if they’re thinking of you.

That means pursuing publicity and investing in advertising and promotional tactics that will keep you in front of current and potential customers regularly. Offer to write guest blog posts for organizations where your target customers are members, look for podcasts in need of guests, or put some money into Google Ads so that prospects are regularly exposed to your company name and message.

If your type of product, service, or business is often in the public eye, the chances of conversations occurring that mention you increase. Which means that opportunities for clients to recommend you also increase.

Partner with complementary businesses

Another way to nurture referrals is to identify other businesses that your target customers also likely have a need for. Then start sending them business. 

Before you ask others to refer you their customers, send them some new ones first.

For example, if you’re a caterer, you could refer bridal parties to a wedding cake bakery or reception space. If you’re a hair stylist, you could refer clients to your favorite nail artist. If you’re a management consultant, you could refer colleagues to your go-to graphic designer.

Think about the products and services your target client is likely to have a need for and try to align yourself with them to generate sales for both of you.

Because referred business comes to you often pre-qualified and pre-sold, such customers can be higher profit. They are certainly worth pursuing.

Choosing the Best Location for Your Business

Monday, June 19th, 2023

Any company that serves customers face-to-face should take extra care when selecting a location for its operations. This is especially critical for newer businesses that don’t already have a large customer base.

To find a great location based on what your business is like today, versus where you hope to be five years from now, you’ll want to weigh several factors.

Type of business

Where you ultimately decide to set up shop should first depend on the type of business you’re running. Your industry will, to a large degree, determine the type of space you need. For example, the space needs of a manufacturing operation are very different from a retail shop or an executive coach.

Other considerations include:

  • What are the zoning regulations for your area? 
  • Do you have employees who need a workspace?
  • Do you need a parking lot?
  • Do you have large equipment?
  • Will you have delivery trucks that need access for orders?
  • Do you rely on foot traffic to attract customers?

The answers to these and other questions should help you get a sense of the size and general type of space you need.

If you’re just starting out and have a small team, it will be most economical for you to work from home, so as not to have to pay a landlord for additional space or to set up a remote team, where everyone you work with is responsible for finding their own workspace. However, that doesn’t work if you run a salon or restaurant, for example.

Size of your budget

Another important consideration is how much you can afford to spend on space alone. Because on top of your monthly rent, you may also need to pay for improvements if the space is not currently ideal for your team, as well as the cost to move any of your equipment and files from where they are now, and other expenses such as utilities and taxes, depending on the terms of your lease.

As you look at your financial history or your projections for the coming year, how much of your incoming revenue can you afford to allocate for rent? If you look at standard expenses for your industry, is that amount higher or lower than what others in your line of work are paying? Try not to overspend, especially early on, or you may hamper your business’ growth.

Where your customers are located

Once you know the type of space you’re looking for, such as a warehouse, street-facing storefront, or co-working space, as well as how much you can spend, it’s time to think about where your customers will be coming from. You want to be near where the majority of the demand for your products or services is originating. (This is why many pizza shops consider the size of the population within a certain radius of the proposed address.)

Are your best clients in the downtown area? If so, is it important that you be easily accessible?

Or do your clients not visit your business in person? If so, then where your operations are based may not matter to them at all.

Do you need to be close to your suppliers? If you’re running a restaurant where perishable food is a factor, you may want to map out how far your vendors will have to travel to reach you.

Are your customers so loyal that they’ll follow you wherever you move? That is frequently the case with personal service providers, such as therapists and hair stylists. Then maybe you don’t need to be in the most expensive part of town.

The one thing you want to avoid is moving to a new location that is more difficult for customers to access. Your best patrons may love your product, but if they have to contend with constant traffic jams or they can’t find a parking spot easily, they may look for a company that is easier to do business with.

Where is your competition?

Although you don’t want to make business decisions defensively, based on what your competitors are doing, you also don’t want to pick a place where existing businesses are well-established. Despite the fact that Burger King apparently used to locate its new restaurants near existing McDonald’s buildings, this probably doesn’t make sense for you, unless you’re a car dealer.

Generally, you want to set yourself apart from your competitors. Locating your business in a part of town that is not already served by a competitor is frequently a smarter move. Going head-to-head against well-entrenched businesses can be damaging to both companies.

Better to find territory that is just waiting for a business like yours to move in.

What is aligned with your brand

Believe it or not, how your brand is perceived should affect where you opt to locate your business. 

If your selling point is convenience, make sure your shop is easy to get to. If your reputation is based on luxury or a high-end experience, where your business is situated should reinforce that; you may have to pay more to be in an upscale building or part of town. Or if sustainability or all-natural claims are closely linked with your company, perhaps you should be on the outskirts of town, closer to nature.

Before choosing a location, confirm that what you choose reinforces and doesn’t detract from your brand image.

Ease of parking

Many buyers make decisions based on parking availability. If they can’t park quickly and easily, or inexpensively, some people won’t make the effort to do business with you. The same could also be said of employees, who don’t want to have to pay several dollars a day to be able to come to work.

Granted, this is less of an issue in large cities, where proximity to a subway stop may be more relevant, but in suburbs and more rural areas, make sure you have use of a parking lot.

Location safety

Your buyers and employees also want to feel safe when they come in. Sure, the rent on a space in a less popular neighborhood may be dirt cheap, but if you scrimp on your rent, you may also find it more difficult to entice customers in. It may also be more challenging to find employees willing to risk their personal safety to come to work. This is especially true if you’re open after dark.

Your chosen location can enhance and support your brand image, or it can discourage customers from doing business with you. The challenge is finding a space that is affordable and helps attract buyers.

Leverage the Power of Scent in Your Business

Friday, May 26th, 2023

Scents and odors can have a significant impact on our perception of companies and brands. In fact, research has shown that scent marketing can be used to increase brand loyalty and sales. Meaning, adding a pleasing smell can help create a positive customer experience that leads to higher sales.

This realization was driven home last weekend when I returned to my Doubletree hotel room after housekeeping had been by. As I opened the door, I immediately smelled a hint of refreshing mint. It wasn’t overpowering and it signaled to me that the room had been cleaned; even without seeing the bed remade or the trash cans emptied. That is the power of scent.

Similarly, anyone who has walked past a Cinnabon in a mall food court understands the powerful impact scent can have on your mood and purchase intent. Cinnabon uses scent to its advantage by pumping out the aromas from its kitchens to draw hungry shoppers in. Baking cinnamon and brown sugar on cookie sheets in its ovens, which are placed at the front of the store space, with the weakest hoods ever (to allow the aroma to easily escape) are some of the tactics the company expertly uses to boost sales.

Cinnabon is considered a pioneer in the scent marketing industry, which is currently estimated to be worth $200 million.

Fortunately, you don’t need to run a restaurant, perfumery, or candle shop to make sure of enticing scents in your company, but you should think about how to add scent to your operations. Here are three reasons why:

Increasing time spent in-store

Research has found that the more time a customer spends in a retail business, the more they will spend. This metric is called “dwell” time, or how long they linger. Your challenge is to keep customers lingering as long as possible.

The Food Marketing Institute, for example, reports that shoppers spend, on average, $2.17 per minute on groceries. Given this, the more time spent shopping, the higher that final bill for food. The key to selling more is simply keeping them in the store (which may explain some store layouts).

One way is to provide a pleasing scent, preferably one that causes them to relax and feel good at the same time.

According to Shopify, common scents used inside businesses include:

  • Florals, which “encourage buyers to linger in your store”
  • Fresh linen, which enhances the sensation of cleanliness
  • Lavender, which triggers relaxation
  • Leather, which “evokes a feeling of luxury and opulence”
  • Vanilla, which is a mood enhancer

But scents aren’t only effective in retail settings. Adding a scent to a waiting room, restroom, and office can also yield positive results, helping the customer recall the pleasant experience long after they’ve left.

Increasing sales

A 2003 study published in the International Journal of Marketing reported that the presence of a pleasing scent increased customer intent to purchase by up to 84% in a project for Nike. In that same study, participants were found to be willing to pay 10% to 15% more for scented products when they compared shoes with a citrusy scent and those without any detectable scent.

When a pleasing scent is added to the buying mix, helping improve customers’ moods and outlook, the more likely they are to buy and the more they can end up buying. Both of which help generate higher sales levels.

Increased customer lifetime value (CLV)

Since scent is linked to memory and a positive response to scent can increase the likelihood of a purchase, the amount that one customer spends in their lifetime on a particular product will be higher if they connect it to a positive memory. The higher the amount spent, coupled with a higher frequency of purchase, can have a sizeable affect on the bottom line.

According to Cececa Scents, “People are 100 times more likely to remember something they smell over something they hear, see, or touch.” So, by infusing your workspace, retail space, restaurant, or vehicle with a pleasing scent, the more likely your customer is to remember their positive experience doing business with you.


Payroll Options for Small Businesses

Thursday, May 18th, 2023

Confused about how to pay your employees? You’re not alone. Calculating federal and state tax withholding amounts, along with other potential types of withholdings, such as retirement or health insurance, for example, which need to be deducted from an employee’s paycheck, can be confusing.

Yet despite the complexity of payroll calculations, 58% of small business owners do their own payroll, according to the National Small Business Association. Only 42% of small businesses rely on outside payroll support.

Processing your own payroll is fine if you’re comfortable with all the calculations, but there are other alternatives, namely:

  • Hiring an accountant
  • Using an online payroll system
  • Paying a payroll processor

Of course, each option costs more than doing the work yourself, as with most things, but handing this off to a professional can save you time. The National Small Business Association also reported that small business owners spend hours on this task, with 43% spending more than 3 to 10 hours monthly on payroll. Turning this work over to a pro may also reduce your liability if the numbers you crunch are wrong.

The following are the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing payroll to someone else, to technology, or to a payroll provider.

Hiring an accountant

Many small business accountants can process your payroll for you, providing paychecks for employees and a summary of how much you need to set aside for tax withholding each pay period. If you’re in regular contact with your business accountant or if yours offers a bundle of services, this might be the most painless option for you.

Realize, however, that it’s likely you’ll pay more for a professional accountant to handle this task, and that, depending on the size of the firm, the accountant may delegate that task to someone on their staff (which you may not care about as long as the payroll is run in a timely fashion and withholding is paid by the deadline).

Using an online payroll system

If you prefer to personally handle processing your company’s payroll but want some technological support, an online system may be your best choice. With a company like Gusto, Workful, or Intuit Quickbooks, you enter the relevant financial details online and the system calculates your obligation. Most can take care of all your filings, too.

Some platforms specialize in easy payroll processing for small businesses while others offer payroll and other services, such as time tracking. Some include invoices, to aid in collecting what you’re owed from clients, and others include hourly time-tracking. Make sure you select the service that provides what you need, without extras you don’t need but will still pay for.

Paying a payroll processor

And if your company has more than a few employees or you want something closer to a full-service employee benefits system, a traditional payroll provider such as ADP, Paychex, or OnPay may be your best bet. These providers offer more hand-holding when it comes to payroll processing, as well as related services, such as HR and employee benefits services. These can be especially useful for fast-growing ventures or those that anticipate adding more employees in the near future.

When it comes to payroll, there is no one-size-fits-all for small businesses. Decide how much time you want to spend on this necessary but potentially complex task and what it might be worth to delegate it. By comparing prices from several options, you should be able to zero in on a payroll provider that does what you need and charges a fair fee.

5 Steps to Building a Personal Brand

Saturday, April 29th, 2023

Your personal brand is how your potential market perceives you. It’s important because your brand impacts their willingness to buy from you. Your personal brand can enhance, or detract from, your ability to sell your products and services.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to try to shape your personal brand to be an asset to your business, rather than a liability.

Identify your ideal customer

The first step is getting crystal clear about who your ideal customer is. How would you describe them demographically? Are they women? Men? College students? Retirees? Living in apartments? Living in the countryside? Earning under $50k? Earning more than $200k? Own a car? These are just some demographic characteristics you could use to describe your best customer. The more specific you can get, the easier it will be to find ways to connect with them.

That’s your next step—discovering where they spend their time or attention. That is, where do your buyers hang out? Are they boaters? Yoga fanatics? Soccer moms? Where do they turn for information? Do they read trade magazines? Subscribe to particular blogs? Or are they active on certain social media platforms? Knowing this makes it much easier to find them and engage with them.

In order for them to have an opinion about you and your brand, they first need to be aware of you.

Create an aesthetic

Your aesthetic is another word for visual imagery. Years ago, companies had corporate colors. Today we have colors, typefaces, and features, among other things.

Your aesthetic is your style. Is it fun and whimsical? Elegant? Contemporary? Natural? Juvenile? Futuristic? Technical? Think about what words you want associated with your personal brand and use those to drive the visual elements you use on everything from your website to your social media reels, photos, proposals, and posts.

Share useful information to establish your authority

In order for people to have an impression of you, they need to come across you, either in person or online. Where they connect with you and what they take away from that interaction, even if it’s one-sided, affects how they see you. For example, if you meet someone in person at a fancy gala event, they will form an impression of you based on the fact that you were in attendance, as well as what you wore, what you said, and how you behaved. Likewise, when people see your name online, they will begin to form a perception based on where they saw your work—was it a quote in a Wall Street Journal article, for example—or was it in an unflattering Yelp review. 

All of these pieces together shape how others perceive you: that’s what makes up your personal brand.

What you can do to increase the number of positive impressions you make is to share information that your ideal customer would find useful or helpful—that would make them appreciate you or your expertise. For example, if you run a dog walking company or boarding facility, how about sharing tips for getting your dog ready for time away, recommending products that can help with separation, and ideas for evaluating different boarding options. Write articles you submit to publications and websites your target customers read. Create Facebook posts with links to posts. Pursue opportunities to be quoted in the press. Record videos about you and your business.

If you’re already doing these types of activities, it may be time to consider writing a book or creating an online course, to further extend your brand.

Be authentic

At the core of your personal brand is who you really are. It would be tough to create a persona that is nothing like you and present that to the public without eventually getting revealed. (We hear stories regularly about celebrities whose bad behavior has revealed their true personalities, and it’s not pretty.) A better approach is to share the true you from the start.

Your buyers want to feel like they know you, which is only possible if you share your personality with them. So don’t strive to be perfect. Don’t exaggerate stories you tell because you think that’s what others want to hear—they don’t. They want the truth. So be vulnerable and be honest.

Build a community

The more you share what you know in order to be helpful to your ideal customers, the more you’ll attract other like-minded buyers. 

By bringing people together, either online through a Facebook group, for example, or in person through live events, you help to establish connections not just with you and your customers and fans, but between all of the community members. That’s when they help amplify your personal brand, by telling others about you, your offerings, and the helpful community you’ve built.

Keep in mind that you can’t really control your personal brand, since it’s based on how others perceive you. But following these five steps can certainly help create a positive impression that can help shape your brand.

Should Your Business Hire Family Members?

Monday, April 10th, 2023

When you’re in the early stages of starting or running a business, it can be comforting to know that you have family members who support you. Some may even tell you they’re happy to help out here and there. As a startup, this may sound like music to your ears!

But before you start taking family members up on their offers of help, it is critical that you clarify exactly what the person is going to do for you, for how long, and what kind of compensation (if any) they will receive. The worst thing you can do is accept help without specifying expectations and pay. Lack of communication can lead to misunderstanding and family strife.

Although everyone likely has good intentions regarding help offered, involving family members in your business can impact relationships even if things go well. Taking steps to protect them and you from bad assumptions may help prevent drama down the line. 

Yes, It’s a Good Idea

Some of the biggest advantages of hiring family members include:

  • The chance for more time together
  • You already know their skills and abilities (and weaknesses)
  • Your family may be more protective or invested in your business success
  • Hiring them is faster and easier
  • Potential tax advantages (from hiring children)

There is also the potential marketing benefit of being perceived as a “mom and pop” shop, which is often the impression customers have when family members work together. Many consumers prefer to patronize small, family businesses, so involving others in your family in working at your company could be advantageous.

The key word here is could.

It could also be disastrous.

No, It’s a Terrible Idea

If you tallied all the published articles on hiring family members, it’s likely you would see more warning about the downsides of mixing business and personal relationships than about the advantages. Despite the potential upside of spending more time with the fam, the disadvantages can have a larger, longer-lasting impact.

Some of the biggest reasons to pause before hiring family members are:

  • Close personal relationships may make it hard to provide honest feedback regarding performance, or to offer constructive criticism
  • Other employees may perceive that family members are treated differently (whether that’s true or not)
  • Employees may be unlikely or unwilling to speak up about performance issues because of the family connection
  • It’s unlikely your family member is the best person for the job
  • Business-related matters may spill over into family life, or other family relationships
  • Letting a family member go can cause unintended family rifts

Take Steps to Avoid Conflict

However, if you need your family’s support, there are steps you can take to try to avoid future conflicts:

  • Confirm qualifications. Is your brother, cousin, or niece capable of doing what you need them to do? Make sure they can before you commit to bringing them on board, whether you’re paying them or not. Hiring someone unqualified can damage your business.
  • Question availability. Ask about your family member’s availability and make sure it aligns with what you need. For example, if you need someone to work every Monday night, confirm your sister/dad/grandmother is available consistently during that time. Be clear about the commitment you need from them.
  • Communicate expectations. The most important step to a successful working relationship is clearly communicating what you need and expect from your family before you hire them. Don’t assume they know how critical it is for them to make weekly deposits, or respond to emails in 24 hours, or complete deliveries by noon, for example. You need to spell it out verbally and in writing, so that everyone is clear about what they need to do. Also make it clear what will happen if they don’t, to try to avoid hard feelings.
  • Communicate frequently. Family or not, it’s always a good practice to provide feedback regularly—the more the better, really. Let all employees know when they’ve done a good job. Give public recognition for a job well done. And pull employees aside quietly when they slip up, to explain what they should have done instead. Give them a chance to demonstrate a willingness to improve.
  • Avoid special treatment. Treat everyone on your staff the same. Sure, she may be your mom, but when it comes to business, you need to treat her with the same respect and formality as your other employees. This will help reduce any awkwardness your other employees may feel about working alongside a close family member and convey that everyone is expected to do their part.
  • Try to keep work and home separate. When you’re spending your free time with family members, don’t spend all of it rehashing business issues. Enjoy your time together. And at work, don’t bring up personal matters from home that might make non-family members uncomfortable.

Family members can be essential workers when you’re just starting out, because they want you to succeed. But as your business grows, it’s important to add policies and procedures to ensure that your employees are supporting your business’s growth and not hampering it.

What’s so Great about Being a Thought Leader?

Friday, March 24th, 2023

For the last few years, we’ve heard the term “thought leader” and “thought leadership” thrown around as something to which we should aspire. But what’s so great about being a thought leader? Why should you want to be perceived as a thought leader in your industry?

New Opportunities

Because with this perception comes respect, influence, and opportunity.

The truth is, thought leadership is basically a fancy term for expert or guru. According to Oxford Languages, a thought leader is “a person whose views are taken to be authoritative and influential.” Not only are thought leaders extremely knowledgeable in a particular field, but their ideas are influential, persuasive, and often significant. They are leaders in their space, able to change how others think about certain subjects, and even to prompt them to act.

Being a thought leader comes with power that can generate new business opportunities—everything from public speaking to teaching to consulting, publishing, and creating—all of which can enrich your bottom line.

That’s the real benefit of being a thought leader.

So how do you become one?

Becoming a Thought Leader

The thing about thought leaders is that they are almost always a step ahead of everyone else when it comes to information in their industry. Because of their experience, talent, education, and connections, they spot patterns and opportunities before others do. And they share that information to benefit others, because a leader is all about serving others. That doesn’t mean they can’t also benefit themselves, but being of service is what true leaders aspire to do.

Educate and inform

Thought leaders use what they know, and what they observe, to educate and inform others around them. They are information hubs, gathering and disseminating useful information as much as possible. They may do that through a blog, a podcast, social media posts, public speaking, writing a column, or something else, but they are often the first to address a relevant topic.

Be unconventional

It’s much harder to be viewed as a leader if all you do is follow the crowd. Sharing relevant social media posts that others have published is fine, especially if you add your own thoughts or viewpoints at the top, but don’t let that be the only thing you do. You need to also publish your own original content. And in order to stand out as a leader, sometimes you need to go against the grain, to question decisions, to offer alternatives to the ideas that have already been presented. Rather than sweep issues under the rug, you may need to bring them up. However, whenever you surface a problem, it’s important to also offer a solution. Don’t risk being viewed as a complainer.

Align yourself with other leaders

When you do share information and ideas that others have put forth, try to make sure it comes from other leaders you would like to be aligned with. Give them credit. Are there local business leaders you admire, or maybe leaders in your field? Make a point of commenting on their social media posts in support. Share articles they publish and add your take. And when you write articles or blog posts, speak in public, or are quoted in the media, name drop other leaders whose thinking is like your own. Not only will you position yourself as an ally, but you may earn their gratitude.

Publish consistently

Above all else, being a thought leader requires that you publish your ideas regularly. That may mean a weekly blog post, three social media posts a week, a podcast episode every Friday, or a biweekly newsletter, for example—whatever makes sense for your particular audience. But whatever pace you decide on, stick with it. Publishing interesting, useful information is key, but as soon as you begin to attract followers, they will look forward to your musings. Don’t let them down. Pick a schedule and stick to it.

Build a community

Publishing regularly is the best way to build a community. Write useful content and share it with people you think will find it relevant. Work to attract new members or subscribers and ask what they want to learn. Use that information to craft even more relevant content to share. That will win you social media followers. You can also create a Facebook or LinkedIn group to bring together individuals who want to be part of your tribe, as Seth Godin calls it, meaning, people with similar interests and aspirations.

Never stop learning

The only way to remain a thought leader is to keep learning, keep growing, and keep sharing what you know. Attend industry conferences, watch webinars, read content inside and outside your field, record videos, subscribe to newsletters, network with others in your space. Always be thinking about what may come next, whether it’s a technological breakthrough, a legislative restriction, a crisis, an emerging need, or something else. What’s coming down the pike that others haven’t noticed yet, but that you have? Share that and your thoughts about it.

To Win, Be Easy to Work With

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

“Be easy to work with. It matters,” Wen-Szu Lin, author of Deliver, shared in a recent guest lecture at Johns Hopkins University. Whether you’re working to attract clients, hold onto clients, recruit employees, or negotiate with a potential vendor or partner, being easy to work with can make or break you. 

It can even be a competitive advantage.

Not exactly sure if you’re easy to work with? Consider how you respond to requests, whether you consider the impact of your efforts on others, and if you receive repeated or follow-up inquiries from clients or colleagues. If you’re easy to work with, others should gravitate toward you and prefer collaborating. If you’re not, you likely receive one-time requests with no follow-up, or business relationships may be short-lived.

Make Life Easier for Others

At its core, being easy to work with means making life easier for others. “Others” are anyone you interact with, including clients, colleagues, supervisors, vendors, family members, friends, neighbors, service providers, and random people on the street. The more you can make being easy to work with part of your daily routine, the more you will be seen as such.

Demonstrating how easy you are to work with can start with holding the door for others, allowing someone in a hurry to go ahead of you, or giving up a seat on the subway. At work, being easy to work with looks like responding quickly to emails, offering to take care of a small task to reduce the burden on someone else, or simply living up to your promises; be dependable. 

You don’t have to be a martyr to be easy to work with, fortunately, and you can set boundaries. But here are some specific opportunities to demonstrate the advantages of working with you:

Make Connections

Sometimes the best way to help someone is to provide resources or introduce them to someone else who can help them make progress, if that person isn’t you. For example, if a colleague is looking for printer recommendations, make a few phone calls or email inquiries and compile a list for them. Not only does that help them narrow the field of options, but you’ve shown that you’re trying to make their life easier. That’s big.

Or, if you have to let an employee go because they’re not a fit for the job they are in, rather than just showing them the door, you could provide a list of career coaches or even current job openings that you think would be a good fit. Again, you’re demonstrating that you’re trying to make their life easier by giving them a hand in finding their next job.

Go Above and Beyond

To make yourself indispensable to customers or employers, do more than the bare minimum. Sure, you’ll want to deliver on your promise to do whatever you committed to, but how about getting the project done before the deadline and maybe even under budget? That’s going to stand out.

You’ve probably heard some of the legends surrounding the impressive customer service that retailer Nordstrom has long been known for. Most are stories where employees went above and beyond, in order to make life easier for their customers. One story involved a Nordstrom worker delivering a tailored suit to a client after hours at his hotel, to be sure he had it in plenty of time for an important presentation the next day. Another famous tale was about a clerk who allowed a long-time customer to return four car tires that were the wrong size, despite the fact that Nordstrom has never sold tires. 

You probably don’t want to go that far and take a loss to make a customer happy, but think about what you can do that would ease a customer’s concerns or quiet their nerves. If you’re a retailer, can you offer free gift wrapping or local delivery? If you’re a salon, can you provide a quick video on how to maintain a client’s new hairstyle or how to operate a styling tool you’ve sold them? 

Anticipate Questions or Concerns

No matter what business you’re in, you probably know some of the common questions customers will ask regarding your products or services, because you’ve heard them countless times already. 

Maybe it’s about how something works, about alternatives, or about next steps. Whatever those common questions are, if you can anticipate them and answer them before they are asked, you will impress your customer. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, can you provide samples of your design on a variety of surfaces, so your client can get a clear picture of how it will be read? If you’re a venue popular for wedding receptions, can you offer recommendations as far as preferred vendors for photos, flowers, music, and invitations?

Brainstorm what you can give your customers that would help them make their life easier, or help them make the most of their purchase, without costing you a lot of money.

Do What you Promise

Even if you can’t do more than you promised, at least do what you said you would. Be on time for meetings, turn in assignments before the deadline, anticipate questions others may have and provide answers in advance. That saves others time, which makes their lives easier.

Knowing that you are reliable, that you will do what promise, is another way to become a go-to vendor or employee, because you make others’ lives easier by reducing the risk that something will go wrong for them. Consistency and reliability are other ways to build long-term, profitable relationships, because you are easier to work with than others who are inconsistent.

Saying “No” is Good for Business

Friday, February 24th, 2023

Given that growing a business requires customers and clients willing to pay you money, you may assume that saying “yes” regularly is essential for success. “Yes” can mean more customers, more sales, and more business opportunities.

The Downsides of “Yes”

As women, many of us have been taught that saying “yes” is the right thing to do. It is generally expected. Saying “no” may be seen as rude or impolite, or could suggest that we are difficult to get along with. In many circumstances, saying “no” brings up fears of being judged for declining an invitation or opportunity. So, sometimes woman err on the side of saying “yes,” even when they really want to say “no.” 

While this can certainly reduce the potential for negative backlash down the road, such as by agreeing to sit in on a meeting or to donate a product to a charity auction, those yeses require resources you might have preferred to devote to something else.

Yet saying “yes” can also create problems that interfere with business growth and profitability. Say “yes” too often to opportunities and you could overwhelm your team and create a poor customer experience. If you accept every opportunity that comes along, you could end up selling products or services that are not in your company’s best interests, or that are not as profitable as they could be for you. You could end up serving anyone and everyone, rather than targeting a specific buyer that you know can most benefit from your offerings. Not to mention how saying “yes” to everything in your business leaves little time for anything beyond business, like time with friends and family.

Which is why saying “no” can sometimes help your business more than saying “yes.”

When to Say “No”

But when does “no” make more sense than “yes” for your business? In general, saying “no” is often a better choice if you’re not certain that saying “yes” will make the business better. 

There’s an expression you’ve probably heard, that I originally heard from coach Suzanne Evans, that “If it’s not a ‘Hell Yes,’ it’s a ‘Hell no!’” 

For example, it may make sense to say “no” to:

  • Invitations to meetings. Do you really need to be there? Is your attendance the best use of your time? If you’re not a decision-maker, could someone else just as easily participate on your behalf? Or is this a sales call that you’re being pressured to take?
  • Customers who are unprofitable. Sure, doing business with a major corporation or celebrity could raise your business’s visibility, but if all you’ll earn is exposure, you may want to allow a competitor to lose money on that deal. So say no to work that you’ll lose money on, as well as putting an end to scope creep—when the client wants to increase the work you’re doing at no additional cost. 
  • Requests for price cuts or discounts. There is rarely a legitimate reason to reduce your profits for someone else’s benefit. Even when customers dangle the carrot that “If you give us a good deal on this first order, there will be more business down the line,” know that they have not committed to giving you more business and it’s more likely that you’ll take a loss on this deal and then never hear from them again.
  • Opportunities that would overwhelm your schedule. If you’re already double booked and having trouble fulfilling your current obligations, seriously consider declining—for now, at least—new opportunities that come in. These could be requests for your time, your talents, or your finances.
  • Unreasonable requests. Whether a potential client has asked you to work for free, “to see if there’s a fit,” or you’ve been asked to map out a strategy for the prospect to evaluate, recognize that they are asking you to work for free. Why would you give your expertise away, unless it’s to a cause you want to support?

“No” is useful for setting boundaries that protect your time and energy, both of which you need to run a successful business.

How to Say “No”

People who are uncomfortable with confrontation or negotiation have the most difficulty with saying “no.” They don’t want to make anyone upset or cause a scene, so they say “yes” to keep the peace, at the expense of their best interests or sanity, in some cases.

If you know that declining an opportunity is what’s best for you and your business, here are some ways you might phrase your response to reduce the sting of rejection:

“Thank you so much for considering my company for this amazing opportunity, but now that I know more about what you need, I know you’d be better off hiring a company that specializes in XYZ.”

“Thank you for thinking of us for this, but, unfortunately, we can’t take this on at this time.”

“I’m so flattered that you thought of my company for this opportunity to donate to your special event. Unfortunately, we have already allocated all of our charitable donations for the year.”

“Thank you so much for the invitation, unfortunately I’m not available.”

“I’m so honored that you would be interested in having me as your business mentor, but the time and energy required to grow my business doesn’t allow me time to mentor others right now.”

The key components of these “no” responses is that: 1) you thanked the person for the opportunity, 2) you politely decline their request, and 3) give a reason if you feel like it will prevent the conversation from continuing.

Otherwise, “no” is a complete sentence.

How Small Businesses Can Conserve Cash During a Downturn

Friday, February 10th, 2023

Ask a group of small business owners whether we’re in a recession and you’re likely to get a variety of answers. Although we’ve been hearing about an impending recession for months, it’s unclear if it’s on the horizon, already here, or if the chances of it occurring have receded.

If you’re nervous that a business downturn is headed your way, recession or not, there are a few things you can do to soften the blow if sales do decline. 

So, what can or should you cut back on? To figure that out, you need to take a look at your spending history.

Audit Your Spending

To know where your money is going in your business, the best place to look is at your business bank account(s). What kind of sales have you been making, are they on an upswing or downturn, and what do your expenses look like? Go back through the last three to six months of checking account statements to see what you’ve been paying for.

What are the biggest categories of expenses? Depending on your business model, that might include your rent, utilities, labor, equipment leases, raw materials, inventory, marketing, or many other possibilities.

Make a list of your biggest types of expenses and then consider what your business could do without. That is, where could you cut back, even temporarily, to build up some cash reserves? You don’t want to cut essentials—must-haves that keep your business in operation— but are there other types of expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary?

I’m thinking of things like:

  • Subscriptions (magazines, newspapers, office supplies, water, software)
  • Meals and entertainment (for clients, employees, managers)
  • Fees you could avoid with some planning (overdraft, late charges)

What could you eliminate even for just a few months?

Use Up Your Stockpile

Many businesses have built up a stash, or a stockpile, of products they use regularly, to avoid having to interrupt production or sales when the product runs out. Some have as much as six months of some products on-hand, just in case. But do you really need so much?

To benefit your bank account, consider: 1) using up your stockpile before reordering and 2) consider not stockpiling as large a quantity. For example, if you have six months on hand, could you get by with three or four months instead? That would allow you not to buy any of those items for a couple of months, which would reduce your cash outflow.

Another tactic to try is to negotiate with suppliers to lock in rates on recurring purchases, such as office supplies, packaging materials, or food ingredients, for examples. That way you can reduce the impact of a potential price increase.

Ask to Extend Payment Due Dates

If you’ve been paying bills immediately, or even Net 30 (within 30 days), it’s worth asking your suppliers if you can get Net 45 terms instead (meaning you’d have 45 days to pay your bill). Of course, you still have to pay the bill, but pushing out when you have to write some checks gives you more flexibility regarding how to use the money that’s in your bank account.

On the flipside, you could also ask your customers who are paying Net 45 or Net 60 to pay sooner. You may have to offer a small discount for this, but getting what you’re owed faster can sometimes be worth it.

Review Your Hiring Plans

Your workers are essential to the continued operation of your business, so it’s unlikely you’ll want to let anyone go if you don’t have to. However, if you had planned to add new employees this year, there may be some alternatives to adding headcount.

Some of these options include:

  • Offering existing employees overtime hours
  • Exploring hiring college or high school interns for course credit
  • Temporary workers
  • Seasonal workers
  • Independent contractors 

Other ways to tighten your proverbial belt could be to shift spending online.

Move Activities Online

Even brick-and-mortar businesses that serve customers in person, such as restaurants, auto repair shops, daycares, beauty salons, and retailers, can take steps to move some in-person tasks online and save money. That doesn’t mean you have to stop offering in-person selling, only that you could replace some face-to-face work with an online equivalent to save some cash.

This could include:

  • Adding an online store for products, parts, gift cards, courses, and information products in order to reduce on-site staffing needs
  • Offering training online, rather than on-site meetings and classes (which can also expand your target market globally), and encouraging employees to consume their education online, too, to reduce travel expenses
  • Shifting some traditional marketing dollars online, such as to a website, social media accounts, and digital ads, to reduce reliance on paper-based purchases.

Whether a recession hits or not, fortifying your financials by reducing unnecessary spending and finding less expensive ways to access the resources you need is a smart strategy for improving profits.

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