Christmas in July promotions have become more popular with both large and small businesses in the past few years as a way to generate more sales during the slower retail sales of Summer. Now that we are almost a third of the way through August and Summer is winding down, the Christmas in July sales are a thing of the past, but smart business owners might be wise to take the remaining slower sales period to gear up for the 2014 retail holiday season.
I recently read Are Your Salespeople Ready for the 2014 Retail Holiday Season? that provides some excellent tips for preparing your sales staff now for the upcoming holiday season.
- Be Prepared for Super-Knowledgeable Customers
- Create an In-Store Experience
- Give Your Employees the Tools They Need to Succeed
- Plan Season Hires Well in Advance
- Get Mobile With Training, Too
- Money Talks
- Involve Employees in Decision-Making
I think all of the points in the article should be used for preparing your sales staff for the many upcoming holiday sales events, but I think this one may be the most important. This quote from the article gives some great statistics on point 1 above.
Last year, some two-thirds (65 percent) of holiday shoppers planned to “webroom”- that is, go online to browse products, compare prices and research before heading out to a physical store.
That means your employees need to be super-educated as well. Consumers today expect sales associates to be knowledgeable about products and services, how they work and how they compare to your competition’s. Make sure your employees are familiar with your return policies, guarantees, pricing and more.
I have always done extensive product research online before purchases so I certainly agree with how important it is to have your sales staff at the top of their game on product knowledge, not only for your products but your competition as well.
Last but not least, don’t forget the impact of smartphones described in point 3 above. I did some research and came across
Google Is Learning How Smartphones Impact In-Store Shopping.
I had read about how smartphones were impacting shopping in past holiday seasons, but this year it may be much bigger. After all, I finally broke down and got a smartphone myself this year.
I recently had a very positive customer service experience with one of our company’s vendors. Over the past few years we have gradually gone from everyone having an inkjet printer at their desk to some networked laser printer/fax/scanner/copier machines that work groups can access from their computers. Our company is saving a lot of money since the cost to print a page from an inkjet printer is about 5 cents a page and the networked printers are less than 1 cent a page.
Then I got some bad news, one of the first machines we had put in place was not printing on the left side of a page correctly and what comes next is the excellent customer service part. I emailed our vendor, he responded in a few minutes, and he had a repairman scheduled to check on the machine the very next morning. But wait, it gets better. The repairman came out and fixed the machine in a few minutes and explained that on these particular models the toner can build up on the glass and cause this problem. The repairman was only there a few minutes and there was no charge.
I think this is really representative of superb customer service and it is an excellent example of Will Your Company Be a Leader of the Customer-Service Revolution?. The article provided these four tips for your company’s customer service revolution:
- Customer service is the product
- Agent empowerment creates memorable customer-service experiences.
- Customer self-service is a win-win.
- Create the illusion of personalization.
I think this is an an excellent example of point 2 above. He escalated the issue and resolved his part very promptly (he had a repairman out the next morning). He then followed up and made the repair a no charge. An example of really superb customer service.
I frequently share with my friends and coworkers my experiences on good places to eat, trusted places for car repair, reliable lawn services, good local bakeries and all the other businesses and services we all use on a regular basis. I didn’t realize that my word of mouth recommendations were having such a big impact (and maybe mine don’t!) until I read 85% of Small Businesses Get Customers Through Word of Mouth.
That is an incredible statistic and the article provides a graph on all the results of the survey. The next closest way customers find businesses was online searches at 59% and the rest were far behind. To quote from the article.
In one sense it’s striking that the method that is (a) most personal, and (b) costs the least in out-of-pocket expenditures, is the top method of attracting new customers. After all, you’d expect that by throwing money at the problem via expensive advertising, and through methods that scale to reach many, you’d get greater results. At least… that’s what you might think.
So how can your small business capitalize on this extremely valuable source? The article recommends these four strategies.
1. Check your business in Google and Bing at least once a month.
2. Conduct a regular customer survey to learn what your customers REALLY think.
3. Communicate and reinforce to employees the value of raving fans.
4. Create easy ways for customers to share word of mouth.
All of the strategies are important for an effective word of mouth strategy, but I think the fourth one is the most important The article goes into more detail on specific steps you can implement to capture that all important positive word of mouth from your customers for your small business.
It is Friday and maybe time for something a little off the normal business topics I normally write about, so here is something really different. It appears that there were some issues developing the first really practical sewing machines and although many were working on the problem, almost all of them had the eye of the needle in the back instead of the tip and that was causing problems.
This article from Wikipedia describes how Elias Howe was following the same basic model as his competition for a sewing machine and then this quote from the article describes how a dream changed the course of history on the sewing machine.
It never occurred to him that it should be placed near the point, and he might have failed altogether if he had not dreamed he was building a sewing machine for a savage king in a strange country. Just as in his actual working experience, he was perplexed about the needle’s eye. He thought the king gave him twenty-four hours in which to complete the machine and make it sew. If not finished in that time death was to be the punishment. Howe worked and worked, and puzzled, and finally gave it up. Then he thought he was taken out to be executed. He noticed that the warriors carried spears that were pierced near the head. Instantly came the solution of the difficulty, and while the inventor was begging for time, he awoke. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. He jumped out of bed, ran to his workshop, and by 9, a needle with an eye at the point had been rudely modeled. After that it was easy. That is the true story of an important incident in the invention of the sewing machine.
What if you could harness the same type of dream inspiration to run your small business? Do These 3 Things Before Bed To Hack Your Creativity While You Sleep provides these three tips.
- Find inspiration in your bedside book.
- Ask yourself the question you’re trying to answer.
- Encourage lucid dreaming.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to sleep thinking about a problem and then rouse myself from a sound sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning with the solution. Maybe by following these tips you can prime the pump of your brain, so to speak, before you go to bed to come up with fixes for some of the issues facing your business.
Having an off site event and want an easy way to collect payment? It was very difficult in the old paper days, but times have changed and I just ran across an interesting article where you can use something you probably already own to greatly simplify the process. Why not use your smartphone or tablet to simplify the process?
How to Accept Mobile Payments with a Smartphone or Tablet starts by describing how easy the process can be.
The most affordable way for business owners to accept mobile payments is with equipment they already own. That’s right, your smartphone or tablet is the cheapest, and fastest way for you to get paid on the go.
And turning your device into a point-of-sale terminal is also easy. All you need to do is pick a mobile payment solution that works for your business, download an app to your phone or tablet, and you’ll be ready to start accepting mobile payments anywhere.
The article then recommends these six apps for collecting the information.
- Inner Fence
- PayPal Here
- Level Up
The article describes how each app has strong and weak points, so make sure and review all of them to make sure it is the right app for your small business.
I faintly remember when I was very young going downtown in St. Louis at Christmas time to view the decorated windows at the major department stores. I remember that every year when we usually watch Christmas Story and Ralphie, Randy, and all the other kids are transfixed by all the wonderful toys in the department store window. Times have changed and the few remaining department stores no longer decorate windows for Christmas, but the concept for attracting customer into your small business is still valid.
This quote from Hyperlocal Advertising: How to Use Window Graphics brought this to mind.
Solomon cites history as an example: “The great department stores of the past — and a few still in business — used window displays to attract and to excite customers. The window display should give a great first impression that immediately conveys the image that you want your business to project.”
The article then provides these benefits for using your storefront window year round for attracting customers.
- Cost savings
- No permits
- Shade and privacy
I think the second point may be the most effective. Your small business can take advantage of every holiday quickly and easily without any advertising cost. It is too late to change your window graphics for Mother’s Day, but Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, etc. are right around the corner.
My wife has had a smartphone for some time, but since I don’t use my cell phone a great deal I stuck with my old stupid phone which I rarely used except for emergencies. Our cell phone provider recently ran a special deal to try to get some of us luddites to upgrade. I thought it was finally time to switch since texting on my old phone was so difficult and I had some family members who insisted on texting instead of calling.
I must admit, I am very impressed with my new smartphone and really think I should have switched some time ago. Maybe the same is true for you and it is time to buy a tablet for your small business. How to Buy a Business Tablet begins by describing how a good tablet can be beneficial in running your business and recommends looking at these four points when selecting the proper tablet for business use.
- Pick on OS
- Pick a size
- Check the specs
- Don’t overlook battery life
Any small business owner needs to look at these different points when selecting a tablet for their particular needs. If you already have a smartphone or tablet of some type and are interested in running some Microsoft applications, I did some research and found this handy link that gives all current options. If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, it might help you make a decision on which one to purchase for your business use.
If you need to share files with your employees, clients, vendors, or suppliers there are some security risks you should keep in mind. The recent emphasis on the Heartbleed security issue may make any small business owner very aware of outside security problems, but internal breaches need to be considered as well and may pose an even greater security risk than the very formidable outside risks.
5 Dangerous File Sharing Habits You Need to Break Right Now provided these very interesting and sobering statistics on inside risks.
An annual study by the Ponemon Institute revealed that although 37 percent of data breaches are due to malicious attacks — cybercriminals and inside jobs — 35 percent are actually caused by the “human factor” attributed to employee or contractor negligence. Another 29 percent are due to system glitches. One significant contributing factor is Shadow IT, the practice of employees using IT solutions that are not officially implemented and approved by an organization or its IT department.
The article stated that these five dangerous file sharing habits were especially dangerous for your small business.
- Sharing files via email.
- Using consumer-grade cloud solutions
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing
- Using flash drives
- Lack of visibility
From the list above, two big internal security issues really stand out to me. Number 1 and 4. As a rule of thumb, I personally never email anything that I don’t think the whole world will see (as we all know, there are some very smart hackers out there). Small business owners should be especially careful about any sensitive company information sent via email.
Even more troubling may be number 4. The article Bad flash drive caused worst U.S. military breach may give any small business owner nightmares if proper procedures for flash drives are not implemented. There is an old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and this is certainly true in this instance.
It has been a rough couple of years with credit card issues. I have had to replace personal credit cards twice, first in 2013 when a local grocery store chain had credit card information stolen and later in 2014 when Target also had information stolen. Then to add insult to injury, my company credit card was used to purchase video games in February and I don’t even play video games. Now comes a new security issue, Heartbleed, that could compromise credit card information as well as impact many other aspects of security on the Internet.
It appears that all the recent problems with credit card security is finally going to force some action that I think should have been taken some time ago. Chip security for credit cards describes how the United States is finally going to start to catch up with much of the rest of the world. The article begins with describing what I went through with my compromised credit cards, disputing fraudulent claims and then having to get new credit cards. It then provides what they are doing to make credit cards much more secure.
Western Europe, Canada and much of Asia already use “chip and PIN” technology on credit cards. Chips on the cards hold transaction information, and customers enter PINs — personal identification numbers — at cash registers.
America is going halfway. We’ll get the chip, but we generally won’t require a PIN.
Many U. S. banks are already issuing cards with chips, the problem in the past and the reason why it has taken so long to adopt the new technology is that it will require every retailer to replace their card readers. The new technology will move to ATMs in 2016 and gasoline pumps in 2017. Currently the banks that issued the cards are liable for any fraudulent charges, but as of October 2015 any merchant without a chip reader will be liable.
There are a lot more details on how this all will work starting next year, so the whole article is worth a read by any small business owner that wants to accept credit cards.
Every year the company I work for schedules a spring cleaning day in April or May and we are having one this Friday. Everyone gets to wear jeans that day, we usually do some yard work around the building, and everyone pitches in to clean up not only their personal work area but some problem areas throughout the building. I actually need two or three work days to take care of my personal work area, but I am making progress.
This idea of spring cleaning took on a new light when I read Spring Cleaning For Your Leadership that gave some tips not for spring cleaning your business or work area, but your leadership behavior. The article provided these five tips for a spring season in your own leadership.
- Stop and connect with your leadership context.
- Stop and connect within.
- Create a new vision of what’s exciting.
- Create a new vision as yourself as a leader.
- Clear out the clutter to bring the vision to life.
I really connected with the first and last tips, but for small business owners I think this quote from the first tip might be the most important.
Our world is constantly changing and yet many of us operate on old paradigms of “what was” or “what should be”. Stop and examine the new reality. What is happening on the ground? Here are some questions to ask yourself: What has changed in the business and in my organization? What has changed for my key customers, suppliers, or stakeholders? What new competition or trends are emerging that could create opportunity?
This is a new season and a time for change so it is a great time to look for the changes in your business environment mentioned in the quote above.