Small Business Saturday, You Got This

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Total reported spending reached an estimated $15.4 billion at independent retailers and restaurants for 2016’s version of Small Business Saturday. Woohoo!!! What will Nov. 24, 2017’s edition reveal as consumers are once again urged to shop small and visit the “mom & pop” locally-owned stores on Main Street USA?

That is up to you. Will you your small business be ready to engage with customers? Do you even know which customers to target with your ads? Hopefully your Social Media Mangers does. If not, I’ll give you a hint.

The 20-something’s

New survey from Coupons.com reports that during the 2017 holiday season this group plans to shop in-store more than any other age group.

Jeanette Pavini, Coupons.com savings expert reveals that “20-somethings are savvy, using technology to find the best deals, and knowing not every great deal is online.”

She should know, as understanding how consumers are motivated during key shopping seasons provides Coupons.com with data to translate into more relevant coupons at the right time.

And when you put a Mastercard survey’s results stacked against this one, it should be a great Saturday. Spending growth at mom and pop shops has outpaced that of the big chains in both of the past two years.

Why?

When Americans aren’t shopping online, it’s because they’re looking for more personal connections — and the advice they can receive from local SMBs. That’s the word from Sarah Quinlan, Mastercard, Inc. Senior Vice President.

Tech, on-line shopping, mobile apps, etc. may indeed be the wave of the future for mass shopping, but on an individual level– the community level– chatting with the clerk still holds weight. And when the consumer actually has the opportunity to speak with the store owner, well, that is, as they say money in the pocket.

Will you be working your products & services this Saturday?

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Showing Some Respect for Virtual Assistants

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Absence {distance} makes the heart grow fonder— except apparently in the case of Virtual Assistants from what I read in one social media group’s postings recently. Out of sight and out of mind. Check this out for yourself and tell me if Virtual Assistants in this thread are being treated less like fellow entrepreneurs and more like commodities (I deleted pictures and names of the commenters because I did not secure permission to quote them).

Doctor’s note? Time-waster? Corpo-rats? Common excuse? Needing to go to the hospital is cause for being fired? I found that very harsh. Especially considering some people who leave the corporate world to start their own biz do so because of unsympathetic, unfeeling treatment from that corporate world when they had a personal situation interfere with work.

The question then is: Social Media Managers, when you get busy, where do you turn for help? Virtual Assistants! But, do you hire the services of a Virtual Assistant as an employee, or as a contractor? Consider this additional question, are you an employee of your small business client, or are you contractor?

For answers, I sought out the comments of Social Media Managers within Liz Benny’s “Social Media Monkey” closed page group. Their responses:

“Corpo-rats LOL love it ha-ha. Yes, def too harsh, she is not an employee, but a VA. So yeah, would not get rid of her, I would wish her a good recovery and then make contact again to move on together. You’ve got to be there for your team if you want them to be there for you!” — Federica Marchesini of MJ Social Party Ltd., based in Perth, and serving all of Australia.

Interesting approach. The SMM/VA relationship being less owner/employee and more of a team effort.

“That is tough. Sometimes life happens. Business owners forget that a VA is a contracted business owner – they are not an employee. Many VA’s can do lots of different tasks but they aren’t mind readers – two-way communication is the key.” — Sharon Baillie, speaking from first-hand knowledge as she operates both a social media agency Basically Social in New South Wales, Australia and a VA business Baillie Admin Services.

A virtual assistant (VA) handles daily clerical, scheduling, and technical portions of a business that need to be kept operating smoothly. Virtual assistants work remotely from locations of their own choosing, anywhere in the world.

“I agree with the third commenter in the initial post. I would make note and maybe consider this a potential warning sign, but also just proceed with caution going forward. I agree that these people are being overly harsh. If not three strikes before they’re out, I would hope for two! Things happen!” — Jacquelyn Gutc, of Magpie Media, serving the Detroit area and beyond.

Things happen. You have hired a human VA over a bot VA because you desire the human interaction, you want to set personal parameters based on how you operate your business and the services you offer, not factory default programming.

“I think they are being too hard on them. They are VA’s, they are not employees. My process when I hire a VA is this: I am very specific in the title of what the position is for and how much per hour. That helps eliminate people that are too expensive for my position. I hire one VA for each duty, so I don’t expect a VA to do everything. I am very specific with the description of background/experience I’m looking for and very detailed about the work and number of hours. I ask them to type a word, any word, like “apple” in the subject line to make sure they are reading everything. This eliminates 30-40% of people that respond.

I will usually look at 2-3 people I would hire and give them a short test to do something in the job description and then I judge how well they followed instructions, the quality of the work etc. When hired, I create a SOP or Standard Operating Procedure of the step by step job process. I also establish number of hours and when they will work those hours. If you do all of this, it helps you get a good fit. Things happen, so I would reach out and ask if everything is okay. I wouldn’t be harsh, and I would never ask for a doctor’s note. Just the way I work with VA’s.” Diane Leone of Leone Social, serving St. Augustine Beach, FL and beyond

And for a final word, an actual VA…….

“As a VA myself – I’m a business owner NOT an employee; if I was asked for a doctor’s note, that would be MY red flag to cut ties with that client. Having said that, I would let the client know if I wasn’t able to get their work done on schedule, I would reach out to another VA to help in the meantime until I was back on my feet. I have found that VA’s are a supportive group of people. You NEED to have emergency plans in place when you’re a business owner – not just a VA but for any business.

The only thing this person should be asking is if they are ok, and how long do they think they might be off for. If it’s an extended period then fine, look for another VA so you can meet your deadlines, but this illness may just be a one-off occurrence that just happens. Thank God, this guy is not a client of mine. His attitude is, quite frankly, appalling. Would he ask his accountant or lawyer for a doctor’s note? I’m betting he wouldn’t have the nerve. Pleased to see Anthony that you think these guys were being ‘unjustly’ harsh.”  Carolyn White, of Office Advantage, also serving Australia from New South Wales.

To be, or not to be a Virtual Assistant–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (harsh clients) … or…

What do you think?

Social Media Gone Wrong Kills Small Business

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Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Case in point, the new found “voice” of the people, using the power of social media to make their disapproval as “customers” powerfully effective by destroying an innocent woman’s life. Over the Oct. 14-16 weekend a firestorm was ignited on Facebook when the daughter of coffee shop owner Kato Mele on HER PERSONAL page expressed HER PERSONAL opinion that the Lynn Ma business would never host a ‘‘Coffee with a Cop’’ event.

{Coffee With A Cop is a nationwide project seeking to build trust between police departments and citizens that they serve.}

Being that she was Manager, many people incorrectly assumed that this was an ownership decision and rapid-fire comments and criticism flew, ending with her saying stupid, hateful, vicious things like police were “bullies and racists.”

Upset responders, some quite possibly hiding under the smokescreen of internet anonymity (bots & fake names) shot back with death threats, sexual taunts and un-called for boycotts of the White Rose Coffeehouse.

Just as social media can be a highly positive force for social engagement with customers of a small business, it can also be bastardized into a destructive virus attacking indiscriminately.

The people with the pitchforks insured the coffee shop’s painful death by attacking the small business.

According to an article in the Boston Globe:

They got into the cafe’s Facebook page, leaving hundreds of bad reviews to drive its five-star rating down. Mele’s daughter received rape threats. On Monday, the cafe was slammed with abusive callers, saying horrific things: They hoped Mele and her daughter are ruined, that they never work again, that her daughter drowns. An especially charming bunch of them, parroting a line from the hateful website that played on “coffee with a cop,” said they wanted to have coffee with a c-word.

Regular customers stayed away, whether by fear of attacks on them or because they were misled into believing it was company policy. Their lack of strong support helped nail the doors shut. Nobody apparently bothered to check the facts. Shoot first, ask questions later.

Had the protestors followed rule of law, that someone is innocent until proven guilty, they would have seen that the owner:

  1. ordered her daughter to take down the page,
  2. sent the police a personal apology,
  3. tagged the remarks as ‘‘distasteful, biased and hateful,’’
  4. invited officers to the shop for coffee as a sign they were indeed welcome,
  5. And— fired her daughter.

What Should/Could Be Done?

If an employee of your business was rude & crude to a customer, who then complained on social media, an acceptable response from your business would be an apology, a come back to our biz and we will comp your meal, or outright termination of the employee. And most customers would be satisfied.

Not in this case. Customer flow has trickled down to nothing and as of press time the owner is reported to have decided to close down, packing up perishable inventory for donations to a food shelter. Her dream turned into a nightmare.

And customers have had “their” place taken away by “non-customers.”  The power of social media gone wrong.

What could you do to avoid the damage? Advise employees that although they are free to express their opinions on their social media outlets, do not mention your business or represent an opinion to be representative of the business.

What could you do to contain the damage? Short of having a public relations team or a competent social media manager, depend on the good will, and support of your customers.

Word to the wise, continually build strong customer engagement with your customer base. They are your last, best defense on the social media battlefield.

{Note: Although the offending Facebook comments have been deleted, the Daily Mail managed to dig some up if you want to read what started the fireworks.}

Pet Project by Small Businesses Fosters Community Engagement

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Nearly a dozen, local, pet-related small businesses and organizations answered the call to mount an interactive customer engagement promotion recently in Salem Ma. Rather than be blindly competitive to serve their own needs, they joined together to support a community event to entertain customers.

“Howl-o-ween” was a pet parade and pet costume contest that drew 100 contestants (dogs & cats mostly) and an estimated crowd of several hundred on-lookers.

Customers and non customers (and especially their pets) either took part in the parade, costume contest or applauded in support to make this a really interesting community event that fits in nicely with Salem’s month-long Haunted Happenings celebration of all things Halloween.

Salem Main Streets, which creates and supports numerous community events and initiatives throughout the year to promote the downtown district, thought up & produced this event. It did so with the support of Creative Salem, Salem Pet Photo, the New England Dog Biscuit Company, Artists’ Row, PALS, Black Cat Tours, It’s Reigning Cats and Dogs, Healthy Hounds Doggie Daycare, Penelope’s Pet Boutique, and a number of other community partners.

Yes, there really are that many pet-themed stores in one city.

What could other similar-themed businesses & organizations in your city or town do to engage their community of customers?

6 Social Media Customer Engagement Guidelines Small Biz Should Follow

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Remember in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie when they talked about the “Pirates Code” being more like guidelines than rules? We have something similar in the Social Media world. There are some things that through trial and error we’ve learned you shouldn’t do— unless you want to drive away customers, followers, readers, etc. Not rules, but pretty good guidelines.

Posting is a big one. Don’t over post. Don’t under post. Don’t post irrelevant content. Posting content is what I do for clients, so I do have accumulated experience in this area.

To arrive at the above-mentioned findings, Sprout Social surveyed more than 1,000 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram users to determine what annoys them about brands on social and what drives them to unfollow.

Then the folks at CJG Digital Marketing sifted through the data to produce the following Infographic.

6 Social Media Behaviors to Avoid in 2017 (Infographic) - An Infographic from CJG Digital Marketing

(Embedded from CJG Digital Marketing )

Main thing to absorb is that 2.8 BILLION people use social media. If you are a small business owner or an entrepreneur THOSE are a lot of customers to be ignoring if you aren’t on line— and a lot to be ignoring if you are on social.

To repeat, the six no-no’s that Sprout Social focused on are:

  1. Posting too many promotional messages.
  2. Sharing irrelevant information
  3. Tweeting too frequently.
  4. Using jargon or slang awkwardly
  5. Staying too quiet
  6. Not replying to messages

Think about it and it makes sense. You are on social media not to scream from the rooftops about how good your service or product are. You are here to directly engage with potential customers, not to waste their time.

If you need help with consistent posting of blogs, FB posts or Twitter, feel free to contact me.

Email vs Face-to-Face. And the Winner Is…

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Community involvement by small business merchants is a service I feel very strongly can be used to attract customers and then convert them into being brand ambassadors. Fund-raisers are a prime example. Your store helps promote the bowl-a-thon for the local kids’ club. Parents then support you back with their patronage and positive word of mouth.

But how do you best reach those people?

In today’s 2.0 world, email is the accepted method of contact. Faster, less expensive than letters, flyers and brochures. But, a recent study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, indicates that the 1.0 world of face-to-face gets better results.

What?

Forty-five participants were each required to ask 10 strangers (total sample 450 people) to complete a brief survey. The constant was that each made the same request sticking to the same script; the variable was that half of the participants made requests by email, while the other half went direct with the face-to-face approach.

Survey Results

According to Vanessa K. Bohns, who conducted the survey with Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University, “face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than emailed ones.”

She explained “In our studies, participants were highly attuned to their own trustworthiness and the legitimacy of the action they were asking others to take when they sent their emails. Anchored on this information, they failed to anticipate what the recipients of their emails were likely to see: an untrustworthy email asking them to click on a suspicious link.”

The convenience and cost saving on your end does not balance against the comfort zone encroachment of the community member being solicited for funding.

Want your community project to be a success?

As techie as we may want to be, in this case old-fashioned face-to-face would be the best way to successfully mobilize people to contribute and support.

Memorial Day, Remembering What It Is All About

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Memorial Day means different things to different people. Small business sales. Big box store sales. Grilling burgers. Showing off at the pool. Visiting family. And that is ok, as long as there is at least the one unifying element that at some point in the day you remember what its main reason is… to honor the memory of those who gave their lives in defense of this country through all our wars, “police” actions, skirmishes, operations, battles, whatever you want to call them.

For example, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), this year launched its sixth annual #GoSilent digital activation campaign to ensure that all Americans remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. Participants from across the USA were asked to pledge online to observe a full minute of silence in honor of fallen American service members today at 3pm.

You can do it on your own today as well.

This year, as a part of an ongoing campaign to support women veterans, IAVA will draw extra attention to the nearly 200 women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 and highlight the urgent need to recognize #SheWhoBorneTheBattle.

“Nearly 200 women have been killed since 9/11, yet only 27% of IAVA women members feel the public understands their contributions in the military,” said Allison Jaslow, Executive Director at IAVA. “This year, in addition to reminding Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, we’re also drawing special attention to women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Share a moment of silence with us in honor of all men and women who have fallen in the line of duty, and encourage your fellow Americans to do the same.”

(To learn more about IAVA’s campaign to recognize and improve services for women veterans, visit SheWhoBorneTheBattle.org.)

Jaslow adds, “If you’re at a BBQ, a ballgame or at the beach with your family, you can still take just one minute to join thousands as we #GoSilent. As our country remains deeply divided, this is one easy way for us all to unite as Americans. Everyone can take just one minute on Memorial Day with friends and family to remember the fallen and #GoSilent.”

Jaslow, a combat veterans herself, will also lay a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the fallen on behalf of IAVA members everywhere.

Following the ceremony, IAVA members who have come from all across America will walk together to Section 60 of the Cemetery, to pay respect to many of those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s what just one group of people are doing on this Memorial Day. What are you doing?