I bet that got your attention! It’s something that every business owner knows, but it seems to get lost in the shuffle of our day-to-day doing business.
I’m not going to give you a lot of rhetoric on the subject. Instead I’m going to simply give you a list of 10 points on each that will jog your business memory.
Let’s start with some savvy ways to reduce the cost of you doing business:
1. Barter – You should be bartering goods or services with other businesses. Try to trade for something before you buy it.
2. Network – Could you trade leads or mailing lists with another business similar to your? This will cut down on your marketing/advertising costs. If you don’t have a leads list, try bartering your goods/services for their leads.
3. Wholesale/Bulk Buying – You can save money buying your business supplies in bulk quantities. Get a membership at a wholesale warehouse (such as Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.) or buy through a mail order wholesaler. I buy most of my office supplies/paper through mail order vendors which saves me money, and also delivers them to my door. No lugging from store to car to office, and saving money too! What a deal.
4. Free Stuff – Try visiting the thousands of “freebie” sites on the Internet before buying business supplies. You can find free software, graphics, legal forms, online business services, etc.
5. Borrow/Rent – Have you purchased a piece of business equipment and only needed it for a short period of time? You could have borrowed the equipment from someone else or rented it from a rental store.
6. Online/Offline Auctions – You can find office furniture, equipment, and even cars and trucks at online and offline auctions. Pay special attention to those held by law enforcement agencies or IRS that auctions off items seized from offenders. I’m not saying all the time, but before you pay retail for some big ticket items try bidding on them.
7. Plan Ahead – Make a list of supplies or equipment that you’ll need in the future. Watch for stores that have big sales, and purchase your items when they go on sale before you need them.
8. Used but Not Abused – If you equipment and supplies don’t need to be new, buy them used. Cars, desks, file cabinets, etc. can be found at yard and garage sales, used stores, on message boards, and free publications. Some excellent items are sometimes offered when a business decides to relocate or is closing.
9. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! This has become a lost art. You should always try to negotiate a lower price for any business equipment or supplies. It doesn’t hurt to try. Pretend you’re talking to a used car salesman.
10. Search – You can always be searching for new suppliers for your needs. Look for suppliers with lower prices and better quality. When you find one, try pointing the difference out to your current supplier. You may get a better deal from him and not have to change. Don’t be satisfied with just a few. You never know when your favorite supplier may decide to go out of business.
If you’re a native Californian, you might find these things I’ve discussed a little hard to swallow. Let me tell you, being a native New Yorker, these are things that you learn from doing business there, and at an early age.
Just remember! Every millionaire didn’t acquire their wealth through inheritance; some were shrewd business dealers.
In next Saturday’s column I’ll give you the other half of the equation. How to anchor down more sales.
KNOW THE SCORE
by Maureen Stephenson
Reduce Costs -Anchor More Sales Part 2
Last week we looked at ways to reduce costs
in our business. As promised, here is Part 2 about how to Anchor More Sales.
Entrepreneurs are a special breed of business people who strive for the conventional goals and attain them via unconventional means. That oftentimes means not having a lot of hard cash to invest in the traditional marketing methods for attaining customers. There are ways though, to make your business a customer magnet that will bring you “sales”.
One of the first things you must know when starting off are the characteristics of your prospects and customers. Just as a wagon needs four wheels to move forward, your business needs four wheels too. They are a marketing plan (whether you have the budget for it or not), a marketing calendar (so you can work the plan as you acquire capital), a competitive advantage (very, very important), and customer research.
The age of the “lone-wolf business owner” is over, gone with the wind and the innocence. Today there is a world of businesses that would love to help you in return for you helping them. Enlisting their aid is paramount, paying them cold hard cash is unnecessary. This is where you can put some of the bartering skills we spoke of last week into practice. You’ll find just how you can help another business owner and he/she can help you after you get going. I only bring it up here so that you don’t forget to use this resource.
One of the most important things for you to do to achieve your business goals is to stay in touch with the people on your customer list. If you don’t have one yet – then start building one, even if you don’t know them personally yet. Do this by mailing announcement postcards to the surrounding neighborhood of your business. Announce the Grand Opening if yours is a brick and mortar shop, offering a small gift for the 25th or 50th customer on opening day. If yours is a business without a walk-in shop send the same announcement about the opening of your business and offer tear-off coupon for them to fill out (with their name & address) for the opportunity to win something in a drawing scheduled for 6 days after your mail date. There is the beginning of your “customer data base” for all future advertising.
You must find your “niche” or “position” as they call it on Madison Avenue. Your niche is what you stand for, what makes you different, and the first thing you want your prospective customers to think of when they hear your company’s name. Put it down on paper and make everything that you do from this point on accomplish what you’ve written.
Next to do is a “benefits list”. What benefits does your customer derive from doing business with you rather than your competitor? What makes your business or services special?
After those, then you must determine what “quality” you offer. Quality in this sense is not what you put into your business, rather it is what customers get out of it. You may use the highest grade tin in the tin whistles that you’re selling, but the customer doesn’t care about that. What the customer cares about, is if that tin whistle is going to stay in one piece when his 6-year old plays with it for 6 months. Look at “quality” as setting you apart from the competition – BUT from the customers POV (point of view).
Once these lists are down on paper, look them over and honestly evaluate if your competitors offer the same benefits as you. If they do, then differentiate yourself and stress a competitive advantage. Then develop your “elevator” pitch. If you only had 10 seconds to tell somebody what you did for a living that would make them want to know more – that’s your “elevator” pitch.
Once you’re doing business, keep track of your “A” customers. All customers are not created equal. Some buy more, refer more, are easier to deal with, and keep coming back. Treat your “B” list customers like Royalty, but your “A” list like Family.
Keep track of your success stories, because everything that you’ve done right becomes another weapon in your marketing arsenal. When you do have the capital to invest in some marketing, it’s always reassuring to new clients to read about the success of others doing business with you. This will also elevate your credibility with new clients.
Of course it goes without saying that “service” is the secret to every businesses success. The only definition of “service” that makes sense these days is that it’s anything the customer wants it to be. It’s not what you’ve always done in the past; it’s what keeps the customer happy and returning.
Guarantees are very important in any type of business, and people expect it. The longer the guarantee, the more enticing it will be and yet fewer people will ever ask for refunds.
Follow-up is so important, that I can hardly find a way to make it stand out. Nearly 70% of business that is LOST is due not to poor service or shoddy quality, but because of apathy after the sale. Once you serve a customer don’t just forget about them, have a way of adding them to your customer data base. Get their pertinent information – name, address, phone number, what you did for them, etc. Find a way, be it postcard mail, fliers, whatever – but send them something every 4 weeks. If they’re not seeing your name regularly, when they need what you offer they won’t remember you. You might sell tires and we know there’s only a certain number of tires you can expect a customer to buy in a year, but when they have unexpected tire damage or the time to replace tires rolls around why will they come back to you? Is it because they got your postcard last week and it reminded them they needed replacements. They may have gotten a second car, and since they got your mail it reminded them to get tires from you. Remember, whatever you’re selling, they can go to your competitor unless you give them a reason to come to you!
Networking is a great tool for you to use. I mean networking not with your peers, but rather with your prospective clients. Join the group and ask questions, listen to answers, take notes, and contact who you met. Gauge your success by the cards you GOT, not gave. Offer those you contact a free consultation, and don’t give a sales-pitch during that time. Anyone can resist a sales presentation, but it’s hard to resist a free consultation that will help them solve whatever problem they have. Many times your service is the answer for their problem but save the sales pitch until the next call. By the same token, if during the consultation you find you can’t help them but one of your fellow entrepreneurs can – be honest and refer them to him/her. (This not only shows your prospect that you really are interested in being of service, but it also gives you an unwritten IOU from one of your peers.)
You’d be surprised how many clients will refer a friend or family member to you, just because they felt you were honest enough to tell them you couldn’t help them.
Your customer list is worth its weight in platinum, especially if it’s bulging with information and it’s free to compile and insane not to. With these tactics, it’s a foregone conclusion that more sales will not only naturally follow, but will be anchored down safe from competition.
KNOW THE SCORE
by Maureen Stephenson
No matter what you sell, you will inevitably face rejections and refusals, but learning to see “No” as valuable feedback can take your sales to a new level. Regardless of how often we hear “no” it’s a tough thing to take.
Over the years, I’ve had as many rejections as anyone else, especially as an author who doesn’t have a “celebrity” name. Here are some ways I’ve learned to cope with this situation:
1. It’s only their opinion – When someone tells us that what we’re attempting can’t be done, we tend to think they’re right. What I’ve learned is to look at that “no” as just that person’s opinion. It isn’t good or bad; it’s just data coming in to me. I can analyze it and make my next move smarter. What I’ve received is valuable feedback that can help me to find a new and different approach.
Don’t let a “no” undermine your confidence, your belief in the value of your product, idea, book, or your ability. Go out and resell it again!
2. Don’t get defensive – It’s OK to get angry when rejected, what’s not OK is to make excuses or try to persuade the other party that they are wrong. Use your anger to get yourself going again, let that “no” create a sense of urgency to find a better way.
Take action to prove that the other person is wrong. Instead of getting depressed when rejected, take up the challenge, and vow to solve the problem and demonstrate that you were in the right all along.
3. Let history be your guide – If people are laughing at your ideas, ask yourself why that might be. Is your idea just ahead of its time? Or is it because you haven’t expressed your concept well enough, or demonstrated to prospects how they’re going to benefit in the long term? Understand that it takes time for every new idea, product to gain acceptance. When Alexander Graham Bell said he had found a way for people living thousands of miles apart to communicate, other people scoffed and said it couldn’t be done. The rest as they say is history. Examples like this one teach you that other people who have been laughed at and told “no” have managed not only to achieve their goals, but also to surpass them.
In the past, hearing “no” from a prospective client or publisher would have sent me into a tailspin. Now, I try to embrace the rejection, and take that information to see what I can learn from it. Doing so lets me come out stronger every time. It will do the same for you.
KNOW THE SCORE
by Maureen Stephenson
Frugal Marketing for Entrepreneurs
How many e-mail messages do you send everyday? You’re probable missing out on a simple, inexpensive marketing tool. Seize the opportunity to promote your business to a highly targeted market without spending a dime by utilizing your e-mail signature line.
If your email signature line only contains your name and contact information, you’re missing out on advertising to e-mail recipients that have opted for communications from you.
These people are key members of your unofficial marketing network. They are your prospects, clients, press contacts and colleagues and your signature line is the perfect, unobtrusive space for a unique promotional pitch.
Try these tactics to turn your “sign-offs” into sales:
> Highlight what your company offers.
> Offer an incentive for recipients taken a specified action.
> Use the associated web address for the incentive, if it’s also on your site.
> Give better visual positioning to the promotion rather than contact info.
> Play with eye-catching fonts and colors.
> Use less than 64 characters/line so that words don’t wrap to a new line.
> Write a “signature” for different categories of recipients.
> Change your signature copy frequently.
> Never miss a chance to get your product or company noticed.
Another thing that many entrepreneurs don’t think about is the letters they send out. They are merely accepted as solving a problem or answering a need, when you can carry the e-mail idea over into every piece of mail you generate.
On the company letterhead simply add a line at the bottom of page 1. It could be a “tag line” of sorts made up of a slogan that “brands” your services or business. Try to come up with something unique so that every time it’s heard the prospect thinks of you.
Examples of this would be, “Good to the last drop,” which of course is Maxwell House Coffee. “Finger-lickin’ good,” which is KFC chicken, and so on. You get the message of what I’m saying. Play around with this until you come up with a pearl that is uniquely you.
If your business/service does not lend itself to this idea, then focus on increasing your credibility by using a “membership” tag line. For instance a funeral home would be less than tasteful using the line, “Our clients are dying to visit us;” but they COULD use the line “Members of Undertakers Assoc. of America” at the foot of their letterhead. This establishes immediate credibility in the mind of the recipient, even if the letter they received was a direct mail advertising letter.
When you’re an entrepreneur in today’s marketplace you have to be inventive and creative to buck the “big boys” on the block. I suggest that every entrepreneur read about the life of P.T. Barnum to get a better understanding of a truly great entrepreneur.
It isn’t always the almighty dollar that gets the best advertising for our business; it’s the best IDEA that makes you stand out in the crowd.