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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business (Contribution from Keith Coppersmith)

The following post comes to us from Keith Coppersmith, an experienced business consultant who serves small businesses and startups.


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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business

Did you know that 51% of customers stop doing business after just one negative experience? Research further shows that businesses lose over $62 billion every year on poor customer service.

Precisely because of that, wise small business owners don’t look at great customer support as a cost. For them, this is a chance to increase sales and boost brand loyalty.

Now, when it comes to providing spotless customer support, there is always room for improvement. Here are a few great tactics that will help you take your customer relationships to the next level.

Don’t Overcomplicate Customer Conversations

Providing customer support is not an opportunity for you to showcase your impressive industry knowledge. When reaching out to you, a customer expects to get a specific answer that solves their problem.

Using overly complex technical jargon may cause miscommunication issues and hurt user experience. It may even seem as if you yourself don’t know the answer to the question. To keep your customers happy, you need to speak their language. Simple and effective explanations will boost their satisfaction and motivate them to buy from you again.

Help your Customers Make Payments Faster

The flexibility of your services can get you a long way. Let’s take an example of invoicing, as this is one of the major problems businesses face. Stats say that 64% of businesses have unpaid invoices that have gone unpaid for at least 60 days.

Sure, in the short term, you need to find the right financing method to boost your bottom line. For example, you can improve cash flow with invoice finance. This financing option brings numerous benefits to small businesses and startups. First, invoice finance firms usually pay businesses about 80% of the total sum within 48 hours, meaning you’ll get your money fast. Second, unlike with bank loans, there are no high-interest rates. Finally, invoicing doesn’t hurt user experience and helps you maintain stronger client relationships.

Sure, these are all short-term solutions. To boost your cash flow in the long run, you need to manage your late payments strategically. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your customer support:

  • Offer multiple payment options to boost their buying experience and encourage them to buy from you.
  • B2B businesses should also have a billing policy, where they would clearly state when and how you want to get paid and how you will handle late payments.
  • Send invoices on time to get customers to take them seriously.
  • Automate your rebilling process. With the help of the right software, your customers will be able to track their payments directly from an app, get informed about any failed payments, and get actionable tips to solve these problems faster.

Answer Customer Questions in Real-Time

The demands of a modern customer have changed. They now use multiple channels to communicate with brands. Unsurprisingly, they expect businesses to use these channels, too. Research says most customers expect to get an answer within 2 hours, while 84% of them don’t want to wait longer than a day.

Precisely because of that, you need to need to provide multichannel customer services. Update your contact information on your site regularly and get listed on all major business directories. You should also provide your email address, links to social media support profiles, and live chats. Multichannel communication increases user satisfaction and helps them resolve the problem faster.

Leverage the Power of Social Networks

Many brands have started seeing the value of social networks in building customer relationships. First, you can use AI-powered software like chatbots to provide customers with timely and relevant answers. Today’s chatbots are smart and they’re constantly learning from customer interactions to understand their intent and give relevant feedback.

You can also use social monitoring tools to track your brand/product mentions on social networks and participate in customers’ conversations instantly. These tools give you a great opportunity to identify customers experiencing problems with your products, help them fix these problems effectively, and turn them into brand advocates.

Collect Customer Feedback Regularly

There are numerous metrics you can track to assess your small business’ performance. And, one of the most important ones is customer satisfaction. You need to understand how your customers feel about your brand, what they like, appreciate, or hate about it.

Collecting customer feedback is one of the most significant aspects of customer support, given that 91% of unhappy customers won’t complain about poor experiences with your brand. They will simply leave you for your competitors.

There are numerous ways to do gather user feedback. I’ve already mentioned the importance of social listening and AI-powered chatbots. These tools let you see what questions your customers usually ask and what problems they experience.

You could also create a dedicated feedback form on your website and even reach out to a customer that abandoned the shopping cart. Live chat support can also be effective. Once a customer support agent helps a customer, they can send them feedback. Finally, you can always call a customer and ask them for their opinions directly.

Over to You

With the rise of sophisticated customer relationship management tools, providing subpar customer services are not acceptable anymore. You need to provide timely customer support, answer customer feedback professionally, and customize your customer services. This way, you will build stronger customer relationships and increase brand loyalty.

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About the Author: Keith Coppersmith is an Adelaide based business consultant with a degree in Media Management. With experience in numerous small businesses and startups, he enjoys giving advice on all things marketing.

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5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur (Contribution from Jock Purtle)

The following post comes to us from internet entrepreneur, Jock Purtle, who is founder of Digital Exits, a company specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. This article is based upon his entrepreneurial experience.


5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur

For many, the hardest decision you will make as an entrepreneur is the first one: the decision to go out on your own. In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, the idea of running a business can be intimidating, to say the least. But once you get over this hurdle and realize fear and hesitation are the only things standing in the way of you accomplishing your goals, you’re well on your way to entrepreneurial success.

As you likely already know, though, it’s not that simple. Getting started with your own company is like riding a roller coaster in the dark. Each up and down is intense, and it’s hard to know what’s coming next.

To try and make things a little easier, we’ve come up with a list of five decisions that every entrepreneur needs to make early on in the life of their company. By highlighting these, we hope you’ll be able to focus in a little more on what you need to be doing to make your company work so that you can weather the storm as it comes your way, worry a bit less and take one more step towards success.

The decision making will never end, and it will soon turn into your most critical task, but here are some key choices you’ll need to make right off the bat to set your company up for a healthy future.

 1. Your ideal customers

You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to clearly define their target audience. Often times, entrepreneurs are so excited about their idea that they don’t stop to think who might want to spend money on it. A good idea is a good idea, and there is likely a business to be built around it, but without clearly defining your target audience, the initial stages of your business will be a real challenge.

The important thing to remember when going through this process is to be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to just say you are hoping to target urban Millennials. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and ask yourself how your product or service might factor into their life. What need are you fulfilling? Or, how are you making their life better or more comfortable?

By answering these questions, you will have a more specific idea as to who you need to be going after and how you are going to reach them. For example, you may find that your audience is men between the ages of 20-35 who live in cities, earn above-average salaries and have an active lifestyle. This is vital information, as it will help determine your marketing and advertising strategies going forward.

Furthermore, once you make this decision, a lot of other decisions will become easier. All you need to do is ask yourself: Is this going to help me reach my target audience? If the answer is yes, proceed. If no, then keep working. Taking the time to be very clear about this part of the business right from the beginning is an essential step to ensuring the success of the company.

2. Management style and company culture

While you as the entrepreneur may be the brains behind the operation, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can pull this off on your own. You are going to need to bring in a good team to help you get off the ground, and then once you do, you are going to need a growth plan. What types of employees are you looking for? Which ones are you trying to avoid?

A big part of this is also your management style. Are you going to run things more top-down? Or do you plan to be more decentralized, delegating certain decisions to those more qualified to make them?

You’ll also want to take a look at yourself as a leader and manager and figure out how to improve. There are plenty of things we do without realizing that affect how employees view us and act towards us, and you really won’t see this until you are in a position of leadership.

Take some time to figure out what you want your company culture to be. You may think of culture as something that develops organically, and to a certain extent it is, but you can have a significant impact on the direction it goes. A lot of companies are adopting a more laid-back approach, offering their employees more and more benefits, such as unlimited vacation time and free coffee of the month subscriptions, as a way of trying to foster engagement and buy-in. This may or may not be the right approach for you, and this is something you’ll want to figure out as soon as possible.

All of these things should be figured out in the beginning because as you grow it will be harder and harder to make time for this type of planning. Spend some time as you are getting started and you’ll find yourself managing growth much better, setting your company up for success in the future.

 3. Exit strategy

When first starting out with a company, the idea of an exit strategy seems far away. But it’s actually very important to consider. Planning out your exit strategy means thinking long-term. It allows you to align resources so that you can move forward at the right time.

An exit strategy can come in the form of an initial public offering (IPO), a sale or a merger, but the thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to implement the strategy. If things are going well, you have every freedom to stay with the business. But plotting out from the beginning how you might exit gets you thinking big picture and this can only help your business.

Plus, having a clearly defined exit strategy plays very well with investors. They want to know how they are going to get their money, and demonstrating to them how this will happen increases your chances of securing the resources you need to get your company off the ground and heading towards prosperity.

 4. Marketing and branding

It’s never too early to start thinking about branding. In today’s competitive marketplace, having a strong brand is going to be what ultimately sets you apart. Much like the decisions you’ll make about company culture, choosing your branding strategy needs to be one of the first things you do.

Figure out what makes you unique, determine what you want to stand for and do some research to figure out the best way to communicate this to people. Social media is huge for building your brand, and if your target audience uses this medium, you may want to consider hiring an agency or consultant to help you.

In fact, this may be one of the best decisions you make as an entrepreneur. Successful marketing requires a full-time approach, and too many small companies try to do it on their own, only to end up wasting their precious resources without seeing results. It’s your job to do the high-level strategic thinking. Then, bring in some experts to help you execute your plan.

5. Cybersecurity

Here’s one not too many entrepreneurs think about, and it’s a real shame that they don’t. Cybercrime and hacking is the threat of the future, and small businesses are being increasingly targeted. They’re easier to get to, as they don’t always invest in the right protection, but they still possess valuable information. And the damage a hack causes to your reputation is often far too much for any small company to overcome.

Figure out how you’re at risk and what you need to do to protect yourself. Cybersecurity infrastructures can be expensive, and the last thing you want to do is to have to shut down your website or other services so that you can install new security measures. Don’t let cybersecurity become an afterthought. You’ll pay for it down the road.

Final thoughts

From the moment you decided to become an entrepreneur, you essentially converted yourself into a full-time decision maker. As the business grows, you will be faced with increasingly challenging choices, but with experience, you’ll learn what’s best for your business. However, until you reach this point, things can be a bit stressful. Consider these critical decisions every entrepreneur needs to make so that you can start your business heading in the right direction.

Join in the conversation! Among these five decisions an entrepreneur must make, which one do you feel is the most critical?

About the author: Founder of Digital Exits, Jock Purtle is an internet entrepreneur who specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He began investing in websites as a hobby when he was a teenager, but it slowly turned into his full-time job. He works with other entrepreneurs frequently and enjoys sharing his knowledge to help others find similar success working for themselves.

 

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Common SEO Myths for Local Businesses (Guest Blog by Michael Hayes)

The following post comes to us from Michael Hayes, founder and CEO of Darby Hayes Consulting, a full service Internet Marketing agency based out of NYC.


Common SEO Myths for Local Businesses

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SEO can be a tricky and sensitive subject, both for professional SEO practitioners and for local businesses. Due to the fact that there is no official standard for how to practice SEO, practitioners have to develop their own theories, methodologies and tactics in order to practice effectively. Eventually these theories combine with bits and pieces of Google’s webmaster guidelines to become part of the collective industry “best practices.”

Then, SEO/marketing professionals and business owners will utilize these best practices to attempt to rank their own sites. This can be effective, but one must be careful to not treat these as “gospel.” Recommendations and best practices are not necessarily set in stone. Google (and SEO) is constantly evolving, and as such these best practices will change over time.

Whenever I come across outdated (or simply incorrect) “best practices,” i.e. strategies that don’t align with my practical experience, I make note of it. These are helpful when educating new clients, testing new theories, or performing audits. Today I’ve gone ahead and put together a few of these “myths” in hopes that I might dispel them, and help readers avoid potential and unnecessary pitfalls.

Myth #1: Directories are bad/good

Forgive the lack of clarity on this one. I’ve seen these myths go either way, both condemning directories as terribly evil or touting them as an effective way to drive ranking. The true story lies somewhere in between.

Directories have a very touchy history in SEO:

  • Like “Web 2.0s,” directories allow people to inject links to their website. This was abused in pre-penguin world.
  • Thousands of nonsense directories began being published, allowing people to list their website for free or for a small charge.
  • Legitimate directories still exist, and are still useful to users. They are usually manually curated and have other uses besides being link farms. Sites like HomeAdvisor, ThomasNet and Best of the Web come to mind.

So what are directories good for? Which directories to consider? Let’s have a look:

  • Do *not* inject anchor text meant to manipulate keyword rankings. Even if it is effective at first, it leaves you open to penalties and will likely need to be cleaned up via disavow or link removal requests later on.
    • Stick with “naked URL” (http://www.example.com), or Brand Name (“ACME Anvils”), and you’ll be fine.
  • Niche directories are great, if you can find them. Industrial manufacturer? Go for ThomasNet. Home service provider? Go for HomeAdvisor. Most niche directories will be hyper-local (City government sites, local chamber of commerce, etc). These are awesome for local businesses.
  • Stick with high authority and avoid the junky, fly-by-nighters. Directories with a DA50+ are probably fine.

Myth #2: SEO is all about “great content”

This section will allow me to flex my tactical SEO muscles while also taking shots at super “white-hat” SEOs that I’ve grown to hate over my nearly 10 years in the business. First, let me explain the history…

Google is trying to reward content that gets naturally popular on the web. This “popularity” is generally about backlinks. Backlinks naturally occur when content is “great” enough to warrant important websites mentioning and linking to it.

This is great and all, but “publish and hope for the best” is not a strategy. If you like blogging, go for it, but I wouldn’t set any expectations for natural backlinks (although you might get lucky). I certainly wouldn’t pay someone any significant sum to do this, not without a specific and detailed promotion plan.

This leads me to my next point. Great content is great, but it’s nothing without promotion. Things don’t go viral on their own, even though it might seem like it after the fact. The truth of the matter is that SEO takes active participation in generating links and exposure. Content is only the beginning.

I’ll go easy on the white-hats for a minute and say that proper outreach to influencers, well crafted and very high quality content can go a long way in furthering SEO efforts. However “publish and pray” is a far cry from this.

Myth #3: Landing Pages Need to be 1000+ Words

I love this myth because it speaks to a much larger problem that effects any blanket “best practice.” The truth of the matter is that landing pages *might* need to be 1000+ words. They might actually need to be 2000+ words. Or they could very well be 500 or less words. It depends entirely on the target keywords.

There is a fun saying that goes, “Google is dumb, but it isn’t stupid.” What this paradoxical saying is trying to get across is that basic SEO is straightforward (domain name + content + keywords + links), but trying to finagle these elements too much won’t get you anywhere.

Just because you need some content on the homepage for a local plumber, doesn’t mean that adding 2000+ words about the intricacies of pipe inspections will make your site rank any higher.

How do you know what word count is appropriate? Simple: take a look at the SERP (search engine result page) for your target keyword. Let’s have a look at one.

Doing a quick search for “Plumber San Antonio,” a very popular local service keyword, we see that local businesses make up 6 out of 10 results on Google’s first page (we’ve removed national sites like HomeAdvisor and Yelp).

See the word counts for these sites below:

san-antonio-plumber-rankings

While we see some instances of 1000+, upwards of 1700 words, the bulk are less than 1000. We even see a site ranking #7 with only 266 words on the page.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is only one keyword and not necessarily typical of your niche. The key takeaway here is to not blindly follow generic recommendations on word count. Sure, more relevant information for your customer the better, but jamming an article at the bottom of the page is a waste of time and a poor user experience.

Conclusion

I hope this has been a fun read and at least a little bit enlightening. Strangely enough, if you take one thing away from this article, it’s that you shouldn’t take any blog post (including this one) as gospel. Trying things out for yourself, see what works, and always keep an open mind, and you’ll go far in any industry (not just SEO).

What myth did you find most surprising? Do you have an SEO question for Michael? Leave a comment below!

mike-hayes

Michael Hayes is the Founder and CEO of Darby Hayes Consulting, a full service Internet Marketing agency based out of NYC.  He can be contacted at mike (at) darbyhayesconsulting.com.  Stay in touch with Darby Hayes Consulting at their Facebook Page.

 
 

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The Benefit of Business Turnover in the New Year

new startA new year brings so much change and often I forget that this applies to my business as well. The transition from December into January can be tumultuous. This is a time when many of my clients will take a close look at their budgets and consider whether or not they’d like to continue my services. I’m grateful that most often they do, but this is also a time of year when I get an email or phone call letting me know that my working relationship with a client will be coming to an end.

For some, it’s because they hired someone internally or plan to have another company they already work with cover some of my services. For others, it’s a budget issue. The past year didn’t produce like they hoped it would and they have to cut back.

I never like “losing” a client; however, I’ve come to find peace in the natural ebb and flow of business that comes with the start of a new year. Here’s why.

The new year also bring news business

The start of a new year is also a time when businesses start looking for additional help. Maybe it’s part of their New Year resolution or maybe they postponed efforts over the holidays, but either way January has historically brought in most of my new business. In retrospect, it’s actually a really good thing that some clients stepped away because this allows me the bandwidth to engage new business.

These clients are no longer a good fit

When a client chooses to discontinue services, for any reason, it’s because we’re no longer a good fit for one another. A client who doesn’t value my services or who no longer has a budget for my work isn’t someone I want to be working with. No one likes a loss in income, but it’s important to always work with clients who benefit from your hard work and can pay you what you’re worth.

I need help saying no

Most importantly, I’ve realized that a turnover in business with the start of a new year often provides me with the margin I need, but often forget to give myself. I am very capable of overloading my schedule and setting ridiculously high expectations that set me up for failure. Clients who step away force me to embrace some newfound free time (even if only for a short while).

How does your business change with the start of a new year? Share a personal experience by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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