Small Biz Growth– With a Little Help from Friends in the Marketplace

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Small businesses in small towns across America are fighting for survival.

But, getting to know the people and small businesses of Wabash Indiana, winner of the Small Business Revolution’s Main Street $500,000 Makeover has been a heartwarming journey, filled with hope and promise when all players in the marketplace come together.

wabashcityFor this makeover, Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe, along with Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec, employed their marketing and business expertise to help six small businesses learn more about what it takes to compete in their local and regional markets.

What is additionally important is that you look at the website that accompanies this series. There is a breakdown of each store’s problems and solutions, complete with actionable advice that could be applied to your business. In other words: Free social media marketing advice!!!

The full details of the project are in my previous blog. Here are the eight episodes so you can binge watch. Do you see any similarities to you, your business, your neighborhood, or town? Learn from the Wabash journey; take from it what you can. Then make your story something worth sharing with others.

(Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Your Blog Intro Paragraph, Setting the Correct Hook

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Introductory paragraphs are fishing trips ripe for disaster; launch yourself using the wrong hooks and lures, and you’ll lose all the fish before you get to the end paragraph.

reelingAn early blog of mine covered this topic and I thought it was time to repeat it for those of you small business owners who are piloting your own blog along the internet waters.

Noted social media influencer Jeff Bullas had recently outlined several literary devices to enhance the enticement and engagement levels of a blog’s first paragraph. I, in turn, shared insights on three of them, based upon my own over 30 years of experience as a print & broadcast writer.

Why not start with a question?

  • I’ve found asking a question to be among the most intriguing openings. By posing a question right away, you drive readers to start thinking; you challenge them to come up with an answer, an answer that lies beneath the waves of paragraphs to come.

Just the facts ma’am

  • On the other hand, years of writing experience have led me to accept statistics and percentages as the most difficult hook, because if done improperly you turn off readers and they swim away. (Bullas dressed this up by suggesting you attribute the facts to a person, thus making the numbers come alive).

To “quote or not to quote”

  • I’ve used quotes as teaser openers in my blogs, articles and columns many times over the years. Find something catchy that your interviewee recounted or advised that relates to your topic in such a way to set the mood, while at the same time “giving away” the sense of what story you are about to tell.

Metaphor.

  • This is an additional option I would suggest; in fact I employed it to kick off this blog. It is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

This option, as do all the others mentioned, set the readers off into a thinking mode, anxious to read on.

And that is the goal of the first paragraph, isn’t it?

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Pokemon Go – How To Lure in Customers to Your Small Biz

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Hula Hoops, pet rocks, Cabbage Patch Kids. Fads come & go. Even the big ones. But Pokemon Go has the added element crucial to your small business that none of the rest had: exterior exploration. The others were played by oneself, in a room or backyard. Pokemon Go takes the player away from home, usually with a partner, walking down the street and past your business.

This gives an entire new meaning to “foot traffic!”

Pokemon Go pixAnd that makes it more than a game. It’s a dynamic marketing opportunity for your Main Street USA brick & mortar store.

Walter Chen just days ago wrote a solid tutorial on the INC website (Pokemon Go Is Driving Insane Amounts of Sales at Small, Local Businesses. Here’s How It Works) as to understanding, and therefore controlling the madness that is Pokemon Go— with the end result being the conversion of Poke-chasers walking past your store into paying customers walking into your business.

In detail he first describes the game, so even non-player Baby Boomer owners on down to Millennial owners with no interest in Pokemon can grasp the parameters within which players operate. This is important to determine how players can be enticed (manipulated?) to alter their “programming” of chasing Pokemon exclusively and instead take a break to purchase your products or services.

Among his recommendations are:

Find Out if Your Business Is a Gym or PokeStop

First move should be to determine if you already are a PokeStop or Gym. These attract foot traffic without any effort: “Players flock to them for rewards and to battle other players- and they can be leveraged for massive sales if you know how,” states Chen.

Sit Back, Throw Down a Lure, and Enjoy the Show

What’s a lure? It is the key to increasing the rate of Pokemon generation for a half hour in the area around the PokeStop. Very important to stopping the foot traffic at your door while players wait for Pokemon to come to them. For example a local biz owner revealed “I own a pizzeria that’s a PokeStop and I literally did this all day. I had a ton of kids and adults (mostly adults) come in for a slice of pizza and a drink until the lure ran out.”

Capitalize on Your Business Being Near a Pokemon Gym

If you are neither a PokeStop nor Gym (where captured creatures do battle against other players’ creatures) then let people know through outside signs and mobile social media that you have related specials, giveaways, etc. You may not know when a group of French tourists or Vegans are coming down the street, but you will know that foot-tired, thirsty Poke players are nearby.

Or, Go Where the Pokemon Are

Chin discusses more points, including delegating to one of your staff the duty of tracking where Pokemon are being heavily found in your community and then devising a way to get your business there (for example if a local park is a hot spot, can you get a food booth or truck out there on a Saturday or Sunday if your small biz is a restaurant or bar?)

As I said, Chen’s article is a thorough primer for the uninitiated to learn and capitalize on a hot fad that may not be leading customers into your store, but at least past your door.

Chin advises “With Pokemon Go, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to create strong emotional bonds with new customers, and for very little money.”

Gotta Catch ‘Em All? The challenges and opportunities for customer engagement await you.

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Monday, Monday — And All Those E-mails

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Had a nice weekend? Didn’t look once at your small business e-mails? Now it’s Monday and you dread the minefield of unwanted communique’s that have been dropped into your small business account? You need to address real customer issues. Here’s a quick way to identify and neutralize: use your e-mail’s search option to unsubscribe! Courtesy of Staples.

Quick, wasn’t it? It’s ok, you can watch it again, considering all the time you just saved in having to “search & destroy” these. Now you can focus on the real e-mails from customers that pertain to your small business.

Making Small Business Saturday Work For You

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Small BizLJust hanging a sign in front of your store, announcing to the world that you are a small business, will not automatically encourage a flock of shoppers to swarm your shelves and counters this weekend on Small Business Saturday. But it will let customers know that you are part of a movement that is looking to alter the “business as usual” Business to Consumer model.

The “conversation” has moved away from the merchant putting a product or service up for sale with the consumer having to take it or leave it. Through social media, customers can share what they like or don’t like about not only what you sell but also how you sell it.

Small Business Saturday affords you the special opportunity to be available that day to chat, mingle, interact and yes, sell to YOUR current AND potential customers.

As Connie Certusi reported in a recent www.entrepreneur.com article “88 million people have shown up to ‘shop small’ since 2010.”

That represents a lot of shopping power to tap into. More than enough reason to make yourself available that day.

Therefore, I see Small Biz Saturday as not just a day of bargains and fun. It’s also a serious day to cement long term relationships. Use social media to not only invite the public, use it during and afterward to gauge their reactions to you & your business. Use social media, don’t be used by it.

In fact Certusi mentions social media in her suggestions of “10 Ways to Prepare for Small Business Saturday.”Key among them are:

  1. Prepare your website
  2. Prioritize customer service
  3. Make your website mobile-friendly
  4. Don’t ignore social media
  5. Advertise online

Certusi hits the mark with her comment that “Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity for small retailers to gain exposure, capitalize on increased sales potential, and foster a sense of community.”

If all you do on Small Business Saturday is hang a promotional poster, it’s no different than filling your Twitter & Facebook posts with self-indulgent sales content with no effort to interact or give value to readers. It’s not a day to stand behind the counter. Mingle with customers, give them a reason to emotionally invest themselves in your vision for your products or services.

Use Small Business Saturday as a launching pad to show how your business can better serve customers than the big ones. And then let your customers spread the word all year long.

 

Millennials Said They’d Rather Do What Than Call Your Customer Service Dept.?

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Millennials would rather get their teeth cleaned than call a customer service line.

So says Rachel Burger in her Customer Think.com article Don’t Talk, Chat: 4 Ways to Tailor Your Customer Service to Millennials. (CustomerThink is a “global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises.”)

There are 80 million millennials in America alone, with an estimated total $200 billion in annual buying power. Wouldn’t you like to know what they are saying about your small business?

Consider this a customer service wake-up call — or rather a non-call — as a recent survey by Kelton Global for Salesforce’s Desk.com also indicates that when millenials have a problem with your product or service, they WILL NOT call. Twitter, Facebook, and on-line chat are pathways they will use to contact you.

Salesforce’s Desk.com is a platform that helps companies organize their customer service channels.

Yes, there are channels. Not just a 1-800 number. Or your store line. Social media channels.

This is a follow-up to my last blog Company Social Media Response Times to Customers Are Unsocial. 

As further proof, Lauren Brousell, who writes for CIO website, refers to that Kelton survey in her article Millennials Skip Traditional Customer Service for Online Troubleshooting. (CIO serves Chief Information Officers other IT leaders).

Brousell reports “81 percent say they would contact brands through social channels. And again, the other generations are also getting in on the action; 63 percent of Gen X-ers and 44 percent of Boomers would use social media for customer service.”

man phone1I found this interesting; most people to date would want to walk through a technical problem with a live person. But if millenials will go to great lengths to avoid a live CSR on the phone for a tech question, why would they bother for a simpler question?

In Burger’s article she points out that in terms of using the phone “32 percent of millennials say that their biggest gripe with customer service is that they cannot reach a live person when they want to.” And that “Millennials prefer live chat because there are no hold times, it’s convenient, and it automatically provides a record of the conversation.”

That preference applies to conversations on Twitter, Facebook and on-line chat.

All this to say that whether your biz is a corporate monolith with fingers stretching across the globe or a single brick/mortar on Main Street USA, customers control how they want to express their needs & frustrations. You can’t force them to talk to you only on the phone and only during your customer service hours.

Again from Burger’s article “Research shows that 78 percent of millennials prefer to receive customer support on Facebook, 43 percent on Twitter, 25 percent on Instagram, and 13 percent on LinkedIn. ”

You might want to listen when they speak. But you better have your Facebook, Twitter and other customer service channels monitored regularly by staff or a social media strategist to hear them.

(Photo courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Creating a Transparent Small Business on Artists’ Row

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Transparency in how you do business takes on a different meaning at Witch City Wicks where owner Liz Frazier lets you actually see how they make their candle products.

Witch City Wicks is an independent and thriving small business based out of Salem, Massachusetts, “the Witch City” from which the name is derived. Each candle is hand-poured in small batches using domestically-grown soy wax, lead free all-cotton wicks, fine fragrance oils and creatively inspired packaging.

“For anyone curious about the process behind creating our products, we’ll also be creating/working on location. You’ll get a unique opportunity to see how things get made.”

Interesting approach…. why go that extra mile?

Witch CityFrazier says, “I definitely feel that the hand-crafted movement is expanding and redefining views on what being creative and artistic can be. These days it’s not strictly putting a paint brush to canvas. And since we’re working and creating our products on site, it seems logical that people be able to watch and chat with us during the process.”

Community interaction is certainly one of the appealing factors of taking part in Salem’s creative business program called Artists’ Row, which runs May-November on a side-street strip of land.

She explains “The programming for Artists’ Row this year was intriguing because it’s showcasing creative businesses, people who hand-craft their products to sell. Hand-crafted items have become a huge element for the creative economy in recent years and it was exciting that Artists’ Row was bringing makers to Salem this year. Being able to start out in this kind of venue is giving us great experience in what it would be like to run our own storefronts, if that’s what we decide to do in the future.”

Witch City Wicks was founded in 2010 by Frazier, a former professional graphic designer, who desired to elevate creative expression from a digital medium to something more tactile.

liz fTo do this, she tapped into social media.

“I have a background in advertising/marketing and social media is a necessity when promoting a brand. In the beginning Facebook was a main channel for promoting for me, but I’d say that Instagram has had the most impact in driving sales. I currently update on Facebook, Twitter (on occasion), Instagram and am starting to tap into Pinterest more.”

Mainly selling through her online shop, Etsy and in person at various markets, the result has been a diverse range of classic and alternatively-themed collections of quality, long-lasting candles, that also enhance home decor.

Asked what was the biggest hurdle to overcome when starting her small business, Frazier says “The biggest hurdle has been tackling work/life balance. When you’re a small business, it’s very easy to get sucked into working all of the time. I have two children, who were very young when I started this, and it was difficult to manage my growing business and making sure my family’s needs were met. It’s still a challenge today.”

Speaking of a challenge, in a city full of artists, what does she feel sets her and her store’s contents apart from others?

“To my knowledge there aren’t many other candle makers in Salem, so I think that is high on the list of what sets me, specifically, apart from other artists. The current lineup of artists at Artists’ Row differ from traditional artists in that while we’re still creative in nature, we produce affordable products for purchase. Not everyone can afford a $400-$800 original painting, but a reasonably priced, hand-crafted item is a bit more tangible and someone gets to take home something that an artist created.”

And not letting an opportunity slip away without asking an expert for a tip, what’s the best way to enjoy a soy candle at home?

“When you light your candle for the first time, make sure the wick is about 1/4″ high. Soy candle wax has a memory of sorts, and will burn best and smell strongest if you establish a good melt pool straight off the bat.”

salem_large“Upon first lighting, please leave it going for between 2-3 hours,” she adds. “This will also help prevent the wax from ‘tunneling.’ Soy candles should never remain lit for longer than 2-3 hours at a stretch, and always let them cool completely before relighting. Once the wax has burned down to about 1/2″, please discontinue use.”

She advises, “You don’t want to scorch the furniture or risk cracking the glass! Store your candles in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.”

Witch City Wicks is located at 24 New Derby Street in Salem’s Artists’ Row.