Thursday, January 31, 2008

To Phone or Not to Phone?

That appears to be the question...

I learned another valuable business lesson yesterday regarding doing business with others on their terms and not mine.

I don’t know about you, but I hate annoying sales calls in the middle of my productive day. Nothing irks me more than interrupting a creative session to answer a call from someone who wants to sell me something. I’m usually not in the right frame of mind and if I’m on a deadline, they will most likely get the following response from me, “I’m sorry, I’m just not interested at this time…”. If they had sent me an email, they may have gotten a different response.

With former backgrounds in sales, Michelle and I both decided when we started our own business to be more on the “soft sell” side. We discussed the risks of not pushing for the sale and decided that the benefit of being the type of company that we wanted to be outweighed those risks. We thought people who were interested would buy and we wouldn’t have to be the annoying pushy salesperson that we were forced to be at our other positions in past years.

It appears that may have been a big mistake on our part…

Yesterday we were on-site meeting with one of our current clients. During our visit, the client mentioned that someone she had referred us to said that we hadn’t contacted him. We were stunned. Michelle had met with the client, sent a proposal and followed up twice with email. It turns out that the potential client doesn’t really read his emails. We "ass"umed that he was too busy and that he just wasn't interested at the time. We were wrong. The client perceived us as not contacting him and in turn hired another designer.


Our policy was to send a proposal via email and to follow up with a phone call after the client showed interest in pursing a business relationship by sending a reciprocal email or by calling us (as we requested in the email).

Our business model has failed us. How many other potential clients have we lost due to our assumption that people don’t want to be annoyed with phone calls? Where we thought we were helping our potential clients, we were actually hurting our bottom line. Our thinking was that our potential clients could read and respond to our emails or proposals at a time that was convenient for them, rather than interrupt their busy workday with our sales pitch.

Another item to take into consideration is our industry. Most designers and programmers prefer to communicate via email and live chat. Many of us have instant messaging and emails sent to our phones, whereas most likely our clients don’t. Even though the Internet is an essential part of our business, it may not be to our clients.

I am curious though, do you prefer to have email or phone calls when it comes to sales? I’m going to create a poll to find out your answers. Please take the time to weigh in (over on the right hand side of this blog post near the top).

Moving forward, we’re changing our business model and we’ll be spending more time on the phone and less time emailing prospective clients.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Everything I Know, I Learned Waiting Tables

OK, maybe the title of this post is a bit oversimplified, but it’s true that many of the skills necessary in the business world can be learned while waiting tables. I worked in restaurants through high school and college, and here are some valuable lessons I learned.

Different people require different treatment

You may think that all people eating at a restaurant require identical treatment. Not so! A family on their way to a movie needs to quickly order, eat, and get out. Regular customers may relish chatting with their waitress and want to talk about their dogs. A couple on a date will want to linger and have their basic dining needs met, but basically just want to otherwise be left alone.

Similarly, business clients need to be treated in a way that works for them. Some people like to be updated daily on their projects, while others only want to talk to you if they have a specific issue that requires immediate attention. Different modes of communication work better for different people, some prefer to communicate by email only, while others want to hear your voice on the phone. Use what works best.

Multi-tasking will take you far

Scooping rock hard ice cream, making salads, and calculating a bill while telling the busboy who wants decaf and who wants regular coffee, all while rebuffing the romantic overtures of the pastry chef is great training for multitasking. That same ability to focus on multiple projects while still keeping an eye on the big picture translates to the business world. Just don’t take it too far and try to eat, check email, and apply mascara while driving on the freeway. Yikes!

Being nice will also take you far

Diners will take it in stride if their meal is taking a little longer than usual as long as you check in with them and let them know. Don’t blame it on the kitchen, don’t be rushed and flustered. Just apologize with a smile and let them know when their damn food will be ready. Give them free dessert if it takes too long.

The same goes in business. If a project goes awry, keep the client updated, apologize profusely, and throw in some kind of freebie or discount. This will foster all kinds of goodwill.

The “Little Guy” can make or break you

When I waited tables, I always over tipped my busboys extravagantly and spoke to them with respect. Why? Because they would always drop whatever they were doing to help me. They knew I appreciated extra help and would tip them well. As a result, my customers received impeccable service and that would be reflected in MY tip. Other servers didn’t “get it”, and would curtly bark orders to the busboys, or tip them $2 for a whole night’s work. Guess whose tables got cleared last?

By the same token, do not ever think it is OK to be rude, curt, or unappreciative to your assistant, or someone who answers the phone at a client’s offices. Not only is that sort of behavior a way of spreading negativity, it may turn out that the receptionist you snarled at is the wife of the potential client you’re trying to woo. It’s called Karma!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

What is Your Company Message?

When you’re out networking and you are asked, “What do you do?”, do you know how to answer that question?

Have you practiced your marketing message so that you can effectively convey why your business is different from the others’ and why a consumer should choose you?

If not, you should work on it today.

Think about it.

How many times have you been asked what it is your company does? Are you ready with a smart and interesting story on your company or its services?

In order to attract business, you should start working on your marketing story today.

1. Who are you and what do you do?
2. What sets you apart from the others?
3. What value added services do you provide?
4. Why do you do what you do?
5. How can your product produce change for your potential client?
6. Do you know who your target is and what motivates them to buy?
7. Are you attracting clients and customers with your message?

Write down the answers to the questions above and begin crafting your marketing message. Make sure that you say it loud and clear so that you’ll stand out in a crowd. Give your potential clients confidence in your abilities and quantify it with back up. Do bring up how you helped a fledgling corporation with small changes and how you can apply those types of solutions to your customers' current needs.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Business Ethics

This has been a challenging year for me with regards to ethics. I’ve had encounters with both clients and contractors that have left a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s been a real eye opener for me. I have always had extremely strong business ethics and consider my word to be golden. I take pride in my work, delivering on time and in clear communication with my business contacts and I expect the same from others.

This past year I have been challenged by clients who haven’t lived up to their end of the agreements by not paying the balance on their completed websites, outside contractors who guaranteed work that didn’t deliver and the contacts who continually add more work to the already agreed upon price.

I have bent over backwards in building a strong and reliable brand name for my company and trying to deliver to everyone’s 100% satisfaction.

I have made many mistakes in this past year:

1. Not requiring the full deposit and making payment arrangements with small business owners who couldn’t afford to pay up front
2. Lowering my price to compete with offshore companies
3. Allowing clients to add on to the agreed upon work without charging extra
4. Going against my “gut” and doing business with clients that I felt were going to be difficult to work with
5. Accepting contractors’ excuses of “just one more day” and “almost finished”
6. Paying for outsourced work before it is complete
7. Expecting others to have the same business ethics I have

I have always been a person to learn from problems and mistakes and to take away a lesson from each of them.

The lesson I learned this past year was to value my own business and worth, continue to treat others in accordance to my individual principles and finally, that it isn’t personal, it’s business.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Friend or Customer?

In the course of a day answering calls, I meet a variety of people. I love hearing about the different types of businesses they have, how they got started, and their plans for expansion. As branding specialists, it’s our job to learn all about our customers’ businesses in order to help them effectively market them.

However, sometimes conversations become “off topic” and veer far, far into the personal realm. In my years of dealing with both clients and vendors, I have discussed home remodeling plans, impending romantic breakups, the benefits of preparing dog food from scratch, and high school football, among other things. While such banter can be fun, too much personal conversation can blur the boundary between customer and friend.

While it is not usually the case, some customers intentionally cultivate a
“pseudo-friendship” in order to get extra discounts, goods, or services. More often, some people simply love to talk, while others are truly lonely.

At the risk of sounding callous, I would advise against getting too friendly with customers. Spending hours on the phone hearing about cocker spaniel sweaters is not an efficient use of your time or resources. As well, all customers deserve equally good service, not just the ones with whom you share musical tastes. While it’s fine to inquire about a long term client’s vacation, keep your phone interactions courteous and professional, while trying to keep the conversation focused on business.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winner of the Starbucks Card Drawing!

Our faithful blog reader and survey taker, Darlene Zamagni of San Jose, CA has won the Starbucks gift card from our drawing yesterday. Darlene regularly participates in taking our online surveys. We appreciate your input Darlene and hope you'll continue to read the Small Business Tips blog.

Complete Business Systems Team

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Search Engine Results Pages - Content is King!

I just finished going over our analytics and comparing the results with my SEO efforts for the month of December. The results are in…CONTENT is the number one driving factor to our website.

I know I’ve said that before, but I don’t know if I’ve really driven it home for our clients. There are so many “do’s” and “don’ts” in search engine optimization. All the information that I keep up with including newsletters, groups, articles, companies, books, etc.., all have their basic set of rules (formed a long time ago) and they change periodically when everyone starts to follow the new trends and the search engines change the algorithms, but the bottom line is – if you have good content and your site keeps evolving, traffic will come. Period.

Yes, there are tricks that dishonest companies use to try and get you where you want to be, but you end up being penalized for them. Rather than waste time and money on those efforts, why not just go for the honest way? Good old-fashioned work. We don't always follow the practices we should because of sheer lack of time. We're busy bees! But one thing is for sure, the things that we take the time to do - work.

Speaking of work, how about the people that work at deceiving you in your search in order to gain a buck? Grrrr. Nothing is more frustrating to me than when I do a search, a result comes up that is supposed to be relevant, I click on it and it’s just another damn directory site of another search using the keywords I just put in. It's like those little boxes within a box, O.K. the first time you experience it...but do you want to relive it every time? I don't.

I also get severely irked when I search for something and the results clicked on are just a page full of paid advertising. What's worse than that? When they have nothing to do with what I searched for at all. I read an article during the holidays (I’m sorry I don’t remember who wrote it and I didn’t save it) that kids were for sale at Target. Hello? Really? I just Googled “kid for sale”, here’s what I got:This is precisely why I hardly EVER click on the sponsored links. It’s most likely not what I wanted in the first place. The corporations who have an endless budget will have surely invested in SEO as well for the PPC ad. They end up wiping out the little guy by bidding top dollar for the PPC campaign. (Those of you who understand PPC may complain I'm leaving something out by not explaining the actual CTR, but that's not what this post is about.) Little companies just starting out try to jump in the big pool and they quickly drown.

My advice? Write some articles, start a blog and publish content that is relevant to whatever it is your selling. When we search for your product, we’ll be grateful to land on a website that is what we were looking for in the first place. Isn’t that what all of us want?


Monday, January 7, 2008

Networking is Fun!

One of the best ways to make new business contacts is to spend ”face time” with prospective clients. Chambers of commerce and other local business associations usually hold mixers or luncheons at least once or twice a month, which are great for meeting active business owners. While a few people actually relish “working a room”, for most of us, it can be somewhat intimidating. With these key tips you can learn to master and yes, even enjoy business networking. They work for cocktail parties too!

  • Resist the temptation to hang out with people you already know. The point of networking is to make NEW contacts. Spend a few moments saying hello to friends and acquaintances, but then move on to meeting new people.
  • Remember the name of each person you meet and repeat it back to them, as in “What does your company do, George?” or “It was great talking to you, Lisa”. People love hearing their own names.
  • Don’t hard sell. This is a pseudo-social event, so focus on meeting people and learning about them. Save the selling for later, when you follow up with a phone call.
  • Do a little prep work ahead of time. Have a few topics that you can talk about, especially if they’re relevant to your industry.
  • Smile! This may seem obvious, but smiling will make you look like a fun person that others want to be around. It will help to make you feel relaxed, too.
Above all, remain friendly and open to meeting everyone. You never know who may turn out to be a good source of information, leads, or direct business. So get your business cards ready, practice your smile, and go forth and mingle!


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Santa Cruz County Storm Aftermath

Lucky for me, I have power (apparently because I am on the same grid as the fire department) - but 200,000 people are still without it according to the San Jose Mercury News. My sister who lives just up the road from me is one of them. They haven't had power since early Friday morning.

Here are the storm numbers:

  • 105 mph - top wind gust recorded in mountains above Los Gatos on Friday
  • 27 Highway and road closures reported Saturday evening.
  • 10.06 inches of rain fall in San Lorenzo Valley since Friday.
I was on our local newspaper site, The Santa Cruz Sentinel and found these great photos:

This was the early afternoon scene at Coffee Cat in Scotts Valley, as Friday's widespread power outages brought San Lorenzo Valley telecommuters out of the woodwork. I live right across the street. (Dan Soltzberg photo)

Michael Saunders of Ben Lomond, stands beneath a large redwood that fell on his property during Friday's gusts. Interestingly it fell uphill. Notice the house below if it had fallen the other way.
(Photo by Al Luckow).

Sadly, Gilda J. Stagnaro, the beloved matriarch of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf who for more than 35 years ran the landmark family restaurant that bears her name, died Friday morning after collapsing in the driving wind and rain just 90 feet from the business. She was 83. Gilda was known as the "Queen of the Wharf". I love going out to Gilda's on a stormy morning to have a delicious omelet and hashbrowns (my favorite in town) and I am saddened by the news of her passing.

Today we had rain again and some hail, but other than that I think the commotion has died down.

I hope you all had a great weekend and tomorrow we'll have Michelle post some business tips for you!


Friday, January 4, 2008

I know I promised...but...stuff happens!

We had some terrible storms here in Northern California and the wind knocked out our power for the entire day. Not to mention trees down, flooding, high surf warnings and more.

So, I didn't post anything business related to the blog today because I couldn't get online!

A surfer rides a wave churned by a winter storm underneath the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge Friday, Jan. 4, 2008, in San Francisco Bay. A fierce arctic storm pounded California on Friday, threatening to soak mudslide-prone canyons already charred by wildfires and to paralyze the mountains with deep snow.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Over 1.2 million people were without power, over 10 inches of rain and 80 mph winds. Here's a video from a local of our beach:

We'll try to stay dry until Monday - Joanne

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Playing Ketchup

I wish we were playing with ketchup, but really we've been busy all week catching up from being closed last week for the holidays. Even though we were checking Email and Vmail, we really didn't do much work other than posting on the blog.

Against my better judgement, I'm posting to the blog right now (when I should be catching up) which inspired me to Google "playing ketchup". I came up with this jewel where the Heinz Movie Director comments on his shots for a commercial campaign:

Anyway, here's a great blog post for you on the 7 Types of Blog Posts Which Always Seem to Get Links and Traffic.

Tomorrow I promise...