Each week as Smallbizlady, I conduct interviews with small business experts on my weekly Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. This is excerpted from my #SmallBizChat interview with Sweetie Berry @SweetieBerry on how to get back to basics in Business. She develops strategy for speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs as a go-to problem solver, think tank, and re-alignment marketing strategist. She and her husband Les have recently soft launched BasicsMatter.com, an online front porch to support first things first at home and in business for entrepreneurial families . www.basicsmatter.com
SmallBizLady: What do you believe are the most important things for a small business owner to remember?
Sweetie Berry: I believe that small businesses have forgotten the reasons folks choose small business over giants: Personal attention, strong customer service, polite interactions, supportive follow-through, instructive and predictive service representatives and developing your business as a reliable resource. There are many more reasons, but those six, when addressed can make significant differences in the loyalty and profitability your clients and customers develop in their relationship to you.
SmallBizLady: What are some of the basics you feel must be addressed as a small business?
Sweetie Berry: As business owners, we are often told that we must grow our client list, develop new social media streams to attract new customers and clients, and while those skills are important, there is one that is too often ignored. We must be aware and support the needs of the clients and customers we have already served and are serving currently. Too often when I am brought in as a consultant to small businesses marketing, I see 90% of the effort being put towards new sales and new audiences. Most businesses grow only when customers are retained and new clients are developed.
Most small businesses need a 30/30/30 formula of attracting new clients, maintaining current clients, and developing deeper and stronger product offerings for loyal clients. It’s a basic not just to attract new clients or customers, but to maintain the relationships for those who have already engaged you as not only a continuing client, but as a word of mouth marketer for your business through their experience with you.
SmallBizLady: How do you feel about auto communication methods in a small business?
Sweetie Berry: In a world of auto responders, small businesses might consider that while auto responders are great for notices about upcoming offers or sales, where appreciation is concerned, individualized communications are king. I recently had a correspondence from a large charity asking for our help with a campaign. We, as a small business, were glad to help with the requested item, however they lost us in the second round, the response was obviously an auto responder to our “yes we’ll help” that ignored we had given them the information they requested in the previous email, mechanically asked for things less than we had actually offered, and made us feel we had wasted our time responding to their need. The small courtesies matter in business of all sizes.
SmallBizLady: Where would you start if you could help most small businesses begin on a different track tomorrow?
Sweetie Berry: Let’s really go back to basics. What is the attitude you enter your work place each day? Whether it’s a home office, a virtual office, or a front counter, are you ready to greet each person, email, call, and client with positive expectancy? Do you and your staff have a consistent policy about the positive responses you use? Do you work towards language that set the tone for your place of business? When a client says “Thank you for an excellent experience” does your employee say “No worries” “No problem”? This sets a tone very differently than “Our Pleasure” “It is our pleasure at ____ to serve you” or “Thank you so much” Words matter. Tones of voice matter. Direct eye contact and handshakes matter. Too often we engage with customer service personnel that are talking to themselves when customers are waiting or texting and looking down instead of being ready to engage with a potential client or customer. We have too often walked into casual conversations during work time that went so far as to be discussing disrespectfully the previous client! The way we communicate through body language, facial tones, or voice tones matter.
SmallBizLady: How do the basics in business apply to follow-through?
Sweetie Berry: Back to Basics in follow-through is an essential! Do you have a system in place to follow through with your current clients? Folks who have just spend time and money with you will give you some of the most valuable, relevant customer feedback you will receive as a business. We encourage our clients to spend a specific time each week random calling clients to follow up. Yes, you may get a negative response or a need to be addressed, but the very act of doing so will leverage your ability to keep that customer and take the client/customer relationship to a new depth. Folks want services and businesses they can count on. They want to know that their opinions and needs count.
It’s a good idea to track clients’ needs as well. Do you schedule a call when clients or customers purchase should need a tune up, or service call? You’d be surprised how many businesses ignore that part of their opportunities! I once had a national sales director tell me she was so focused on building new customers she had rarely called asking for a follow-up order to a product that truly went down the drain each night…what a lost opportunity to increase her revenues because she had given too much value to new clients without regard to the value of continuing ones!
SmallBizLady: What is one of the mistakes you see often in small business in your own town?
Sweetie Berry: Visuals matter. Have you walked into the front of your place of business lately? Take time to each day walk through your space as though you are new. Does your space communicate your business? Your offerings? Your prices? Your guarantees? What is the climate and tone of your space? Is it comfortable? Is it clean? If you are a virtual space, does your email, website, and Skype message look professional and reflect your contact information without looking like a five star general’s bar ribbons? Sometimes we overwhelm our email with information on how to reach us.
While aesthetic design is important, it is most important to make sure writing, typeface, and signs are legible, communicative, and pleasant. That if there is a lounge area, that the media kept there is fresh and not from 1999. That if there is music or a television playing it is not detracting from your business but supporting it. If seats are damaged or torn, that they are removed. Restroom care is another area that says volumes about how you care for your clients. Details matter. In the waiting areas of your business you might consider literature, looping video, or information on the topic you are offering to be available. Layering the customer’s knowledge helps them to make informed decisions about why your business is the best choice.
SmallBizLady: What is your take on Social Media for small business?
Sweetie Berry: Social Media Matters. Over 85% of my business came directly from Twitter when I began my business as a Creative Strategist after years as an educator and writer. It didn’t come because I announced I did this or that, it came because Twitter allowed me to find where the folks were having conversations about topics and needs I could perform. We all are aware that information put on the Internet is there for the world to see. It’s a basic concept we need to grasp as individuals in business as well. Be willing to help and show examples of your work when you are seeking new clients.
I personally love how Allan Branch of Less Everything may show a website hint or improvement without expectation or cost, changes that they can make to increase their usability. He simply sends them a link with the example done and offers to share the code to fix the issue. Helpful, meaningful, and it shows good will. Our clients and customers can see our streams, our Linked in, our Google +, and they can read what others say about us as well as what we say about others. When we have difficult days or clients flaming a comment on a public space, the way in which we respond matters greatly.
Offer a link and encouragement that you’d like to help that situation. DM a direct phone number for clients to call and give you the specifics. Reach out, help, support, and be ready to take action to resolve the problem. Yes, there will be people who squeak as opportunist, but it will become clear when you engage with them if their requests are out of bounds. Take time to listen and study what is happening online before you engage. Use searches, use hash tags on Twitter, look who is talking about your topics. Take time to learn!
SmallBizLady: What advice would you offer for small businesses that want to serve people in a small radius?
Sweetie Berry: If you are a community-based business, become your community space online and in the airwaves. One of my clients in a southern state wanted a stronger presence on the Internet. He had a service every household needs at some time or another, but not one that would be on the forefront of a household’s mind. However in his community football was king. We developed a page on his website that was all the area schools game schedules, and information for each school website. When back to school time came, he did some radio and local ads to let others know he would encourage a student of the week program on his page. That very act of noticing, of making it easy for parents and students to find out multiple school information in one space not only drove traffic for the game page, but it increased his business by 26% that year. Community involvement and presence matters for small business. Support your community and your community is much more likely to support you when the count is down.
SmallBizLady: We see on BasicsMatter.com that you are going to feature Reliable Resources, and I see often you tag things on twitter as #RR What does that mean?
Sweetie Berry: Each week on Wednesdays, we focus small businesses as Reliable Resources at BasicsMatter.com To be a reliable resource a business has to have shown us by experience that they are focused on customer needs, customer service, that they have mastered their craft or service. It means we have experienced their product, services, and ability to support those services and products are solid. Are you a reliable resource for your business topic? Can prospects call for information on what they need without pressure to buy from you? Can customers call you when there is an issue and expect to have expedient care to resolve the issue? Will your clients know that if your service isn’t a “fit” for their need, your personnel will tell them honestly that they need to do x, y, z instead?
Studies have shown that price is not the only qualifier for why people choose your business or service. Have you focused on how your personnel deliver the information and offerings your business can deliver? Tone of voice, the vocabulary used, and the ability to listen are important basics to consider when you’re deciding who on your staff has face to face or voice to voice contact with clients.
SmallBizLady: What basics in business do you feel small businesses are missing in their daily life?
Sweetie Berry: Back to basics also means taking time to identify what is working. I worked with a client just last week that said to me that their number one service was a certain product. When I went through their paperwork and metrics it was clear that what most people sought them for was another service they provided, and sure enough when we looked at the books it was the most sought after and most profitable sale for the business. That one simple act of objectively looking at the history of the last 90 days changed the face of how that company is now functioning. We grow, change, and expand as we continue in business. Are you taking honest assessments about what is working, what is not working, and where the profit for your business is happening? If your business is successfully building small websites that cost under $1,200.00 then acknowledge that and market to that space. Perhaps you do polka dot widgets in the $25 range better than anyone else, own it! Bigger is not always better and many folks do not want the high end product to begin, they want a reliable resource that they can grow on. My own business, She’s So There, works with authors and speakers to help them position their books, their media, and their business. It is 100% my goal to help clients outgrow my services, we work with folks in their first three years of online presence. I know that the needs of a large business and personality is going to require additional support systems that our offerings do not endeavor to engage. Often the reason we succeed is because we do know what is needed at the next level and we help folks have a solid foundation to get to their next phases of success!
SmallBizLady: What advice would you give small business owners?
Sweetie Berry: Be where and who you are. Take time to identify what works for your family and for yourself. All the success in the world financially or business wise won’t matter if you lose yourself and your family in the process. Family matters. Take time to learn what is success in your business from a family perspective. Learn to turn off work at home. Do what matters for your clients, not what is popular for other businesses. More clients are only one ingredient of a successful business. Successful businesses know what they can and cannot handle. They know the boundaries that work for their employees and their owners. Successful businesses understand that not every customer is a “fit” and that at times its important to know who does more complex or less complex offerings than yours and refer them to them. Successful businesses know that the way you treat yourself and your employees will show in the way clients and customers are treated as well. Want to become more successful? Make sure to track what is working as well as what needs attention. You may be surprised at what truly IS working in your business
SmallBizLady: What would you ask small business owners as their consultant?
Sweetie Berry: “Are you ready to take a business MRI?” as my friend David Cooper would say. Are you ready to go past skin deep of what is truly happening in your business? Are you ready to answer the tough questions about your intent in business as well as your practices? Questions such as how many clients did you call personally this week to suggest a service or offer you have? How many thank you communications have you set up when clients or customers choose you? Are you ready to accept the responsibility to succeed? What is the true value of the services you are paying monthly to have in your business? Is it for vanity sake or is it truly making you money to have it? In this recessive economy, small businesses are doing one of two things: they are thriving or dying. The majority of the ones thriving and surviving have learned to relate to their clients and customers. They have focused on customer service, clearly making costs as low as possible maintaining a quality product or offer, and shown appreciation for the clients they have served. They have acknowledged the importance of quality communication interactions and expect employees to engage in gracious interactions with clients using appropriate words of appreciation. “May I show you” “Thank you for coming today” “How can we assist you today?” “I’m sorry that happened to you, how can we help?” Our interactions with other folks matter for our success. Listening is a key skill for our business success. Basics in business often come down to making sure the no cost actions happen. Attitude, presence, appreciation and follow ups behaviors matter. Won’t you consider focusing on the basics in your business?
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