AllWrite Ink Celebrates Six Years – 25 Business Lessons

AllWriteInk web size

Hard to believe it but on February 14, 2011, I celebrated six years of business.  They say that most small businesses fail within the first five years. Kind of like marriages hit that rocky point around seven. Well, as a business owner I have passed that hurdle. I thought I would take a moment and share 25 things I have learned about business:

  1. The business you think you are starting is rarely the business you have six years later
  2. The customer should dictate your business and the customer frequently changes their mind so stay in touch
  3. Be flexible – holy cow, this one is important
  4. There are always new ways of doing things- just look at the change in social media over six years
  5. Business plans are a guideline, not the be all and end all – they should be reviewed and adjusted with economy, technology and customer trends
  6. Continually seek ways to learn – the minute you think you know it all is the first day of the end of your business
  7. Network – this is important – your foundation of people you know and who knows you help in some of the most unexpected and amazing ways
  8. Have a “boardroom” a group of trusted advisors and/or people who serve the role of sounding board – you can’t do it alone
  9. Which leads to delegate – if you are a home based business of one, build your community of experts that you can farm out portions of your business, without this network it will be impossible to grow
  10. Your time is your most valuable asset – treat it as such
  11. You offer value -never doubt that!
  12. Protect your brand -your reputation – don’t treat it lightly because once lost, it is almost impossible to get back
  13. Communication is one of your most important customer traits
  14. Speaking of the customer – build the relationship – remember your customer can be your best marketing tool – treat them as you would a long time friend not just a single moment in time purchase – they just might be your best bet for growing your business
  15. Write – share your knowledge, offer your advice, tell stories but put your expertise in writing; press releases, blog posts, articles, LinkedIn discussion comments, speeches – it is a great marketing tool and will help when you prepare to teach others to do what you do so you can sit on the beach 🙂
  16. Give back – find ways to share your knowledge, help someone else just starting out, give away your knowledge – I bet someone did it for you – it is your turn to help someone else
  17. Your competition can be one of your strongest allies – there is plenty of business to go around – know your competitors – never put them down – see what you can learn from them – follow them on Twitter!
  18. LinkedIn is a business person’s best friend
  19. Say thank you. Sometimes we get in a hurry and we forget to thank those that have been there along the way, including customers, so make sure you take the time to thank those that help you – that includes your kids and the mail carrier and the employee at the copy shop.
  20. You can compete with the big guys if you use the strength of the Internet to share your knowledge and build awareness of your brand
  21. Take time for you – when you do – you’ll have a chance to refresh and be rejuvenated so that you can tackle your business with new vigor
  22. Look at your business from your customer’s perspective – what do they need that you could be providing
  23. Niche your business offerings – if you are trying to be all to everyone – you are failing. Pick a niche and own it
  24. Listen listen listen – to customers, to employees, to vendors, to trends, to the industry, to your significant other
  25. Strive to make a difference in the lives of others – it comes back many times over!

So there you go – just a few things I have learned in the last six years.  Help add to the list – leave a comment with what business has taught you over the years.


Social Shopping – LinkedIn Connects to Save a Problem

ear2328_smallOn Friday I had the pleasure of presenting my Social Media workshop to the participants of the Stark County Board of Mental Health during their annual conference. The group was lively and engaging and I had a great time.  During my discussion about social shopping and the consumer trend to connect with businesses, one of the participants, Jill, shared this story:

I was dealing with a vendor making a purchase for our department and I was having difficulty getting the product that I ordered. I called their customer service department and was basically told that they didn’t care.  I decided I didn’t want to leave it at that so I went on LinkedIn and researched the company. I found that their CEO was on LinkedIn and I sent him an email explaining the situation and my dissatisfaction. I heard back almost immediately that he was traveling but as soon as he was back in the office he’d look into the situation. A few days later I heard from him and he made it right. 

Jill’s story is a great example of a growing trend in social media; consumers actively seeking a relationship with those they do business with and if companies are not listening or responding – consumers will take their business elsewhere.

How to get started?  Make sure you have a Google Alert set up for your company name – and do the same on Twitter by signing up for an RSS feed at Search.Twitter with your company name and a few key word phrases.

MC Promotions offers 20 ways to listen to what is being said about you in the article Are Your Ears Burning?


Keys to Building Customer Loyalty

scooby dooBuilding customer relationships, earning customer loyalty – these are passions of mine and I was pleased to see an article offering 7 key steps to creating customer loyalty in Fast Track magazine.

Author, Micah Solomon, opens his list with this comment:

A personal bond with customers lets your company escape the commodity pricing wars and provides you with a powerful new marketing arm: loyal customers who will promote and defend your company online and off–for free.
I love it: you are setting your self apart – building relationships and allowing your customers to help you market your business. Brilliant.
I posted the article for discussion on the LinkedIn Build Customer Relationships group and here are a couple of the comments:

Zane Safrit • I loved it. I loved it all. The author saved maybe the best point for last: Hire the best people.

ToshibaBob Weinhardt • excellent points!… especially #5 ..a side note.. once you determine wants and needs …follow thru with just a little EXTRA ..(a little more than what is expected)

How do you go about earning customer loyalty? Do you have a program, a process, or a policy? Share you comments below. The more the merrier.


Preparing for Customer Disappointment

angry1This topic seems timely on the eve of Black Friday frenzy.  Retailers are expecting a record breaking volume of shoppers and sales this week . In an effort to gain the customer’s first dollars they are opening even earlier – some on Thanksgiving day! 

The ads, the offers, the promises being offered in pre-Thanksgiving day adverisements lead me to believe there are going to be some tired, cranky, disppointed customers when they get to the front of the line and discover that even getting in line at 2am wasn’t early enough to get the biggest gift at the best discount.

So how do you prepare for that disappointment? More importantly, how do you prepare for your employees, because they are the ones that will be dealing with customer’s frustration?

In a recent article by Andy Hanselman entitled Dealing with Customer Disappointment, he talks about companies training their employees to listen for key word phrases that might indicate a customer is less than happy.

Gee, in the optical world, we knew a customer was disappointed when they threw their glasses and said “these don’t work, I want a refund.” But perhaps some times the disappointment is a little more subtle.

Andy provides these valuable steps for preparing for customer disappointment:

  • Acknowledge it: we are going to make mistakes – customers appreciate it when we face up to that and then make it right
  • Empower for it: give your employees the tools necessary to correct the situation
  • Prepare for it: brainstorm with your staff – what things typically disappoint your customers?
  • Look for it: don’t wait for the verbal disappointment – keep your eye out for someone that is less than happy and fix it
  • Deal with it: bottom line – make it right!

I would like to add one thing and that is “step in your customer’s shoes” for just a minute. We  can acknowledge, empower and deal with it without really connecting with what customer is feeling. We grit our teeth, roll our eyes when our back is turned to the customer and grudgingly give them what they want.

Trust me – they can sense it.

However, if you stop for a minute and put yourself in their shoes, you will deal with the situation in a more empathetic manner. This too will be noticed by your customers. Noticed and appreciated.

In a recent study 92% of consumers said they would be willing to go back to a company after a negative experience if they received a follow up apology and/or correction.

Are you prepared for handling customer’s disppointments this holiday season? Are your employees empowered to fix the situation on the spot? Here is where we can take a page from the Ritz Carlton way of doing business.

Here is a listing of what an Employee of Ritz Carlton represents:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.

Where’s the Focus: Marketing or Service

When you look at the company budget – do you spend equal dollars on marketing for new customers as you do servicing your existing customers?

When the economy started to tank, one of the first things companies pulled was training. The focus on customer service shifted from having importance to a “nice to have.”

I wonder if we turned the budget upside down and spent the amount we currently spend on driving new traffic, on programs, training and incentives that focus on customer service for our existing customers – what impact would that have on our bottom line?

Let’s do a little back of the envelope comparison:


  • Know where we are located
  • Know what we sell
  • Know the quality of our products and services
  • Know how they’ll be treated
  • Know what happens if there is a problem – how we will take care of them and make it right
  • Return for more purchases if we keep in touch and invite them back
  • Refer us to their friends and family and statistics show that people who learn of a recommendation are 80% more likely to buy

Nice.  Now let’s look at the new PROSPECTS we are trying to drive to our doors (website)

  • They have to find us through the clutter of competitors ads
  • Don’t know where we are located and can easily confuse us with the competition around the corner
  • Have no clue why we are better or different from the competition
  • Don’t know what service experience they’ll have
  • Lump us into every other bad experience they’ve had in our industry when it comes to resolving complaints
  • Only 14% of potential customers trust marketing messages

“Companies spend 6 to 10 times more to acquire new customers than they do to retain existing customers. But a 5% increase in customer retention can have a bottom-line profit increase of 75%, depending on the industry.” 

-Don Neal, Director of Business Development for Hallmark Business Expressions

I’m not suggesting that marketing is a waste of money – certainly we have to keep our brand name visible and available in the market place; but isn’t there a good argument for revisiting how much effort, training and dollars we spend making sure our employees take care of the people already doing business with us?

Just a little food for thought.  I’d be interested to know if you have already come to this conclusion and what programs you put in place for reaching and wooing those existing customers.  Share! 


Marketing with Honesty to Build Customer Relationships

sherre demao

Sherre DeMao

Last evening I had the opportunity to participate in a radio show – Reader’s Entertainment Radio – hosted by Sheila English.  Sheila interviewed myself and Sherre DeMao – founder of SLD Unlimted Marketing/PR, Inc. 

Sheila led us through a series of questions which uncovered our philosophies of effective marketing and communication with our prospects and customers. At the end of the day – although Sherre and I had never met or talked – we had the same focus:  open honest communication.

The customer must come first.  Sherre hones in on the psycographics of the customer – “getting into the minds of their customers.”

She also talked about a strategy she employs for marketing to customers that doesn’t involve advertising – it is called C.R.I.S.P.

1.      Customer relations

2.     Referral relations

3.     Internet presence

4.     Strategic involvements

5.     Public relations

Each involve communication and connection with customers. To listen to the 30 minute radio show click on this link: Honest Communication Builds Customer Relationships.


Transaction or Lifelong Relationship?

Lifelong Relationships

Lifelong Relationships

Here’s a great observational comment that Norma Rist made to someone she was coaching:

“You are treating your customers as transactions but you need to think of them as lifelong relationships.”

Have you ever been in sales? Or operations? It is the 16th and you are fast approaching the end of the month.  Will you make your quota? Will the proposals that are outstanding come in before the 31st?

Do your potential customers become dollar signs or lines on your P&L as you think through your finances? Sometimes it is hard to avoid that trap, isn’t it?  You have financial obligations and if you could get just one more customer before the end of the month you’d hit your break even. It is when we think like that, that our conversation changes with prospects.

We move from recommendations to sales pitches.  How do we avoid treating our customers or potential customers as transactions and think about the opportunity for a lifelong relationship?

What would that mean in terms of our conversations. Might that mean that we walk away from a “sure thing” sale today and settle for planting seeds for the future? Customers are smart. They know when we are SELLING versus making recommendations based on need.

Frances Sharpe has written an article offering tips for Retaining Customers. In the article she talks about the value of the customer relationship and actually suggests a mathematical formula for calculating the financial value of a lifelong customer relationship.  Good stuff! 

If you were to ask your customers; would they say they felt like a transaction or a lifelong friend?


Sell What the Customer Wants – Not What You Want to Sell

My son has his first sales job; selling Cutco knives.   It is quite an experience.  He went through 16 hours of unpaid training and had to purchase the sales kit prior to making any money so he is invested in the process.  At least financially.

He’s too new in the sales game to have learned the trick many sales people adopt – focusing their sales efforts on the items that bring the biggest commission.  He’s just following the sales pitch; thrilled when anyone makes a purchase. 

Watching him go through this process I’m reminded of other sales training and commission structures from my past lives in which the measurement was on selling the products with the highest margin.  What the customer wanted was irrelevant. 

As a new store manager at Pearle Vision, I was familiar with that selling tactic and didn’t approve, however, I did believe in rewarding my associates.  So each month I created a contest – the person selling the most of the “product of the month” received dinner for two on me. 

The difference?  The “product of the month” was a mystery – sealed in an envelope in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls porch since the first of the month until the month ended and the sales results were calculated.  The envelope would be opened to reveal the product and who ever had sold the most BASED ON CUSTOMER’S NEEDS, won the prize.

Today I received the monthly newsletter from the local Sandler Sales franchise: The Ruby Group.  The main article is entitled How to Avoid Price Objections, but really covers several sales techniques.  Number Four caught my eye:

4. You are attempting to sell what you want to sell or what you think prospects need; not what prospects want to buy.

People buy what they want, not necessarily what they need or what you believe they need. If you enter selling situations with preconceived notions about what you are going to sell, you will miss the opportunity to sell what prospects are ready to buy. Price may be the objection voiced by prospects, but the real obstacle may well be your own rigidity. When you make sales calls, leave your preconceptions in the car.

When we put customers first – we take the time to listen and ask questions to determine what they want and need and then we make recommendations based on that information.  Tying our products and services back to needs the customer has shared shows that you are listening, you care and you are interested in building a customer relationship – not just making a sale. 

If we sell to the customer’s needs rather than to the commission structure or margin percentages, we build relationships that lead to repeat business and referrals.  Isn’t that what really counts at the end of the day?


Price Isn’t the Primary Loyalty Factor


I just bought a new chair. It was time. The last time I bought a chair I was pregnant with my first born. That’s him sitting in the new chair. He’s 19.

I went to Levin because they had a 50% off sale and if you purchased on the weekend, it was free delivery. I’ve bought furniture there before – a dining room set, some end tables, and I’ve been happy with the purchase.

So I’m returning because I:

  • Liked my past experiences
  • Felt good about the value
  • Liked the quality of the product

Did you hear me mention price?  Me neither.  I will say that the current offer was what brought me to the store but other furniture places have offers every week.

Chuck helped me.  I told him what I wanted and he showed me some choices.  I was on my way to dinner so I left but went back on the weekend to take advantage of the free shipping.  I asked for Chuck and he remembered me.  I had made up my mind before entering the store so we quickly went to the purchase portion of our relationship.

He and I hadn’t talked price.  No reason to – the price was on the chair.  The full price and the sale price.  I was pleased with the price. So much so that I also planned to buy the ottoman.

He enters the information in the computer and informs me that he’s further reduced the price of the chair by $35 and the ottoman by $30.  $65!  That I didn’t ask for. 

He also reduced the price of the scotch protection plan by more than 25%. 


Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled with the unexpected cash that remains in my checking account but why reduce the price if price was never an issue? 

Chuck didn’t know me from Adam.  I was a pretty easy going customer.  I did say that I wanted to remain within a budget but there were lots of chairs to choose from in that price point.  I have to believe he cut his commission or else the margins are unbelievable.

His generous price discounting has served to bring questions to my mind rather than create loyalty. 

  • Just what are the margins?
  • Is the quality poor – have I bought something inferior?
  • Did he lose personal income on my transaction?
  • Was the chair last year’s model and he’s happy to get rid of it?

Why do we believe we have to be the cheapest to win friends and influence people?  I don’t have any answers here – I’m looking for a discussion from you. Has this happened that you go to make a purchase – fully aware of the price – and all of a sudden find out that the price is even less?  How did it make you feel?

Lucky.  Happy.  Sure, me too.  But didn’t it also make you feel a little curious?  Did it build loyalty?


Real Time Reviews via Mobile Devices – Are You Prepared?

the-biggest-shift-social-revolutionJust saw this link on a tweet The Biggest Shift Since the Industrial Revolution.

If your customer is between the ages of 18-35 – you need to learn to master the art of social media – or at the very least – be listening real close and often to what is being said. Of all of the stats in the article, here is the most valuable one:

“80% of Twitter users tweet using their mobile device.”  The author goes on to say “Imagine what that means for bad customer experiences?”

Eighty percent of what, you ask? Maybe it isn’t that many people.  Well, here’s another stat for you – “As of this year there are an average of 30 MILLION  tweets a day.”  And 75 MILLION users.  That’s a big chunk of your customers.

So how do you listen on Twitter?  Visit Search.Twitter.  Click on the Advanced Search button.  Enter your company name, your products, your industry key words and see what is being said.  You’ll see that you can subscribe to the feed for those key words and be notified the next time someone mentions your company or products. 

Take it a step further.  Scroll down the Advance Search page and click the sad face and/or the “?” and see  the negative reviews and questions being asked within Twitter.

You may not like it – but bottom line – social media, in some form or fashion, is here to stay and we need to jump in this afternoon and get connected.

For those of you in the NE Ohio region – I’ll be conducting a new series of hands-on workshops, once a week for four weeks on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Creating a Strategy starting next week.

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