Thursday, December 31, 2015

Attracting more people

     Attracting new clients and customers is an on-going concern in business. It expands your reach in the community and keeps your business healthy and growing. 

     At the same time, you need to bring back your present customers and clients. Keep them talking about you. Keep them happy and returning.

     Here are a dozen ways to do this. 

     + Keep your Facebook page active. Snap and post pictures.
     + Attend networking meetings. Introduce your business to others.
     + Ask existing customers/clients for referrals. Remind them often.
     + Join local organizations. Volunteer to help.
     + Form a group. It's free.
     + If appropriate, get your business on Angie's List.
     + Hold an open house. Explain and demonstrate what you do.
     + Offer free "how-to" workshops. People love to learn.
     + Build your email list and send out brief announcements.
     + Send news releases to local papers--some will get printed.
     + Offer your expertise as a guest speaker. Groups are looking for you.
     + Offer freebies and gift certificates. Give out coupons.

     Some marketing experts say that new customers are more valuable than existing customers. They represent future value. And, let's face it, for one reason or another, you will lose your existing customers--they move, they find another supplier, they just disappear. 

     Most of these methods don't cost you anything, except your time. All are meant to get you and your business better known in the community. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lessons from 2016

     No, that's not a mistake. You've learned many lessons. Now is the time to get busy and apply what you've learned to the 2016 year.

     Technology is coming at us like a tidal wave. And leading the tsunami is social media--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and all the rest.

     Get ready. The coming months of 2016 can spell the difference between success and failure. It's up to you and the market you serve.

     Beauty -- Amy operates a popular hair salon. She's noticed that her customers are getting older. She wants to continue serving them, but she sees the need to appeal to the younger set. She began posting fresh hair designs on social media. These got "likes" and passed around among friends. Amy's business is growing by appealing to a wider market segment. She is planning to put up a series of pictures on Pinterest showing hands working to create the new designs. 

     Health -- Joe is a chiropractor. He needs to expand his client base, so he brought in a nutritionist for free sessions. Joe promoted these on social media and this drew people hungry for information on food, weight problems, and healthy eating. It has turned into a powerful promotional tool for Joe's chiropractic practice. At the nutritional sessions, Joe provides short demonstrations on chiropractic. And he regularly promotes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

     Restaurants -- Marie runs an upscale restaurant. To appeal to a wider customer base, she posts pictures of specials and mouth-watering entrees on social media every day. Some are for lunches, others are for dinners. To punch up the operation again, Marie arranged for an app for her restaurant. Today, people can access and order their meals while driving to the restaurant. When they arrive, the meals are ready for diners to sit down and enjoy.

     Social media offers a quick and easy way to expand your customer base. If you already use Facebook, what about the others? All of social media is quick and for the most part, it's free!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Promote your business with partnerships

     Any small business can promote itself by partnering with other local businesses. Two businesses come together to hold open houses, informational meetings, workshops and other gatherings. These attract more attention than either acting alone.

     Informal gatherings are popular with the public. Especially when they are free. People are hungry for how-to information. They want to ask their questions and get answers from people who know. And maybe a cup of coffee or tea.

     Getting started -- Talk with another, non-competing, business owner. Set up an open house at your place or at the other business. Both businesses invite current customers/clients with phone calls, emails, Facebook announcements, Twitter tweets, maybe even a news release. Get the word out to as many people as you can. 

     Encourage attendance by emphasizing that it is free. Point to what will be demonstrated or discussed. Serve coffee and cookies. Tell people to bring their questions--and their friends. You don't need to rent a hall--most places can accommodate a dozen or so people.

     Partnering possibilities -- Here are five examples to show you the way.  1. A small accounting office partners with a financial planner to hold an open meeting on retirement possibilities, inheritance set-ups, taxes, and more.   2. A computer expert partners with a local cafe answering all questions about computer problems, social media, viruses, etc. Everyone has questions about computers, and attendees get to know another place to grab a bite to eat.   3. A florist partners with a wedding specialist to hold a workshop on how to make that special day more special. Or the florist partners with a caterer who furnishes hors d'oeuvres.   4. A landscaper partners with a book store to offer tips on taking care of yards, designing new landscapes, how-to information on pruning. Attendees get to know the landscaper and peruse the gardening books--and buy some to take away.   5. A potter partners with an artist who paints watercolors. The event is held at the potter's studio. The potter demonstrates how to throw a pot, while the artist demonstrates techniques working in watercolors. A partnering bakery is added to the mix, and attendees munch on goodies while they get to know the potter, the artist, and the baker.

     Small businesses benefit enormously when they partner with each other to hold events. Excitement is created in the community. The gathering introduces people to both businesses. It's among the best of promotions you can tackle.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Keeping up with the times

     For years, the word went out. The impending death of small stores was a favorite topic in the media. As usual, they were wrong.
    First, the bricks-and-mortars were going to give way to big malls. Then, online shopping was supposed to replace much of retail. But a funny thing happened on the way to the future. 

     Mall times -- Amy inherited a women's clothing and accessories shop in town. Sales were slow. Amy realized that women were drawn to the fashionable stores that popped up in the new mall outside town. She embarked on redefining her shop--not to compete directly, but to create a new destination. First, Amy visited fashion shows in big cities. She got on the Internet and found new designers looking for outlets. She began offering unique clothing designs and accessories that were not to be found at the mall stores. At the same time, she promoted heavily on social media. Today, Amy even offers a fashion show frequently at her shop, using customers as models. All this has created excitement among women shoppers. She has successfully separated herself from the well-known chain stores at the mall.

     Big box times -- Rick once had the only hardware store in his town. Then, a regional WalMart arrived, followed by Home Depot and Lowe's. Rick's options were few--he could close, move elsewhere, or go into another business. He decided on another option--to stay in the same business but redirect it, and move to a bigger location outside town. He developed a very clear idea--he would offer only quality products to discerning customers. And he would additionally concentrate on supplying electrical and plumbing contractors with the specific products they needed, using online suppliers to ship overnight whatever was called for. Also, Rick added truck and trailer rentals. Today, Rick is thankful that the big box stores came to the area--they forced him to expand his business.

     Small store times -- Mary spotted a unique opportunity when she looked at the changing marketplace. She and her friends frequently had conversations about their experiences in malls and big department stores. All the products looked the same, the quality left something to be desired, and customer service was iffy at best. Mary decided to open a small in-town shop. She filled it with clothing made from natural fibers, simple toys for children, jewelry handmade by local artists, unique tools for kitchen and garden, and many additional and unusual items. Her shop appeals to the first time visitor and they are returning. People--especially younger shoppers--appreciate the convenience, unique products, and the personal attention they get. Mary is building her brand and her loyal customer base. She posts pictures regularly on social media, and she has added shipping to her website. 

      Malls and big box stores have their place in the vast American marketplace. So do small shops. Astute owners of small businesses make adjustments--to survive and thrive. The shopping-small and shopping-local movements are alive and well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Turn your pictures into ads

     You take a zillion pictures with your new technological marvels. But how many times have you used your pictures to promote your business?
     Time was, you had to hire a professional photographer to take pictures for your business promotions. Those days are gone.

     Today, professional photographers still stand ready to serve. They take pictures meeting high standards of quality--weddings, events and product photography are examples.

     But using pictures to promote your business on social media is a different world. Viewers see your pictures for a few seconds. Pictures remind people who you are. The pictures build your brand. And they get passed around to friends.

     Healthcare -- Yolinda is a certified acupuncturist. She opened her place and attracted a growing stream of clients, but she knew she could do more. To promote, she decided to set aside a room devoted to community acupuncture. People could walk in, no appointment necessary, spend 20 minutes in a quiet, darkened room and relax. It served as an introduction to acupuncture. She posted close-up pictures (no faces) of her work on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram two or three times each week. More curious clients showed up--including healthcare professionals eager to learn more about acupuncture.

     Construction -- Mike is a small contractor specializing in creatively designed decks and porches. To promote, Mike takes pictures of jobs in progress and he posts them on social media. His multi-level decks attract lots of attention, and the close-ups of details of his work clearly show his expertise as a carpenter. Recently, he posted pictures of a tree house he built for neighborhood kids. These pictures led to several new projects.

     Interiors -- Susan is an interior decorator specializing in window treatments. She, too, takes pictures of all projects underway and posts on social media. Pictures of her drapery arrangements have created quite a buzz. Drapery materials, pleats and hangings are shown in her pictures. But nothing attracted more attention than a picture she posted showing open drapes with a cat curled up on the windowsill. Pets can be used to promote any business--work them into any picture you take and watch the results. 

     You are missing opportunities to promote your small business if you don't post pictures on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and others. Just keep taking those pictures.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gifts from the marketplace

     Your marketplace is always changing. Sometimes, the marketplace can throw a gift in your direction. If you are alert, you'll consider whether or not it's right for you. If it fits, grab it and run with it.
     Expanding therapies -- Isabelle is a certified therapist specializing in helping clients through stress, PTSD, grief and related personal issues. She noticed that many of her clients had gone through drug and alcohol addiction rehab programs, but large numbers of them were still fighting their old habits. Today, Isabelle has expanded her proactive sessions to help rehab "graduates" cope with their on-going problems. They represent a well-defined market of people who need specific help. Isabelle is developing several programs specifically for post-rehab people. It's another area of therapy that is bringing in an increasing number of clients. She is building on what she already does and reaching out to a larger market for her services.

     Pest control -- Joe runs a small independent pest control company. He has experienced difficult "breaking out" ahead of his competition. When his town suddenly came alive with stink bugs, Joe saw a new market opportunity. He got busy on Facebook, showing the invasion of the bugs--with pictures of the bugs on sidewalks, patios and porches. The calls came in. He gave short talks at meetings. More calls came in. Many of the calls turned into real customers coping with fleas, ticks, mice, ants, spiders, and, yes, stink bugs. The stink bugs were a marketing gift.

     Recycling expanded -- Margie runs a local recycling operation. She specializes in taking in all types of metals, including unwanted electronics. The metals market goes through ups and downs. When prices go up, lots of metal shows up at her place. When the price for metal goes down, not so much arrives. When a storm came through her area, Margie spotted another opportunity. The storm left many downed trees. She put the word out that she would take the wood--no payment, just a convenient place for people to get rid of it. Soon her back lot was filled with a jumble of tree trunks and limbs. Again, Margie put the word out--this time to woodworkers, businesses, artisans. She offered mulch, firewood, and more. She had suddenly expanded into other markets. Two or three seasonal storms keep the back lot filled. 

     Be on the lookout for marketing opportunities that fall in your lap. Some might fit with your plans. Others, not so much.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Picture promotions on social media

     The easiest way to hop onto social media is Facebook. Small businesses all over the country use Facebook to promote their products and services.

     Facebook is the busiest destination for small businesses to get the word out in the world of the Internet--and passed around. There are others. Many businesses get good results using Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and others. 

     The key is found in all those pictures you've been taking. Or those you will take once you get in the habit.

     Gone are the days when you needed a professional photographer to take pictures. No longer. Those you take yourself are suitable for posting on social media. 

     Collectibles -- Joe has a collectibles shop. He carries all sorts of things--board games, video games, sports memorabilia, vintage toys, LP albums of older music groups, and more. Every week Joe selects several items that recently arrived in his shop. He takes pictures and posts on his website and, more importantly, on social media. This reels in buyers from far and near, and they refer others to his website.

     Bakery -- Mike runs a bakery. He regularly snaps pictures of hands preparing a cake in stages. The pictures tell a story, and he posts these on Pinterest and Facebook. This has created lots of excitement among viewers, and they pass the pictures around to their friends. Using this approach, Mike gets more customers--walking in, calling, and visiting his website which has lots of pictures of bakery items.

     Salon -- Mary operates a hair and nail salon. She takes pictures of selected hair styles that have been created in her salon (no face pictures, just the stylings). Also, she takes pictures of hands showing new nail designs. She post on social media, and customers check out her posting on Facebook.

     Therapist -- Linda is a certified therapist, helping people overcome the problems in their lives. She helps with marriage problems, eating disorders, addictions, and more. To avoid ethical problems, she is limited in picture postings. She solved the problem by taking pictures of kittens and puppies and posting these on her Facebook page. These attract a great deal of attention and get passed around--which is the point. Calls come in requesting appointments.

     All of these businesses have websites. But pictures on social media get quick eyeballs, and interested people go to the website for more information. You will notice more traffic on your website when you use pictures to attract attention on social media. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Technology changes your business

     In business, you must keep up. Your industry changes, and you are on top of it. Your market changes, and you are continually looking for new markets. But technology? Now, that is a different can of worms.
     Technology moves at remarkable speed. And it invades every business sector. Yours included.

     New methods: Jack owns a machine shop. He's been machining parts and tools for his customers for a generation. His biggest customers are in various industries--auto parts, aerospace, health care. Suddenly, 3D printing began making inroads in his industry. With 3D printing, parts and tools can be produced more quickly and at a cheaper cost. Jack installed a 3D printing capability, including a computer programming expert. He is now gradually phasing out the cutting and grinding machines that served him so well for decades. The future is in 3D printing. It is manufacturing of the future--human hearts have been made and auto parts are a walk in the park.

     Quick payments: Donna operates an upscale women's clothing and accessories shop. She is on top of the latest styles and designs, and she promotes on social media--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. She targets high-end customers, and they have rewarded Donna with active sales. Not only do they visit her shop when they see her posts on social media, but they refer others as well. When offered a mechanism to pay with a card swipe, Donna quickly added the capability. Then she added ApplePay. Customers appreciate her keen eye in the fashion world, and they now like the ease with which they can pay for their purchases.

     Updated access: Linda runs a restaurant that is popular with the lunchtime crowd--corporate types in her area. Her full menu is posted on her website, and she posts her daily specials on Facebook. In the past, Linda maintained a fax list and sent out faxes listing specials every day. But the fax went by the wayside. Today, Linda's restaurant has its own app. Customers now hit the app and place orders as they leave their corporate cubicles. By the time they arrive at Linda's place, their meal is ready for them to sit down and enjoy.

     Technology is changing everything. If you don't keep up, your business will suffer. Customers tend to drift toward those businesses that are on top of today's technology.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fresh and healthy foods

     Many of us raise a few veggies that end up on our tables. Fresh foods are tasty and healthy. Plus, you get the fun of growing your own.
     It's common to find tomatoes and peppers growing in backyards in summer. And many people raise basil, parsley and other herbs on patios, decks, and windowsills. 
     Fresh vegetables and herbs represent business opportunities. It can be more than the farm stands and farm market possibilities that many farmers appreciate and take advantage of. 

     Lettuce farming -- Jean had a big backyard. She hired a handyman to construct raised beds in which she planted lettuce. Not just one type of lettuce, but two dozen different types. She planted the seeds, and while waiting for the lettuce to grow, she contacted several restaurants to arrange sales. Chefs appreciated lettuce harvested to their needs and delivered the same day. Jean was quickly in her own business, providing fresh lettuce of various types to restaurants, caterers, health food stores and others. She hired the handyman again to construct more raised beds. She now covers the beds to extend the growing season, and she has added more greens to her offerings. 

     Kale farming -- Ted had long raised many greens, herbs and other veggies. He sold his produce at his own farm stand, at farm markets, and to others. One popular green was kale, and he raised several different types. He noticed that last year's crop of kale then produced buds the following spring. On a hunch, he offered the kale buds to several chefs. They got excited about the possibilities and incorporated the buds into recipes. They now offer kale bud omelets, along with various appetizers. Ted now lets his kale crop overwinter, confident of extra sales in early springtime.

     Purslane farming -- Phil established an organic farm. He raised many veggies and he sold to specialty stores and restaurants. He had a problem with purslane--it seemed to grow everywhere. It was a big weeding problem. One day, Phil's grandmother visited. She was enthusiastic about the purslane, asking him to bring her several big bunches. Some she fried, some she put into omelets, and some she threw into a big pot of soup. Suddenly, Phil loved purslane, and he began offering bunches to his customers. He found he had to educate most of them, but the extra source of income was good.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Growing slowly from within

     You can grow a business quickly or slowly. Quick usually means going for funding. Slow growth takes place from within--by reaching out to new groups of customers.

     Enhancing appeal  Alice runs a pet supply store--no animals here, but everything a pet owner might want. She decided to add puppies--not for sale, but from local adoption agencies. She installed the puppies in her front window and she posted pictures of them on social media. She also took selfies and posted a deadline date (when the puppy was to be returned to the adoption agency). This created a sense of urgency and brought people into the store--buying all sorts of supplies, and sometimes going home with a puppy. Her business expanded.

     Enhancing experience  Joan's salon got a bump in calls when she invited holistic practitioners to offer introductory demonstrations and information about their services. Experts in nutrition, hypnotherapy and massage created buzz for the salon, not only among regulars but new activities brought in referrals as well.

     Enhancing services  Bill's landscaping service got a big bump in sales when he added to the services he offered. For years, he concentrated on maintaining lawns and trimming shrubbery. In winter, he concentrated on snow removal. But he needed more jobs--he needed to appeal to more people. When he began offering concrete work, curbing, brick and stone walkways, more clients called. When he added building fences and gates to his list of services, Bill expanded again.

     Growing a business takes time if you grow it from within. You can add related services and you can get creative with promotions. But avoid being in as hurry. Let your business settle into the community, become a part of people's lives, attract attention and referrals. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Customers know your future

     Clients and customers will tell you what they want. If they don't, ask them. The resulting conversations can be gold mines of new ideas for you to grow, expand, and--maybe--go off into a new direction.

     Restaurant -- Eve runs a popular restaurant for corporate types in her area. It is a destination for the lunchtime crowd. One of her customers asked Eve if she might be planning to get her own app for the restaurant. Eve investigated and decided that it would be a good idea. Today, Eve's restaurant has its own app. Customers can check out the daily specials and order ahead--as they leave their offices and get on the road. When they arrive, their meals are ready. They sit down and are pleased with the new service.

     Chiropractic -- John is a chiropractor. One of his clients asked him to recommend a nutritionist--this lady wanted help getting in better shape. Today, John has arranged with a certified nutritionist to be on hand every Friday to talk about nutrition, weight problems, make recommendations, answer questions, and hand out information on foods and meals. John announces these sessions on social media every week. The sessions are well attended and they are bringing new clients to John.

     Attorney -- Eric is an attorney with his own private practice. While working with a client on a business problem, the client asked how to handle a simple traffic ticket. This led Eric to think about how to use this to bring in new clients. Today, Eric offers a series of informational brochures on common problems--how to react to a lawsuit, simple traffic problems, different ways to organize a business, what to do when you get a subpoena, elder care problems, and more. No legal advice is offered, just general information. He has these printed brochures displayed in his office, on his website, and he sends out the word on social media. This activity brings in new clients for more substantial legal questions and undertakings. 

     You already stay on top of your marketplace. But your customers and clients can point you to the leading edge of the marketplace. They can put their finger on something you might not have yet thought about. Ask them what else you can do the them. Listen to their answers.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Punching Up Your Sales

Selling more products and services will add to your bottom line. Here are examples that are step-wise expansions that you can do. You don’t need to strike off in a new direction, but taking small steps can lead to growth by tackling new markets.

          · More products Fran runs a bakery, offering many types of baked goods. A specialty is cheesecakes. Customers were happy and sales were growing—slowly. Fran made a strategic decision. She would gradually phase out cookies, brownies, rolls and other items in favor of the cheesecakes. She went to work, creating different flavors of cheesecakes and promoting on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. She made cheesecakes in different sizes—from small favor sizes to spectacular wedding cake sizes. It took a year of transitioning, but Fran is now cornering the market in her area and beyond. She is experimenting with more products—cheesecake on a stick already shows good acceptance in the marketplace.

· More products Bill operates a small gift shop he inherited from a relative. Sales were slow, so Bill decided to expand. He contacted artists locally and beyond. They produced handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry, wood and ironware, ceramics and pottery, small paintings, fiber art and other items. Bill has turned the small gift shop into a high-end destination that attracts a different—and well-heeled—customer base. He is now looking for a much larger space to rent. 

· More services Gene designs websites for clients. To expand, he began offering clients social media packages. He visited each of his clients, showing how he could help them use social media. Some clients were rank beginners in the realm of social media. Others were already using these promotional tools, but to a limited extent. Gene showed everyone how to optimize the use of Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. Not only did Gene sign up new clients for his new services, but they referred others to him.

· More services Sue is a massage therapist with certifications in several types of massage. To expand her business, she reached out to physicians. She demonstrated how she could help with pain management, recovery from surgical procedures, and pregnancies. This had the effect of bringing new clients to Sue, building on what she already offered and reeling in referrals from physicians as well.

Adding products and services to your existing operation can open up new business horizons. If you don’t want to take a big expansion step, consider taking small steps that will get you there.