Posted by . In topics: Customer Retention · Your Business

Synopsis: When the weather outside is frightful, how do you ensure your company keeps running? It’s all about planning ahead, and the tips below will help you react to the hurdles faced during a storm.

If you feel a breeze as you read this, blame the blizzard that swept through the East Coast this weekend, shutting down transportation, clogging up sidewalks, closing schools and forcing everyone indoors. Some places in Connecticut, for example, received nearly 40 inches, something I can’t even comprehend growing up in Texas. But from my end (now based in New York), it led to a lot of TV catch-up and cooking fattening cookies.

But the snow fall also wreaked havoc on businesses. In Massachusetts, it became illegal to drive on any road after 4 p.m. on Friday. That’s not exactly what a restaurant or club wants to hear. Still, it was fortunate that it hit Friday night as opposed to Tuesday morning. How would your company have managed shutting down for two or three days? Most small companies would not do well. The Hartford Insurance company estimated a couple years ago that 25% of small businesses that reopen after an extreme weather event, shut down for good within a year and 40% close down after experiencing long-term outages due to weather. That’s not exactly a great percentage.

Of course, in the Hartford stats, it implies a much worse storm than what we saw this weekend. But many on the East Coast are still dealing with the damages from Tropical Storm Sandy, so it’s not something to brush off. And with weather from blizzards, to hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes, there’s all sorts of reason your small business may have to shutdown. That is, unless you have developed a backup plan. Here are four steps to weatherproof your business, ensuring it remains open, while stuck inside.

Take Stock

First, you must understand what the threats to your business might be. Based on where you live, what might cause a day, two days or a week of closing? For some in the East Coast, you will have to worry about, primarily snow and flooding. For the Southern states, maybe it’s hurricanes. And the West coast, maybe it’s flooding or fires. Take stock and identify risk factors, not just to keep your business lighted, but also something that could hurt your supply chain. As the WSJ points out, if gas prices jump – which can happen when bad weather in the area hurts the ability to deliver gas – how will that impact your company? Know where your organization is vulnerable. That will help you plan against it. Read more »

Posted by . In topics: Customer Retention · Digital Marketing · Marketing · Technology

There’s a free software tool available to small and medium sized businesses (SMB) today that can quickly transform your business into a savvy, high ROI digital marketing operation.  This tool was originally created to help some of the world’s most sophisticated web marketers and ecommerce sites understand who was using their websites, opening targeted communication, and interacting with different parts of the operation.  It allows these firms to actually track individuals, their interests, and their response to differing marketing exposure  – a web marketer’s dream.

Until recently, this type of solution has only been available to larger companies that had enough electronic marketing and web-based activity to merit the monthly investment.   The good news is that this is no longer the case.

One of the leading providers of lead management software, Loopfuse, is now offering a free version of their solution (it’s called FreeView) to businesses that focus on lead and customer groups of fewer than 2500 people – in other words, the average local business like yours.  Should you give it a try?  Answer these 3 questions to find out: Read more »

Posted by . In topics: Customer Retention · Digital Marketing · Marketing · Social Media

As most of you know, Twitter is a free social media platform.  Its users micro-blog everything from what they ate for lunch to news articles that they’d like others to see and share.  Users express themselves in short 140 character broadcasts to designated groups of “followers” (Tweets), which can be read and passed virally through the Twitter site, mobile devices, and a number of 3rd party applications.  In the last months, The Growthwire has received a lot of questions about the use of Twitter for local businesses.   Most of these questions come from people who clearly see Twitter’s value as a social and a customer-service/relationship tool, but are uncertain about Twitter’s usefulness for customer acquisition.

Our honest answer is that we don’t know the answer yet.

The platform obviously has many evangelists, some of whom say it’s a great acquisition tool.  We’re not entirely convinced that these anecdotes are objective or applicable to the average local business.  Most of the more thoughtful discussions note that even if it does ‘work,’ it’s probably not for everyone.  The most common challenges appear to be: 1) It requires a lot of work and a broader social media strategy to use effectively, 2) Its potential decreases significantly as the geography of its use narrows (i.e. global, virtual companies like Dell will get more ROI than the small brick and mortar/local market computer shop), 3) Despite all the talk and awareness, only about 11% of the US is using the service (compared to 40% for Facebook), and 4) A lot of Twitter activity is now the cultivation of mass-follower lists to facilitate spam advertising.

Maybe we’re jaded – we’ve been through several major cycles of internet hype to date… So instead of trying to tell you what’s going on, we’ll simply ask.  Read on to take our one-question poll and see links where you can learn more about Twitter. Read more »

Posted by . In topics: Customer Retention · Marketing · The Economy

In tough economic times, consumers go where they still get the best value.  You either have to increase the value side of the equation or reduce the cost equation.  Reducing cost can have significant long-term effects on your business, since prices are typically difficult to raise until demand increases to the extent that consumers are willing to pay more to get what they want, when they want it (don’t expect this to happen soon!).  Value, on the other hand, can help you out in several ways:  it can increase loyalty more than pricing ever could and it can differentiate your business in a lasting, meaningful way.

So what can you do to increase the value side?  And do this without spending a ton of dough giving away stuff for free?  Take a 720° look at your business.

What does 720° mean?  Good question, and you’ll profit by understanding it before your competitors do.  The number 720 is 360 times two.  As you may know, “360°” is business jargon/consultant speak for taking a comprehensive, “full view” of something.  We use the “times two” reference because when owners look at their businesses from two different  360° viewpoints, interesting opportunities to add value emerge. Read more »

Posted by . In topics: Customer Retention · Digital Marketing · Local Search/Google · Marketing · Social Media

With recent advances in search technology, your customers’ experiences can now be instantly in the public domain and, in many cases, magnified by the size and nature of social networks.  This adds to the existing risks posed by sites that offer un-moderated ‘ratings’ of local businesses – many of which you may not even know exist.

If you don’t already, its time to start taking steps to manage your brand’s reputation online – at the very least, to find out if there are any reputation-killers lurking in the dark recesses of the web.  For most businesses, this can be as simple as a doing a couple of quick searches each month, or setting up an automated Google Alert to do the searching for you.  Other businesses may need to dedicate more effort to this issue; particularly ones that are active in social media, have high staff turnover, face very aggressive competitors, or who’ve had problems with product quality or customer service.

In this, the first of two posts on Reputation Management, we’ll cover why you should be concerned and how you can take steps to monitor what’s said about you or your business online.  In the second post, we’ll focus on how to use this information, including strategies for remedying bad situations. Read more »

Posted by . In topics: Customer Retention · Marketing · Technology

iPhone App: RedLaser

I love technology, and you have to give the geeks credit:  if there’s an inefficiency in the world, it won’t be long before one of them figures out a low-cost way to eliminate it with a web service or, most recently, a smart-phone app.

Take local retailing, for instance.  Used to be that when a consumer shopped at a local retailer, he or she had to pay an outrageous premium – the mark-up that covers the retailer’s rent, insurance, healthcare costs and the high-cost domestic labor that provides assistance, know-how, and help with returns.

2009’s master-innovation elegantly frees the consumer from this burden.  RedLaser, the $1.99 Apple iPhone App, uses high-tech imaging technology through the phone’s camera to read the UPC barcode that appears on most products.  With a quick scan, RedLaser instantly enables the user to find that product for less (the lowest-cost provider is almost always an online store).  Click a link, order the product, and (if you’re really savvy) type in an online coupon code for free shipping or an additional discount.  Bingo – The same exact product with significant savings and almost no time or effort!  Maybe as little as a few hours away with free shipping… Read more »

Posted by . In topics: Advertising · Customer Retention · Marketing

You work hard and invest regularly to win new customers. Are you making the most of these relationships? Are you doing what’s needed to prevent competitors from peeling off your customers with the heavy discounts we now see every day? These 10 Tips will help you build a stronger bond with your customers and, in so doing, will help you increase their lifetime revenue value. Read more »