Build Customer Loyalty by Surprising and Delighting Them

The “mystery” of customer loyalty isn’t really such a mystery. If your business offers unparalleled service, convenience, ease of purchase and, of course, a high-quality product or service, chances are customer loyalty isn’t a big issue.

However, surprising your customers from time to time is another way to ensure repeat business. After all, a happy customer “is a pleasure to have, but an ecstatic one can prove to be the boon for the business,” as MyCustomer notes. Not only are these customers satisfied with your business, but they “also reinforce your brand to … others and will act as your advocates.”

How can you go about surprising and delighting customers and setting the foundation for long-term customer loyalty?

Find out more about your customers.

How long has it been since you surveyed your customer base? If there’s been no recent attempt to collect customer preference data, you’re probably missing out on opportunities to devise new ways to engender greater satisfaction among your customer base.

The National Business Research Instituteoffers these tips for crafting a solid customer survey:

  • Keep your survey and questions brief. Ideally, a customer satisfaction survey should consist of a handful of questions that can be answered within 5-10 minutes (preferably less).
  • Include open-ended questions. Offer customers the chance to respond at length (if that’s their choice) with a few open-ended, non-yes-or-no questions.
  • Respond to any specific complaints. Customers rarely expect a business to act upon a negative response to their surveys. Making that response–or, better yet, acting to rectify a problem–will surprise and delight them.

Making changes in your business as a result of survey response also demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction.

Always be responsive.

Consumers are inured to businesses that never reply to their inquiries and complaints. If your policy is to reply to all customer questions within a 24-hour time frame, you’re well on your way to surprising them and instilling loyalty over the long run.

Offer special benefits to your customers.

Everyone likes getting hold of a discount but when they appear out of the blue, it’s a big, welcome surprise. You know who your best customers are. From time to time, surprise them with a product discount, a special coupon, or some other acknowledgment (like a gift card on their birthday). The amount of goodwill you generate with this act far outweighs any additional cost to your business. Plus–excited and happy customers will let family and friends know about your great gift!

Get your employees in the “customer surprise” mode.

Every interaction with your business is considered a customer experience. This means that everyone within the organization who has direct customer contact should always be ready to go above and beyond.  You might also consider empowering them to make some low-level decision on the spot, regarding refunds or returns.

More importantly, team members in every department should be encouraged and rewarded for creative input on what more can be done to surprise and delight customers. Team members are bound to come up with innovative suggestions to help build customer loyalty.

Ask for (and reward) new customer referrals.

As noted, excited customers are most likely to talk up your business with family and friends. But you don’t need to sit back and wait for word-of-mouth to make its effect known. Create and promote a “customer referral program” that specifically encourages your customers to spread the word in their own communities.

Set up a notification on your website that alerts you when new business comes in through a customer’s referral.  Then be sure to make a big deal out of the experience. Reward the referring customer with a special gift, a promotional discount, or some other effort that acknowledges the good word they put in on your behalf.

Boost customer loyalty with targeted social media efforts.

Social media is an excellent tool for fostering long-term loyalty. As you establish profiles on popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), share valued-added content that either you produce or that you come across that can benefit your followers. Set up alerts so you know whenever your business is mentioned (in a good way or not-so-good way).  And stay responsive to any negative feedback–particularly specific complaints you can address and fix ASAP. Over time, your followers–and others who just “check in” from time to time–will come to see how customer-centric your business is, and want to learn more.

No business can succeed without customers. That’s why inspiring loyalty should be at the top of every small business owner’s priority list.

 


Overcoming Sales Objections

Overcoming sales objections is an important, if generally unpleasant, part of every sales process. A salesperson may sail through a transaction only to find that, at the last minute, the client expresses hesitation or reluctance over a specific element in the proposed deal–and it threatens to fall apart.

Sometimes a salesperson can’t see the objection coming and is caught flat-footed. Willing to preserve the deal at any cost, he or she makes key concessions that were never part of the original negotiations.

But finding yourself off-guard indicates some missing element in your preparation. After all, as Entrepreneur notes, “your job is to overcome those [sales] objections,” because “if everybody were ready to buy right away, sales would be easy and anyone could do it.”

So what are the most common sales objections raised by prospects, and what strategies are most effective in overcoming them?

Best Practices to Overcoming Sales Objections

The personal factor

Some salespeople become personally offended when a client raises a sales objection. This attitude is both irrelevant and self-defeating. The sales process is all about conducting business, so it’s best to leave one’s personal feelings out of the process.

Establishing your credentials

The sales process is built on a foundation of trust and respect. At the outset of the process–and at every succeeding stage, when possible–establish (and re-establish) your sparkling credentials as a sales representative people trust and depend upon. Without becoming obnoxious about it, look at every meeting (or call) as an opportunity to share achievements from your past record–particularly those in areas that are of most importance to the prospect.

Evidence of sales credentials you can share include:

  • Written (or video) testimonials from past clients
  • Favorable online reviews
  • Sales awards, especially any related to “Customer Service”
  • Customer case studies

Demonstrating the positive effect of past sales will likely impress a prospect that you can generate the same results with him or her. This can result in reducing (or eliminating) possible sales objections on the horizon.

Undertake a thorough “sales discovery” process

The more information you gather from a prospect early on, the less chance objections will arise later. That’s why the “sales discovery” is so critically important. In fact, as Business2Communit, notes, “Discovery calls set the tone for the entire relationship a salesperson and a prospect will have, making it a vital piece of sales enablement” and serving as a way to “guide them along the rest of the buyer’s journey.”

Essential components of the sales discovery process include:

Asking the right questions.

Your questions for the prospect should always be open-ended (that is, not prompting a “yes” or “no” response). For example, you might ask, “How would your business improve if you had the right solution to your most pressing problems?” or “What if you could find a product or service that dramatically helps your business and doesn’t cost a lot of money?”

What really hurts?

A prospect may or may not truly understand what they need.  This uncertainty is often the reason they take your sales call in the first place. As noted, asking a series of pointed questions will help you drill down.  Moving beyond surface concerns to a deeper grasp of what the prospect needs (as opposed to some nebulous “wish list”), gives you a leg up in establishing the right rapport with the prospect.

This conversation can lead to mutual enlightenment and a new way of looking at the prospect’s situation.  A scenario which can negate at least some sales objections that would otherwise surface later on.

Be an expert on your own products or services.

Entering a conversation without being fully versed in all of your product or service features and benefits risks inviting client concerns or objections at a later time. Armed with comprehensive knowledge, you can answer any troubling questions at the outset.  A practice which will, hopefully, pave the way towards a smoother sales process.

Common objections salespeople encounter

Sales objections differ according to the circumstances, but several are frequently encountered by sales teams. These include:

Price.

This may be the most common objection raised by a prospect. Unfortunately, as SalesForce notes, “the knee-jerk reaction [among sales professionals] is to immediately offer a lower price.” This strategy “is risky and raises questions about the value of your product,” so it’s better to point out facts that “show the unique value of your product or service.”

Value.

When a prospect says, “I need to give your proposal some thought,” it often means they have concerns regarding the full value of your offering. This can be addressed by, as noted above, illustrating examples of value in your initial conversation. Focus on your company’s proven track record and the ways in which the prospect will benefit.

Need for approval.

Some prospects, fearful of making a costly purchasing decision on their own, refer the sales professional to others higher up in the organization. This can lead to delays in the process and the threat of being overtaken by the competition.

Your goal is to identify all of the key decision-makers (or as much as possible).  You should then try to get them all involved in the process. If a prospect raises this objection, look at it as a chance to meet with every individual who needs to sign off on the deal. Be quick about arranging a follow-up call or meeting with the important decision-makers ASAP.

The time to purchase isn’t right.

Another common objection involves the potential buyer’s abstract desire to put off the purchasing decision for a later date. It’s up to the sales professional to inject urgency into the conversation by:

  • Demonstrating how your product or service can generate favorable results right now; or
  • Offer a limited-time discount or special sales terms designed to appeal to a reluctant prospect

When you overcome this particular objection and subsequently deliver great value, your customer is much more likely to do repeat business (and perhaps under terms more beneficial to your organization).

Inevitably, there will be times when the smartest move you can make is simply walking away from a possible deal. It’s important to anticipate this eventuality.  Doing so can save you from wasting additional time and resources trying to overcome objections that just won’t go away. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence in the life of a savvy sales professional.

Objections are a natural part of the sales process. As shown, the best way to overcoming sales objections is by coming across as an extremely knowledgeable representative of your organization. You should demonstrate again and again that you put the client’s interests first, you will meet those objections head-on and pave the way towards closing the deal sooner rather than later.


The Elevator Pitch Your Business Needs

A strong elevator pitch is (or should be) a key part of your company’s marketing strategy. Can you describe what your business is and how it solves problems in 30-40 seconds? If not, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to build new connections and boost awareness of your brand.

When does an elevator speech come in handy? Opportunities can appear in a wide range of settings. But where you’ll use it most often is at events that revolve around in-person networking – especially at trade shows, industry seminars, business conferences, and so on. You can also use it to great advantage during more informal business gatherings, when you’re meeting people for the first time who are naturally curious about you and your company.

Just remember, an elevator pitch isn’t a hard sell. When communicating with strangers or prospective customers, Inc. notes, “If you’ve only just met them, the best you can ask for is a sympathetic hearing, not a commitment.”

Getting Started

What’s the ideal way to put together your elevator speech?

  • Put words to paper (or on a screen).Get all of your thoughts down for the all-important first draft, knowing beforehand that you’ll be cutting much of it as you move forward. Remember, you have 30-40 seconds at most to make the best case for your business.
  • Describe the problem your target audience faces. Then talk about how your products or services not only address that problem, but offer a working, cost-effective solution.
  • Emphasize the “differentiation factor. Say something about what makes your business different from the competition. Focus on your value proposition and the ways in which your company offers the best options for customers.
  • Anticipate likely questions. A good pitch will generate one or more questions from interested listeners. You probably know from past experience what those questions are likely to concern. Be prepared with quick responses that will satisfy people’s initial curiosity.

Also–and perhaps most importantly–keep your wording simple. In the majority of circumstances, those who are willing to hear out your elevator speech have little or no idea about your industry in general. Using jargon specific to your business, or acronyms that only insiders would know, is virtually guaranteed to make their attention fade. Any technical or obscure words or phrases should be cut after your initial draft.

Put together versions of your pitch in differing lengths. Having more than one pitch in your marketing arsenal, Forbes notes, “can ensure you are always successful in getting your message across, without any embarrassing silences, or mumbling to race the words off your tongue.”

Practice, practice, practice!

What they say about how to get to Carnegie Hall applies equally to your elevator speech. If you want to describe your business in the best possible light in 30-40 seconds, it must come across in an enthusiastic and apparently spontaneous manner. (Of course, it’s anything but spontaneous!) To achieve this goal, it’s necessary to practice a lot.

Start by giving your pitch in front of the mirror. Listen to how well you deliver, or if you stumble over certain spots. Keep your delivery conversational, not rushed. Add some inflection in your voice, so as to communicate excitement about your business. Keep practicing until you have the pitch honed down to an appropriate length.

Then “practice your pitch in front of your friends and ask their opinion.” Encourage friends and colleagues to be honest in their critique, pointing out what worked in your delivery and where it fell short. Use this feedback to go back and refine a bit more.

After that, it’s time to try out your mini-speech on people who have no knowledge of your business and its goods or services. Pay close attention to their facial expressions and body language–any nonverbal cues that alert you to what commands the most attention on their part, and what causes their eyes to glaze over. This can help immeasurably in your final efforts to refine the pitch.

This may seem like a time-consuming task, of which you already have plenty. But you’ll be very glad you took the time to get your elevator speech right, the next time you find yourself in an impromptu conversation with a prospective client or a key decision-maker. Your ability to wow them with a quick, to-the-point description of the value your business provides could pave the way to the next big sale.


How to Become an Industry Expert

Many small business owners feel too modest to assume the title of “industry expert”- even when they possess unmatched knowledge and experience in their field. Such modesty can get in the way of more effectively promoting a business and boosting brand awareness.

By contrast, business owners and CEOs who take on this designation frequently find themselves sought-after on the lecture circuit, in the press, and at prestigious industry conferences and tradeshows.

If opportunities like these appeal to you, it’s time to explore ways in which you, too, can become known as an expert in your field:

Start with your differentiating factor.

As the leader of a successful business, you’re already an expert in your area. To become more widely known, determine and articulate what sets your company apart from the competition. To do this, you must think more deeply about the how and why of that differentiating factor. This way, you start zeroing in on a specific niche, or area of expertise, for which you can become well-known.

Master all elements of your field.

Industry experts are, by definition, supremely well-read and knowledgeable in their area. How do they achieve this status? First, by learning everything they possibly can in this chosen area.  They accomplish this by acquiring knowledge from sources as varied as printed materials, blogs, white papers, webinars and online forums. Absorbing all of this information takes time and effort. But, people expect that when they ask a question of an expert, he or she will be able to provide an illuminating and well-informed answer.  So take the time to amass this knowledge is critical to successfully becoming and industry expert.

Put yourself out there online.

These days, of course, experts are known and followed online–through their own websites and social media platforms.  However, they are also gaining expert status by emerging as a presence on other, trusted sites. Writing a regular blog or hosting an ongoing podcast are currently among the “go-to” venues for spreading the word on a given topic.

Another popular tool is video. It’s easy to establish a YouTube channel, for example, and to start giving short presentations (and slipping in a focused marketing message, as well). With a little preparation and some rehearsal-time, you can make a telegenic presentation with more impact than simple text.

It’s also essential to become more active on social media. As you begin to create new, value-added content to a blog, it’s not difficult to repurpose the material and submit it to sites like LinkedIn, which can dramatically increase your “industry expert” status. Explore the hugely popular world of podcasts. Share industry news and related content on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. This is how you gain currency for your expertise.

Boost your profile within the industry.

Experts are frequent guests at industry conferences, tradeshows, and similar events. As your online stature grows, look into upcoming events where your expertise is most relevant, and contact the event organizers. Being persistent is key to eventually succeeding in landing a gig at an important conference. Presenting there, or participating in a panel discussion, will elevate your status and make your next appearance at a trade show easier to claim.

Leverage your expertise for the media.

Local, regional and national media sites and platforms are always seeking an expert who can provide a “hot take” on a specific issue or controversy. If you reach out to the right places, you can become a trusted source that business reporters call if and when a crisis or other situation arises involving your industry.

It’s also good strategy to pitch stories and ideas to reporters and editors (both in print and online).  But remember, the key to getting placed is to be persistent and creative about it. A fresh slant on a “tired” business topic will get their attention and soon you’ll be developing relationships with these highly influential media people. Your status as a well-regarded industry expert is virtually assured at this point.

A great deal of upfront research and work goes into transforming yourself from a business owner to an industry expert. But the next time you hear or see an expert quoted, remember that you could be the next person being asked for his or her views on a pressing industry-related issue.  And that you’ll be able to reap the rewards of all of the prestige and importance that come with it.


Marketing and Public Speaking as Tools for Your Small Business

The combination of marketing and public speaking has proven immensely successful for a great many small business owners. Standing before a “live audience” is an effective way of building greater brand awareness and impressing a whole new crop of prospective customers.

In other words, done right, marketing and public speaking is a win-win for all involved.

How does becoming a public speaker benefit a business owner?

  • Public speaking demands that an individual analyze his or her proposed content and mold it in ways that emphasize clarity, originality, and concise speech. Being able to thoroughly prepare beforehand, and then making time adjustments in a presentation while standing before an audience, can enhance one’s abilities with respect to making sales calls, negotiating deals, and crafting a new, more imaginative approach to marketing.
  • Public speakers project confidence and powerful self-esteem. These traits inspire trust and faith in those around them, as Upwork notes: “When you speak with more conviction, it may encourage employees, customers, and other supporters to remain passionate and dedicated to your company.”

How marketing and public speaking go together

As you embark on a public speaking venture, you’re also developing new ways to market your small business. For example, as you put together a presentation based on your unique experiences and expertise, you can identify groups that would benefit most from your efforts. Your target audience likely has a calendar of events (conferences, tradeshows, etc.). It’s up to you to locate and identify these groups and events and begin to establish your credentials as a sought-after presenter.

You also learn to tailor your speech to emphasize what’s in it for the audience, rather than making the presentation all about yourself.

“You can’t just give an hour-long sales pitch,” notes Small Biz Triage. The key is identifying a topic “that is useful for audience members, yet related to your business so that they will see you as an expert in the field.”

Other tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your public speaking gig:

  • Use anecdotes or interesting personal experiences to “sneak” a mention of your business into the presentation.
  • Always supply materials audience members can take away from the event. These can range from brochures and fliers to printed slides or samples of your products. Just be sure everything you provide is sufficiently branded (i.e., includes contact information and link to your website.)
  • Distribute a sign-up sheet to audience members. This is a great way to gather potential new leads for sales calls. Just make sure that, in exchange for asking for peoples’ contact information, you offer an appealing incentive, such as free delivery of your company newsletter, a “how-to” sheet addressing some problem common to audience members, a prize drawing, and/or a way to get a discount on your product.

Honing your skills as a public speaker

Some individuals come to public speaking naturally. For most of us, however, this can inspire fear and an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and exposure. It doesn’t have to be that way. Keep these tips in mind as you hone your public speaking skills:

Practice! Regardless of your topic or the length of your scheduled presentation, the only way to really become good at this is through practice. Deliver your speech to a group of friends or family members. Ask them to closely evaluate specific elements, such as:

  • Pace of your delivery (too fast? too slow?)
  • Body language (posture, hand gestures, etc.)
  • Content (how interesting is the topic, where does it fall flat)

Their constructive feedback will help you improve your presentation and move closer to the real thing.

Memorize as much as you can. It’s OK to have notes or an outline on paper in front of you as you speak. But reading from a prepared text is perhaps the biggest mistake a public speaker can make. Your hours of practice should help you be prepared to simply talk to your audience, as if you were engaged in a conversation with them.

Anticipate questions and have answers ready. Speaking of conversation, a good speech includes a brief Q&A session afterwards. As an expert, you have a good idea what questions people are likely to have. Be ready with satisfying and informative answers.

A strong public speaker helps boost awareness of his or her brand. It also makes an indelible impression on people that here is someone who knows his or her business, and might be worth exploring further when the need arises for what products or services the speaker is offering.


Writing and Designing a Call-to-Action that Generates Results

An effective call-to-action might be the answer to this nagging question: Why are prospective customers visiting my website, but not making a purchase? It could be because they don’t understand how to get where they want to go, or because you’re not providing the information they need to move forward.

What does a call-to-action (CTA) consist of? The answer varies depending on what you sell and the design and layout of your business site. But in general, a CTA prompts visitors to take that crucial next step–make a purchase, download a free white paper, share a blog post they like with their friends on social media, etc.

Without this clearly worded suggestion, an interested visitor may not understand exactly how to buy your products or services, and leave frustrated by their experience.

That’s why every small business website needs a strong CTA. Here are tips for writing and designing a CTA for your website that generates actual results:

Know what you want to achieve.

If you’re uncertain at all about how prospective customers should get to the purchasing stage, that will be reflected in your website’s layout and wording. Clarity is the most important element for any CTA, which means you must clearly describe the step or steps you wish the visitor to take. These steps can include:

  • Subscribe to our company newsletter.
  • Contact us immediately for a no-charge consultation.
  • Find out how you can save money with your next purchase.
  • Add to your cart.
  • Take action right away!

A call-to-action “works best when they’re not complicated,” notes The Balance Small Business. The key is to avoid offering too many choices or making it hard for prospective customers “to follow through on what you want them to do.”

Use active words.

There’s no place for the passive voice in a call-to-action. Because the message is brief, every single word counts. Action words, such as “Call us!” or “Download here,” offer easy-to-understand actions the prospective customer should take.

When crafting your CTA, think of words that appeal to a person’s emotions and needs. People want things right now, so words like “today” and “now” and “quickly” will likely resonate with them. People also want to have moreof something, so words that connote an “improved” version of themselves (more beautiful, wealthier, happier, etc.) can have a strong appeal.

And of course, we all want to save money. That’s why the judicious use of words like “free” and “no cost” often catch a visitor’s eye.

Above all, keep the message brief! Under six words is ideal.

Leverage the power of design to boost attention to your CTA.

Generally speaking, it’s strongly advised to include a CTA on every marketing-related message you promote. This includes:

  • Every page of your website
  • All printed materials
  • In your business email signature

Keep wording consistent in your various CTAs, unless you have different offers with which you hope to entice visitors to act.

Other tips:

  • Color can play a key role in attracting visitors to take action. Choose bright colors to highlight the CTA wherever it is on the page. (An eye-pleasing contrast to the page’s background color is an effective strategy.)
  • Don’t be afraid to increase the size of the font in your CTA. It’s meant to stand out, and having larger-sized words will usually get a visitor’s attention.
  • Strategic placement is also important. Wherever possible, feature your CTA “above the fold”–that is, where a visitor to your site is guaranteed to spot it on their screen immediately. If he or she has to scroll down, you may lose a great opportunity to get them to take action.
  • It’s also good to place a CTA at the end of the bottom of each page, or at the end of an article or blog post.

At the same time, don’t overload individual web pages with multiple CTAs. This can have the undesired effect of “cheapening” the look of your site. Just be sure that they stand out, are easy to read, and deliver on what they promise. If a prospective customer clicks on “Download for free!” and they’re taken to a separate registration page, chances are you’ll lose them.

Whether you’re redesigning your website, embarking on a new and exciting email campaign, or simply hoping to boost awareness of your offers, a strong CTA will get the job done!

 


9 Tips to Create a Great Podcast For Your Small Business

Over the past four years, the number of Americans who listen to podcasts has nearly doubled according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. The largest demographic of listeners are millennials who hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Many business owners are joining the ranks of other successful podcasters because the return on investment is great when it comes to retaining listeners. According to Podcast Insights, 80 percent of all podcast listeners keep listening to all episodes they begin every week. Making podcasting a great alternative or supplement to blog posts.

There are many ways small businesses are getting involved. And the good news is that creating a podcast for your small business is relatively simple and – even better – relatively inexpensive.

For example, Rebecca L. Weber hosts a podcast called The Writing Coach Podcast, for freelance writers who are in business for themselves. She offers strategies on how to overcome hurdles like setting company policies, boosting your bottom line and getting clients to pay on time.

Chicago-based Basecamp, a small business that helps other companies to perform digital collaboration, hosts Rework, a podcast that offers tips on more efficient and effective ways to work and run a business.

No matter what type of podcast you hope to create for your small business, before you launch your first episode, here are some tips and tools to consider when starting a podcast.

1. Find a topic that will resonate with listeners.

Think about a topic you can commit to that will resonate with you, your customers and potential clients.

Then ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this podcast?
  • What does success look like?
  • What type of thought leadership do you want to be known for?
  • Is this sustainable for a long period of time?

2. Use a catchy name.

The right name can make a difference. Like a TEDx stretched out over multiple weeks, a podcast is a branding tool that will help you become known for whatever topic you’re speaking about.

ThePodcastHost.com’s Matthew McLean suggests using one of three formats:

1.     Consider a creative name that is abstract but memorable. Think 99% Invisible or The Moth.

2.    Use a descriptive name such as Marketing Over Coffee, Startups for the Rest of Us and The Science of Social Media.

3.    Or use your name such as Noah Kagan Presents, or Chris Ducker Podcast.

3. Get well-designed cover art.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words and having good cover art can make a difference. You can hire a graphic designer, or if you’re savvy enough, do it yourself.

If you’re going the latter route, think about your color schemes and stick to three or four colors. Keep the text simple and easy to read with a design that illustrates the essence of your podcast in an eye-catching simplified manner. Need ideas? Checkout the simplistic design used for the StartUp podcast.

4. Create an intro with music and verbiage.

While having great music isn’t a requirement, it certainly helps. Marmoset curates emerging artists and you can purchase their music via podcast licenses that range from single episode to series use. Other options to purchase podcast music include Jamendo, 909 Music and Envato’s AudioJungle.

Besides having music, structure your podcast intro and outro with a tagline. Your introduction should include the name of your podcast, the episode number, title, identify the name of the host and who you are, information about what the show is going to be about. And make sure your intro sets the tone for your podcast. For example, for a more conversational format, say “I am (insert name)” instead of “My name is (insert name).”

5. Decide on your format.

Being consistent is important. Your audience will come to love and expect a certain format. Decide how you’ll set up your podcast and stick with a format.

Ask yourself, “Do I want to….”

  • Do solo commentary?
  • Conduct one-on-one interviews?
  • Have a panel of guests for an interview or discussion-style show?
  • Do you want it to be conversational and potentially co-hosted?
  • Or more educational with non-fiction storytelling?

As a small business, you’ll want to make sure your voice and tone resonates with your ideal customer and target market.

6. Set up your recording studio.

There’s plenty of equipment you can buy, but start with the basics.

Besides having a good computer, you’ll want a good microphone — not the one that is built into your computer, a usb microphone is best. Consider using Blue Yeti or Audio Technica ATR2100 USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone.

You’ll also likely want a microphone stand or boom arm to hold your microphone like the Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom and a pop filter, a circular piece of mesh that goes between you and the microphone to filter out plosives — sounds that can come out with hard consonants like the letters “p” and b.”

If you are conducting interviews, a good recorder such as the Zoom H6, Zoom H4n Pro can help you record in stereo, multi-track or the 4cH mode which are good for getting live room sound via its built in microphones and two external inputs.

7. Investigate editing tools.

There’s free audio editing software like Audacity and Garage Band. For a more robust program, you can pay a subscription service such as Adobe Audition or a flat fee to Logic Pro. Another option some entrepreneurs are using is Alitu which offers a 7-day trial and can help produce your podcast by cleaning up your audio, trim your recordings, create theme music, add ID3 tags for meta data and publish to your hot for $28 a month.

8. Find a place to host your podcast.

Even if you already have a website and web host, you’ll need someone separate to host your audio files. Libsyn, is one of the most well-known, but there are plenty of others. Each have different algorithms for how they track downloads. We Edit Podcasts offers an extensive list and breakdown on two options.

9. Promote your launch.

Ever since the hit podcast Serial gripped the nation in 2014 with its whodunit investigative reporting about a murder, listening to a podcast has become more mainstream. But how often a podcast is downloaded can vary from a couple hundred to hundreds of thousands per episode.

Encourage listeners to leave reviews. Some podcasts will offer a free Kindle book or read the person’s review on their next episode. Regardless of what your podcast is about, it will take a while to become more comfortable in front of the microphone.

Hosting a podcast is about sharing interesting experiences and giving unique insights into your business or mindset, something only you can provide. By building your brand this way as a small business entrepreneur, you can potentially bring in new customers, create engagement and positive interaction within your community.


How Retailers Can Perfect an Omnichannel Commerce Strategy

Retail has undergone a substantial makeover in the last decade as more Americans shop online. Staying competitive in the e-commerce era is a challenge.  However, it’s one many retailers are adapting to by focusing on an omnichannel approach.

Omni channel retail, or cross-channel retail, aims to create a unified, multi channel experience for shoppers by expanding a brand’s presence beyond a brick-and-mortar store and traditional marketing tactics. It includes selling and other touch points through e-commerce sites, social media, mobile devices, SMS messages and email.  The combination of these allows business owners to create a recognizable digital footprint and a seamless experience for your customers.

Ninety percent of retailers have an omnichannel strategy in place — but they’re not necessarily realizing its full potential. These tips can help you kick your omnichannel efforts into high gear.

Go Where Your Customers Are

Before you can get serious about cross-channel selling, you first have to understand where your customers are spending their time. That includes the websites, search engines, mobile applications and social media channels they frequent.

One way to find out where your customers are online is by using Google Analytics to break down from where the traffic to your website is coming. You can also ask your in-store shoppers to fill out a quick survey online detailing their digital habits, as well as sending out the same survey to your email list subscribers.

Once you know where your customers are most often, you can focus your omnichannel strategy on those channels that have the most potential to generate new sales. For example, you may not want to waste time on a Twitter marketing push if most of your customers hang out on Facebook.

Check Your Tech

Having the right technology in place can make it easier to promote an omnichannel strategy. If your store doesn’t use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, that might be a wise investment for 2019.

A CRM allows you to collect customer data, but perhaps more importantly, it can help you transition from one sales channel to another smoothly, creating a seamless shopping experience. For example, you could use a CRM to analyze customer behavior to create individualized, automated marketing campaigns based on customer preferences, regardless of where they prefer to shop.

Other omnichannel tech solutions you may want to consider include point of sale systems that integrate automatically with e-commerce sites, cloud-based inventory management tools, and monitoring tools that can help you pinpoint what’s working with your online storefront or what’s not.

Not Sure How to Get Started?

As with pretty much everything in life, a simple way to get started is to learn by watching others. Hubspot provides some great examples of brands with an excellent omni channel customer experience.  Some of these examples include brilliant strategies from Disney, Virgin Atlantic, Bank of America, Starbucks and Chipotle.

Emarsys also provides some great examples through Sephora, Crate and Barrel and Walgreens. While these large brands may have a bigger budget and more resources than you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use them a prime source for inspiration.

You can also check out research reports published by companies that focus on existing and future trends. For example, Big Commerce has published the The Global Omni-Channel Consumer Shopping Research Report which provides insights into:

  • How Americans shop across an omni-channel environment, including how much they spend and what they buy.
  • How generations shop as compared to each other, including the multiple channels they each you, which payment options/technologies they prefer.
  • Insights on how to increase conversion rates on all of the channels that make up your omnichannel experience.
  • The things that motivate your audience to purchase.

All of this information can help guide you in enhancing your onmichannel strategy and ultimately increase your customer engagement and improve the user experience for your clients.

Make It Simple

Omnichannel shouldn’t be overly complicated. Ideally, you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to shop either in-store or online.  You also want to ensure that slong with athat ease, you are still giving them a personalized experience. And make it so they keep coming back. These relatively small updates to your existing sales strategy could make a difference in your retail success.


Should I Use Micro-Influencers to Market My Business

By definition, micro-influencers are not celebrities and are not known by the masses. In fact, assuming their niche following is your target audience, their limited reach is what makes their endorsement of your brand valuable. Done correctly, collaboration with micro-influencers may help you establish brand trust and awareness –and it all takes place by proxy.

Here’s a closer look at how to identify potential micro-influencers in your industry, and key considerations if you want to add them to your marketing toolbox.

What is a Micro-Influencer?

Micro-influencers are niche opinion-creators and thought leaders who are respected, trusted, engaged and connected within a very specific audience. Typically, these connections are based on social media and online engagement, but they can have valuable offline relationships, too.

Before there was the Internet or social media, a micro-influencer was the people you’d see in person every day.  A micro-influence may have been the girl in high school whose fashion others wanted to emulate.  Or it could have been the class president who had a knack for turning the student body into fans of a band before they are widely known. The fact that the micro-influencer is perceived as a “normal person” whom others are drawn to and aspire to be like is what makes their opinions valuable.

In digital terms, online audiences perceive a micro-influencer as credible, trusty-worthy and inspiring. The micro-influencer isn’t “off limits” or a celebrity. Collaborating with micro-influencers who are connected with the audiences you want to reach can be a fast-path to building brand awareness.  It is also a great way to build trust for your business.

Why Micro-Influencer Recommendations Matter

The number of social media followers or online subscribers is far less than important than the level of trust and engagement they’ve built with your target audience. Micro-influencers typically have between 1,000 and 50,000 social media followers; a micro-influencer who has considerably more followers may be perceived as less credible by the people you want to reach, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

In a study conducted by Wharton School, marketing professor Dr. Jonah Berger and the Keller Fay Group, 82% of respondents surveyed said they were highly likely to follow the recommendation of a micro-influencer. In the same study, 94% of the respondents said they perceived a micro-influencer as credible and believable.

Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends 2018 report revealed that 55% of respondents surveyed said they discover products that they eventually buy on social media. Of those, 78% saw the product on Facebook, and 59% originally saw products they bought on Pinterest and/or Instagram. Your target audience will determine which specific social media networks could prove most beneficial to your micro-influencer campaigns.

How to Find Micro-Influencers for Your Business

Consider people you currently know.

Do you have loyal customers who leave you glowing reviews, or have a tendency to refer you to others? An employee who has referred several other quality recruits, or posts accolades about your business and how much they enjoy working at it? Do you have an industry colleague who often shares or “likes” what you publish online? All may be potential micro-influencers who can help further your brand awareness.

Search online and on social media by a keyword or topic.

Identify five or more terms, keywords, phrases or buzzwords that are topical and relevant to your industry, and/or the products and services you offer. Type each into the search fields of various social media channels and search engines to see what results. A person who regularly shares information or perspectives on the topic might be a micro-influencer connected to your target market.

Identify goals and possible compensation.

Establish your specific goals to determine fair compensation to offer a potential influencer. You may want to compare to what you’d spend on a more traditional marketing tactic to reach the same goal. For example, if you’d invest $20,000 for a targeted direct mail piece intended to gain 500 new customers, offering several micro-influencers connected with your target audience a few hundred dollars to write a series of social media posts might reach the same audience for much less. The average paid Instagram post for a micro-influencer related to modeling, pets and fitness cost $306-$434 each, while lifestyle posts cost $172 on average, according to a recent analysis by Influence.co.

Allow creative freedom.

Within reason, trust a chosen micro-influencer to know best how to connect with their followers. Posts that are authentic to each micro-influencer’s unique brand and voice often can be the most effective. The post’s imagery and text should support your brand’s values but convey a sense of authenticity. Micro-influencers in the U.S. are required to disclose that the relationship is a paid sponsorship; however, it should not feel like an ad

Invest in consistency.

​Like any form of marketing, repetition may be required before a micro-influencer’s message resonates with the audience. Whether you use micro-influencers on an ongoing basis, for a limited period of time, invest in more than one engagement to increase the chances that your message moves your target audience to learn more about your business.​


How Can I Use Live Video In My Marketing?

If Your Marketing is DOA, Consider Live Video

Every Thursday at 10 a.m., creatives at SociallyIn, a Birmingham social media firm, sit down over cereal to discuss the most important developments in their industry. Oh, and sell their services.

These discussions are broadcast live on Facebook. SociallyIn is one of a growing number of small businesses that see the benefits of live video: 59% of people prefer watching live videos online over a pre-recorded one, and they’ll devote three times more time to them.

“The authentic and ephemeral nature of live videos seems to make them especially attractive and meaningful to social media users,” explains marketer Aleh Barysevich. “Live videos increase the perceived trustworthiness and relevance of a brand.”

New Products, New Impact

Live videos can be employed for many purposes, including announcing new staff members, showing how to use your product, and introducing new goods and services. They can be used to provide exclusive content and discount codes.

For example, Chelsea Serra-Wallace, who owns Annie & Oliver children’s boutique in Midland, Michigan, uses live videos on Facebook and Instagram the night before Black Friday to announce sale items. The timeliness ensures that she will still have the goods in stock.

Best of all, live videos aren’t exacting. Generally, the only equipment you need is a smartphone, adequate lighting, and a quiet space with a good Internet connection. “The content doesn’t depend on a professional camera crew or even an expensive venue,” said marketer Jason Unrau. “And while you can pay to boost your posts after the fact, Facebook and Instagram do the work for you by featuring live videos higher up in their feeds.” In addition, social media platforms, such as youtube live and facebook live make it simple by a place to host your live video content.

Here are four ways to make your live video stand out:

Pick Your Point. A live video should have a strong focus. “One video, one big point,” said Kathy Klotz-Guest, author of “Stop Boring Me!: How to Create Kick-Ass Marketing.”

“Be really clear on who your audience is, what the need, and who you are. Treat it like a show – not a collection of videos.”

Test Your Equipment. Just as you want to work out your material in advance, check that your equipment is functioning properly. Run a full test, paying particular attention to lighting and sound — which can often be problematic for first-time streamers.

Consider Captions. YouTube allows content creators to add real-time captions to their live videos. You can even automatically generate captions with the platform’s live automatic speech recognition technology. This can be a great asset to viewers who are hard-of-hearing, as well as the many people who watch videos with the mute button on.

Promote the event. Don’t just throw up a live stream, hoping an audience will appear. SociallyIn touts their weekly meeting in Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and Instagram stories.

Re-purpose your videos. Once your live event has passed, re-use your video in other marketing campaigns to further engage with your audience. You can reference them in blog posts, as part of live q&a sessions, to provide a sneak peek to other upcoming events and as paid social media ads.

If you feel customers aren’t responding to your current marketing efforts, consider adding live videos to your content marketing mix.


Customer Journey Mapping: What It is, and Why Your Business Needs to Do It

Ever wished you could read your customers’ minds?

Customer journey mapping can help provide that insight. According to some industry reports, it might even boost your return on marketing investment by more than 50%! Here’s a closer look at customer journey maps, including: what they are, the benefits they may offer your business and how to get started with customer journey maps to identify how to help your customers reach a purchase decision as quickly as possible

What is Customer Journey Mapping?

Customer journey mapping is a visual representation of the many steps your customer may move through when deciding to buy from your business. An effective customer journey map has a defined beginning and end. It also identifies the customer’s goals, needs, and pain points throughout the journey. Additionally, the map can take into account that a customer’s decision-making journey may not be a linear process.

What’s the Benefit of a Customer Journey Map?

Between the time a customer has interest in a product to the time they purchase, a customer may make many mental detours. The more you understand about their process, the better equipped you are to be able to give them the “nudge” they need to buy from your business. Mapping the customer journey can provide you with insights you need in order to provide customers with contextually relevant messages, offers or information based on their point in the journey. Additionally, mapping may help indicate where roadblocks may exist that prevent customers from deciding to buy.

How Do You Create a Customer Journey Map?

Customer journey maps can be created on a large piece of paper, in a spreadsheet, or using a free downloadable customer journey template like this one provided by Interaction Design Foundation. Whatever format you choose, follow these steps to simplify the process:

Build personas of your customers and prospects.

Your customer personas should include:

  • Demographic Information – demographic information is the socio-economic characteristics of your customers. Demographics include information such as age. gender, income, occupation, education, geographic location, and marital status. Demographics, basically tell you “who” your buyers are.
  • Psychographic Details – psychographic details are psychological attributes of your customers. Psychographics include information such as hobbies, interests, values, concerns, etc. Where demographics tell you “who” your customers are, psychograpics tell you “why” your customers buy.

Your profile does not need to be longer than one or two paragraphs. The intent is to provide a “day in the life” snapshot of who you think your customer is, and what you think they value. Take a look at this example persona featured by Venngage:

what-is-a-customer-journey-map
Source: Venngage

 

Validate/refine personas based on real data. 

Once you’ve written customer personas, test your knowledge. Interview a cross-section of existing customers and prospects. This will give you a clearer perspective of the many types of audiences your business serves. It will also provide a deeper understanding of their motivations for potentially buying what you sell. Conduct focus groups, distribute surveys via email or social media, interview customers by phone, or use a combination of tactics. Once interviews are complete, revise your personas as needed to reflect the deeper insights your research revealed about audience needs, wants and values.

Examine your customer touchpoints.

Touch points are the many ways your customers and prospects engage with your brand; touch points may include your website, social media networks, online advertising, your brick and mortar environment, phone, mail, and email.

Three Rooms provides a great breakdown of key touch points – many of which you may not even have thought of as actual touch points!

Source: Three Rooms

Now that you have a full understanding of customer touch points, think of the ones that your customer experiences. What actions occur when they do encounter those touch points? How could you potentially adapt your touch points to remove obstacles the customer experiences in the current buying journey? The fewer touch points the customer has to experience to reach a resolution (ideally, buying what you sell), the more effective your marketing efforts become. Effective marketing leads to a better customer interaction with your company becomes,  increasing customer satisfaction in the long term.

Map your customer journey.

Using the personas you created as a guide, start your customer journey map with the customer’s realization of a need, want or problem (this the beginning of the journey); the journey concludes with the customer’s resolution of the problem.

As you build your map, consider what processes or messages your business could adjust in order to help customers come to a buying decision more quickly. Some businesses, for example, may find that automated chat features on a website can quickly address customer questions, reducing buyer hesitancy. Others may find that providing competitor pricing for the same product convinces customers to complete a purchase.

Your customer journey maps are unique to your business.  Your map can indicate ways to better serve prospects and customers.  It can also increase the value of your marketing investments while improving the customer experience. When you’re open to the insights your customer journey maps reveal, you may find that your business has opportunities to gain a competitive edge and transform customer interest into action that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.


Keep your customers by supporting their healthy lifestyle changes

If you own or run a food or restaurant business, you know how food trends may boost sales. While some trends last for a few weeks and are simply fads (fondue, foam, and food with added caffeine), others become more mainstream and last a lifetime (sushi, huevos rancheros, or anything organic). In urban areas, healthy trends remain important for much of the world’s population. This is especially the case in the first few months of the year as people work toward achieving their New Year’s resolutions.

Here are five healthy food trends data shows are likely here to stay, as customers have purchased an increasing number of these products in recent years:

1. Faux Meat Offerings

As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, alternative protein sources have become more popular. Both startups and established companies are perfecting ways to make faux meat tastier. All of which is helping to fuel this trend. There are two leading providers of high quality and tasty faux meat in the United States, Impossible Foods who makes the Impossible Burger, and Beyond Meat. These products have already gone mainstream. The Beyond Meat Burger is now available at all 469 TGI Fridays restaurants in the United States. For business owners, faux meat is easy to cook and easy to substitute into your existing dishes.

2. Hemp and CBD products

As marijuana has been legalized in nine American states, other products derived from the marijuana plant that don’t contain psychoactive or mind altering substances are now being incorporated into food products because of the potential health benefits they offer. You can incorporate CBD oil into a variety of products ranging from coffee to cookies to juice to tea. Treats made with this oil are known to be stress and anxiety relieving. Hemp has several properties considered beneficial to health, including its ability to balance hormones, improve mood, and assist with both pain and sleep. Even large chain stores like 7-11 are joining in: hemp-derived CBD products are now available in up to 4,500 stores.

3. Seaweed and other deep sea snacks

The oceans are rife with plant life consumers are finding both tasty and nutritious. As harvesting methods have improved, so have their snack byproducts. Healthline reports that there are many benefits to consuming seaweed snacks, including that they:

    • Are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including iodine and tyrosine.
    • Contains a variety of antioxidants.
    • Provide fiber and polysaccharides to support gut health.
    • May help lose weight by delaying hunger and thereby reduce weight.
    • May reduce heart disease risk.

If you own a restaurant, you can easily add some crispy seaweed snacks to your menu as a starter. And if you own a store, stocking seaweed snacks is as “simple” as creating some extra counter space. The Japanese have been seaweed aficionados for centuries.  So, if this trend is anything like sushi…well, it’s not going away anytime soon.

4. Fermented foods

Whether you’re a fan of Korean kimchi, new age kombucha, or good, old-fashioned American pickles, fermented foods are likely here to stay. Filled with probiotics to help make diners’ guts strong, fermented foods make for tasty side dishes, replacing foods like fries. Another benefit of fermented foods is that they are easy to make and may be stored for long periods.

5. Plant-based frozen treats

As dietary restrictions around New Year’s resolutions can curb traditional dairy ice cream consumption, chefs are finding other natural ways to create frozen desserts. Instead of classic milk-based ice cream, these chefs are using ingredients like plant-based milks and frozen fruits are sweetening frozen treats and not sacrificing taste! Here are nine dairy free vegan friendly recipes to get you introduced to the world of vegan frozen treats.

As a food or restaurant business owner, you can be inventive; you can test out a new recipe based on these emerging trends without taking on much risk. If it sells out quickly, you know your customers want it. And while fads like juice cleanses may come and go, these emerging trends may make your offerings more appealing to customers throughout the year.


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