Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Go The Extra Mile to Ensure Your Customers Have A Great Experience

As a customer, I just might be your worst nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not malicious and I am fairly easy to please. When I encounter poor customer service, I’m unlikely to stage a hissy fit. I go away quietly, never to return, and never to refer future customers.

Customer complaints are gifts. Smart business owners will always prefer an unhappy customer’s feedback over their silence. Customers that go away to tell others about a negative experience can be a business owner’s worst nightmare.

Not long ago, I went into a store to look for an item. I was motivated to make a purchase, had looked through several other stores and not found what I was searching for. The lady minding the store was camped behind the counter reading a book. I explained what I wanted and she pointed to the back of the store where she thought I might find it, and cheerfully went back to reading her book.

I wandered around the store for a while, searching. The clerk was oblivious to me. I finally found what I needed within arms length of where she sat. I bought the item and left. I didn’t complain, there was no yelling, not a single deletable expletive. I paid, smiled, and left without a hint of discontent – the business owner’s worst nightmare.

She didn’t insult me, didn’t do anything overtly wrong. I just didn’t feel welcomed or valued. It was such a small thing really, hardly worth any fuss. But what a high cost to the owner of the business.

Even the sleepiest of folks would have to agree that the term “customer service” probably has something to do with making customers happy. So, why would one ever fall short of doing everything in their power to satisfy each customer that graces their path? My hunch is that those who give any less than top customer service do not understand the high cost of getting first-time customers in the door or the enduring collateral damage an unhappy customer can generate over time.

Here are a few simple ways to make customers happy:

1.Welcome every customer with a smile.

2.Be friendly, polite, and respectful.

3.Show the customer that you care.

4.Make each customer your top priority and provide your best service.

5.Go the extra mile to ensure they are served, do more than you’re paid for.

6.Make each customer experience special.

The strangest thing about customer satisfaction is that it’s less about the money; it’s more about the time. Well, more specifically it’s about helping the customer feel good about the time it took to earn the money as well as the time invested in spending it.

Customers work hard to earn the money they spend. After investing time to earn money, a customer then takes a bit more time to spend the money. Money comes and goes, but time is precious and irreplaceable. Once time has been invested, it’s gone; you can’t get it back.

Customers get to choose where they spend their money and time, and are more likely to do so with businesses and people who provide the best and friendliest service. Perhaps even more importantly, customers are more likely to frequent places where they can feel good about themselves.

The way to avoid having customers become your worst nightmare is easy enough. Simply do everything in your power to ensure each customer feels good about the time they spend in your business. To borrow from a wise phrase by Dr. Dennis Waitley, do everything in your power to “make her glad she talked to you today.”

Twelve Tips For Business Planners

Pencil_Tips1. Tidy up your personal finances before applying for a business loan.

Pay down loans, clean up any bad debts, collect some business-related equipment and save some money.

2. Bring some equity to the table.

Save money, sell some toys, borrow some love money, create something for your business, or get a second or third job for a while.

3. Prove your business case to yourself and to those who will read your business plan.

Persist in your market research efforts until you become ‘the expert’ for your business. Talk to people, ask questions, search the Internet, take courses, read books, listen to tapes, and subscribe to trade publications. You will feel more confident and have an easier time convincing your readers that you know what you are doing.

4. Listen and learn.

Listen to those who agree with you AND to those who do not. Listen to all who shoot holes in your business idea, they might just be pointing you toward success. When you think you’ve heard it all, listen harder!

5. Be honest… and thorough… and accurate.

Missing information or inaccuracies definitely invite questions and send the wrong message. Putting in wrong information or conveniently leaving out some of the less obvious, non-flattering financial information (like unpaid long overdue taxes) is a sure way to turn off potential investors.

6. Answer the basic business questions.

Who? What? Where? Why? When? How? A proper business planning system will provide you with a framework in which to place the confusing array of information you will gather. Choose a system and use it.

7. Provide a professional presentation.

There is no reason in these times, for a poor presentation. Use a proper business planning system, ask a friend, or pay someone to proof. Get someone to keypunch the plan if you need to, but do a professional job on it. Demonstrating that you care will increase the odds that a lender might care also.

8. Keep your language clear, simple and to the point.

If you must use technical jargon, provide an explanation of potentially confusing terms.

9. Write in the third person.

It is important to separate your business from yourself and to think and write about it as a separate entity.

10. Use charts, graphs, pictures and bulleted lists where appropriate.

Make sure your numbers match what is being stated in the narrative part of your plan. Keep the business plan brief, 20 pages or fewer, but be sure to make pertinent information available in the Appendices.

11. Be realistic in your expectations.

No matter how lofty your financial aspirations might be, know that businesses are rarely profitable in the first few months or even years. Estimate your sales conservatively and your expenses a bit higher than you think they will be. Keep that cash flow realistic and be sure to include ALL expenses and some contingency money.

12. Get into a business about which you know something, preferably a LOT…

Deadly Overhead Costs to Consider When Setting Your Prices

deadly_overhead-001Are your prices high enough to keep you in business?

If you’re self-employed and providing services at prices anywhere near the rates you earned as an employee, you might be missing some of the deadliest hidden costs.

The obvious overhead costs include things such as rent, utilities, advertising, insurance, and office supplies; business expenses not directly related to the production of goods or services. However, there are a few costs that aren’t visible until after your venture is in play. They are easy to overlook, difficult to measure, and they’re seldom factored into the start-up financial projections.

Here are a few expenses to consider when setting your prices.

1. Audits, Fines, Penalties. Taxation and worker safety organizations can call for an audit just about any time. They can also cheerfully penalize you if you happen to be late with your remittances.

2. Downtime. As an employer, you are responsible to provide workers with everything they need to be organized, efficient and productive. Any losses or downtime come right out of your profit.

3. Political, Bureaucratic or Regulatory Changes. As a business owner, you will invest a certain amount in keeping up with changes, and then you will expend money, time and energy to adapt to those changes.

4. Disputes, Legal Battles, Allegations. Even if you choose your battles wisely, and even if you take the high road, all skirmishes will take a bite out of your overhead budget.

5. Unplanned Professional Development. Just about the time you get comfortable with a software application, somebody with move your cheese and you’ll find yourself propelled into a fresh new learning adventure. The time spent with your lawyer and accountant is necessary and valuable, and must be factored into your overhead calculations.

6. Theft of Goods, Inventory, Time. Employees might sneak the odd free meal from your restaurant or some self-serving soul might help themselves to a truckload of your products. You pay, either as a result of the losses or higher insurance premiums.

7. Non-Payment for Goods or Services. If you’re in an industry that expects you to accept payment after delivery of goods or services, you run the risk of non-payment. When that happens, you must decide whether to fight (court, collections agencies) or let it go (your loss). Either way, you pay.

8. Economic Changes and Natural Disasters. Finally, if there are any funds left in your overhead budget after all of the other possible challenges, you may be hit with any of a host of external complications. Who is ever prepared for a hurricane, a fire or a flood?

Business owners will recognize the hidden costs already mentioned, and can probably add a few of their own to the list. Optimistic newbies tend to hope these awful things won’t happen to them, but no business owner goes unscathed. Relentless low pricing will keep you broke and drive your business into the dirt.

The key to surviving in business is keeping your prices high enough to withstand any unpleasant surprises, while staying competitive enough to keep making sales.

Basic Skills Ease Start-Up

A few years ago you could elbow your way into business with a sharp pencil and a calculator. Technology has changed all that. Now it’s hard to imagine writing a business plan or running a business without a computer, email, and the Internet.

A few basic skills in the following areas will make it easier to start or grow a business.

1. Computer. A decade ago, just 10 percent of my business-planning students knew how to use a computer; today more than 90 percent are computer savvy and almost all own computers. If turning on a computer still causes beads of sweat to form on your brow, and if you’re planning to own a business, it’s time to bite the technology bullet and learn how to use a computer.

2. Email. Email has revolutionized business communications. Got a quick question for someone in a different part of the globe? Need an efficient way to communicate with your customers? Want to get a research document mailed to you, fast? Email makes these and many other tasks easy and inexpensive. If you can manage file attachments, you will save even more time and energy.

3. Internet. You have, at your fingertips, a vast global library. Search engines are now simple enough that you can practically teach your pet ferret to use them. At this writing the US Census population counter indicates there are more the 6.7 billion people in the world; one click later another favourite site reveals that more than 1.4 billion are now using the Internet. For business owners, the Internet is the ultimate source of information, whether for market research or to keep tabs on your competitors.

4. Word processor and Keyboard. You can probably get by without these skills in today’s environment, but it’s bound to be limiting and costly as you hire others to compensate for your lack of expertise. If you’re hunting and pecking your way into business, a tiny investment in learning how to keyboard will definitely help. If you simply wish to improve your typing speed or accuracy, you can download any of a number of free typing tutor applications from the web. It seems that most businesses use Microsoft Word™ for word processing, but there are other applications available. For example, Open Office offers a free downloadable option called Writer, available at www.openoffice.org.

5. Spreadsheet. When it comes to determining whether or not your business will make money, a spreadsheet will definitely reduce your stress level. You don’t have to know how to design complex worksheets in order to enjoy the benefits. All you really need are a few navigation skills and some reliable forecasting templates. Most businesses use Microsoft Excel™, but OpenOffice also has a great spreadsheet called Calc (Did I mention it’s free?).

If you’re planning to start or grow a business, or simply looking for ways to make yourself more employable in today’s job market, these skills are sure to benefit you, both immediately and over the long term.

Age Didn’t Stop The Colonel

Age is not always a man or woman’s best friend.

If you’re getting long in the tooth and trying to get a loan to start a business, you might have a tough time borrowing money. Age means more risk for lenders. Unless you have solid, accessible security to offer, or unless you’ve got photographs of your bank manager committing indictable atrocities under the influence of tequila, you are going to have a tougher time nailing down business loans once you’re beyond your prime.

Other issues arise as you approach the 3-digit age bracket whilst simultaneously experiencing wholesale reductions in the number of functioning follicles on your head. For example, you might have less energy as time passes. On the best days we can smugly claim that slow and steady wins the race. I swear by that one more and more lately… But on bad days, there’s no doubt that we simply produce less than we did 10 or 20 years ago. Continue reading Age Didn’t Stop The Colonel