Archive for the ‘small business growth’ Category

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Consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to buy

In mid 2015 Google announced that mobile-friendly websites will be rewarded with higher rankings on searches done using mobile devices. Ranking higher definitely means more exposure for your small business.

The latest consumer statistics show that Smartphones and emerging mobile devices e.g. Smartwatches are increasingly becoming more popular for purposes of searching the internet. Clearly, more mobile visitors are what entrepreneurs need in order to boost sales volumes. Accordingly, it’s well worth knowing just how to go about doing this…the infographic below will help you do exactly that.

How to Get More Sales From Your Mobile Visitors
Courtesy of: Quick Sprout

While it’s good to know that having a mobile-friendly website will help to enhance the success of your small business, it’s definitely worth appreciating the fact that you also need to work smart. You see, spending more of your time working doesn’t always mean you’ll be successful.

The key to being a successful person is not working more, but working less and working smarter. If you want to be successful, get more done, and work less, take some time to learn from these 7 practices of successful people.

How Successful People Work Less and Get More Done

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Aspiring entrepreneurs can at least take heart in the fact that not all of the available stats about business failure are credible. One of the foremost of these invalid stats is attributed to a study done by Bloomberg and which declares that 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months. The stat has been widely referenced including here. It’s sort of reassuring that this particular study is non-existent.

According to the SBA approximately 50% of new businesses survive for 5+ years while about one-third survive for 10+ years. There is however sufficient reason to question this statistic as well and this has to do with how the reason for failure is defined. Indeed, businesses close down for a variety of reasons, apart from failure. The SBA’s stat is therefore inaccurate.

This position is supported by a University of Tennessee 2013 study which showed that only 25% of businesses failed in Year 1 while just 36% failed in Year 2. An alternative independent study estimates the number of closures at 3% to 25%.

I digress though. This post isn’t about business failure stats but rather the reasons why new businesses fail.

Hopefully you are now more upbeat about launching your business venture. Don’t let your optimism cloud prudence though. Here are some reasons why your startup could make the annual damned 25% list:

1. Your motivations for entrepreneurship are misguided

To succeed in an entrepreneurial career you have to be pragmatic right from the get-go. In addition to having a passion for what you intend to do, your reasons for starting a business should be based on a practical foundation. Your startup must be focused on providing a practical solution for an identified need in the market.

Business failure is a harsh reality...

Business failure is a harsh reality…

If your reasons for starting a business are to make more money, escape the 9-to-5 lifestyle and be answerable to yourself only, etc, you clearly need to rethink things. These are the perks of a successful entrepreneurial lifestyle and they don’t come easy. In entrepreneurship things typically get worse before they get better.

2. Lack of a unique value proposition and innovativeness

Deciding to offer a product/service that virtually everyone else is providing and doing this in the exact same way is really business suicide. Naturally you will have to contend with poor revenues month after month. The probability of making real progress is virtually zero – how can this happen when you are barely able to make enough?

Many businesses offer the same products/services but the most successful among them are the ones that do this in a unique way. Think about your business – what can you do to set it apart from the rest? Once you find the answer make sure that this uniqueness is well communicated to the target market.

3. Ignoring customers feedback

One adage that you must never forget as a business owner is that the customer is always right. The reason is simple – without customers your business is useless. Engaging with your customers therefore will give you a firsthand opportunity to learn about those things they feel will make their buying experience better. Customers feedback, whether offline or online, will give you hints about what to improve on with regards to your product/service, business practices, pricing, etc. Ignore feedback at your peril – when customers decide to ignore you back the failure list could be where you are headed.

Ignoring customers feedback is the one-way street to business oblivion...

Ignoring customers feedback is the one-way street to business oblivion…

4. Incompetent management

Being the owner of a new small business often means that you are in charge of just about every aspect of running the enterprise. You are therefore supposed to handle or oversee the critical roles of production, sales, purchasing, finance, marketing, customer relations, hiring and managing staff, etc. Don’t forget that you are the custodian of the company’s mission and vision – in charge of providing direction and strategically steering the company forward.

Business success depends on how well an entrepreneur handles the managerial role...

Business success depends on how well an entrepreneur handles the managerial role…

The characteristic volatility of the workplace and marketplace ensures that no two days are the same. To be successful as a manager therefore you must learn how to be proactive and to stay on top of things. Indecision, neglect, lethargy and other qualities of this ilk are the hallmarks of a poor and dysfunctional leader.

5. Insufficient capital and poor cash flow

One very significant reason why many startups fail is the lack of sufficient funding. Before launching a business you must ensure that you have enough funds to cater for startup costs and to support operations until the venture becomes self-supporting. Clearly one needs to be realistic. Businesses do take some time to get going. Having enough funds to cater for operational expenses for a year or two is advisable in order to give the business ample opportunity to establish itself in the market.

6. Financial mismanagement

Failing to properly account for business money is a sure path to early failure. From a financial perspective, effectively running a business means that you’ve got a grip on cash flow, expenses, taxes, employee salaries and benefits, etc. Many business owners opt to delegate this aspect of running a business to accountants or bookkeepers out of sheer reluctance to learn the basics of money management. Opt to not be ignorant. At the very least you should be able to understand simple financial documentation including a balance sheet, P&L statement account and a cash flow statement.

7. Poor location

Even the best funded and managed startup will find it difficult to survive and thrive if the location is wanting.

Consider the spot where you intend to open shop. Is it easily accessible for your target customers and suppliers? Is it secure? Are all the necessary amenities provided? Is the local community receptive or hostile to new businesses? Is the cost running the business from there manageable? Would it be wiser to relocate to a cheaper neighborhood?

An unsuitable location does your business a major disservice

Are you sure that your business’ location can’t be better?

8. Failure to adapt to market changes

The marketplace is typically dynamic – never static. Your initial business model may be working wonderfully for now but moving forward you’ll need to adapt to the changes in the marketplace in order to remain relevant. Many a business owner has opted to adamantly maintain status quo in the face of changing times only to make a belated realization that in the business world it is “adapt or die”.

9. Ineffective marketing

It’s no good to have a superb product or service if no one knows about it. If they don’t know about it they won’t buy it and if they don’t buy it you’ll be out of business. Marketing is therefore imperative for business success.

Marketing doesn’t have to be all complicated and expensive. Depending on what you are offering you definitely have several cost-effective options to consider starting with word-of-mouth which is absolutely free. How about using social media to spread the word even further?

10. Overambitious expansion

Upon achieving early business success many entrepreneurs erroneously embark on an expansion spree without adequately thinking about whether the move could be premature. The reasons for success vary and could indeed be temporal. For this reason, steady business growth is most advisable. Expansion efforts should be based on well observed and deliberated business realities as well as marketplace trends and opportunities. Steady growth will allow you ample time to secure the required systems and people that will give the new addition to your business a fair shot at success.

11. Hiring the wrong team

Successful entrepreneurs will tell you that nothing quite beats having a good team. Your staff should be individuals who are equally motivated to succeed and see the business grow and go places. It is therefore important for you to hire people who can talk and walk the part. Getting such people won’t be easy but once you find them make sure that they have a good reason to stay.

Hiring a dysfunctional team is catastrophic for business sucess

Hiring a dysfunctional team is catastrophic for business success

12. Lack of a website or any online presence

The number of people with Internet access globally is at an all-time high and continues to rise by the day. As such, conventional methods of conducting business searches are being tossed aside in favor of online convenience. The lack of an online presence is therefore counter-effective for a modern-day business. Even though your business doesn’t sell goods/services online it is of utmost importance that people know about its existence. The site must of course be presentable enough so as not to put off potential customers.

It's of the essence to ensure that your small business has an online presence

It’s of the essence to ensure that your small business has an online presence

The least you should do in case you don’t have a website is become part of the social media conversation. Starting a company Twitter or Facebook account is a more than sufficient way to guarantee your business’ visibility and relevance.

13. Underestimating the competition

For a new business, gaining customer loyalty is quite akin to wooing a beautiful lady – the loyalty has to be earned, and the suitors are plentiful. As such, you cannot afford to take your customers for granted assuming that they’ll always come back for more. Remember that the competition is eyeing the same target market; up the game best and the customers will come in droves, remain mediocre and stare failure in the face.

14. The belief that you can do it all

However high your motivation and energy levels are it will be foolhardy for you to believe that you can alone deliver success for your business. It’s prudent therefore to seek advice from persons with longer and better experience about how best various aspects of business operations can be handled. Delegating tasks to capable staff is equally vital.

Why risk burnout and the failure of your business when all you have to do is ask for a little help?

Why risk burnout and the failure of your business when all you have to do is ask for a little help?

15. Unwillingness to take responsibility

As the business owner you must be willing to admit and own your mistakes without exception. Apportioning blame to others or to circumstances will only briefly soothe the ego but the realities of the situation will still need to be addressed. Running a small business successfully is about the ability to remain objective and goals-oriented.

Hope springs eternal though. Things may be really grim for your business venture right now but hopefully it isn’t too late for you to turn things around. It’s not going to be easy but if you are committed to the cause your entrepreneurial dream need not be added to the “crashed and burnt” list. Here are some tips for how you can turn around the fortunes of your business for the better.

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The United States Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy asserts that small businesses make up 99.7% of all U.S. firms. It’s therefore safe to say that small businesses are the economy’s driving force.

Starting a small business is basically about setting up shop, finding clients and earning money. This is true for whatever form of business you plan to start.

Several more traits are also used to define small businesses as follows:

1. Low startup costs

Depending on the specific type of small business, startup costs are typically quite low. A retailing business doesn’t have to start big; simply buying the initial inventory and renting a suitable space will do. A consultancy service doesn’t have to start in a plush office with a flashy address; starting out in your home office where the overhead costs are minimal is certainly prudent.

2. Just a few employees

It’s typical of a small business to have a single worker – the owner. For this reason these businesses are commonly referred to as “one-man-shows”.

Nevertheless, as operations grow you may need to hire a number of employees. To keep your operating costs low you may, like many other small business owners, find it feasible to hire independent contractors or freelancers.

3. Small market share and intense competition

A small business serves just a small portion of the market. This is as compared to the significantly larger shares of the same market that corporations and larger businesses can control thanks to their bigger capacities.

Also, since there are a huge number of small businesses that need to compete for business opportunities in the same market, competition is rife. This typically results in product/service innovation and differentiation.

4. Limited budgets and funding

As compared to larger firms, small businesses typically operate with limited budgets. With their limited finances these enterprises have little or no choice but to keep their costs of doing business low. Cost-efficiency is the name of the game for small business owners.

5. A single location

Most small businesses operate from a single location; not many of these businesses have branches or outlets in multiple cities or states. Also, the rising prominence of home-based businesses means that a significant number of enterprises are now operating without formal business facilities. To their credit, many small businesses now have a global reach thanks to running internet-based operations.

Every role that an entrepreneur needs to play requires proactive thinking. Do you have what it takes?

Every role that an entrepreneur needs to play requires proactive thinking. Do you have what it takes?

You’ve now launched your own business. A long-cherished dream has finally seen the light of day. Deep within you truly desire to succeed. You’ve read about what legendary entrepreneurs have and are doing to ensure that they are always at the top. You know that being an entrepreneur means you are responsible for making your vision of success a reality. You also understand that this responsibility will require you to play a number of roles. Well, here are some of the different hats you’ll have to wear.

You certainly don’t need to be good at all these roles to be a successful entrepreneur. What you aren’t good at – at the onset – can always be improved upon with time.

1. Head of new customer acquisition

You’ll need clients for your products/services. Unfortunately, they won’t start coming to your premises automatically; you’ll need to attract and then convince them to start spending their money on what you have to offer. At this point in time you already know who your ideal target customers are. You just need to find the best message that will strike a chord with them.

Reaching out to your target customers appropriately will bring them in droves...

Reaching out to your target customers appropriately will bring them in droves…

Marketing your business will be a continuous effort moving forward. You’ll always need to create relevance for your business in order to keep drawing in new clients.

2. Customer experience and service architect

Once customers have started trickling in, it’s upon you to ensure that all their interactions with your business are top-notch. Customers should be assured of satisfaction whatever their engagement with your business involves. This is what superb customer experience is all about – and it starts right from your mission statement which you always have to live up to.

Top entrepreneurs understand that keeping their customers satisfied is absolutely vital.

Top entrepreneurs understand that keeping their customers satisfied is absolutely vital.

Your customer experience strategy will need to be complemented by exemplary customer service which involves all the things a business needs to do to make a customer feel valued and important.

3. Chief salesman

Making sales is the only way your business is going to earn revenue. Ideally, the healthier your sales volumes, the higher your revenues and profits will be. Ensuring that your product/service gets out there and convincing people to spend money on it is an art that you must perfect. Even if you have a sales team it is clear that they will look up to you for inspiration and direction. Simply put, if you lack passion for your product/service don’t expect the sales team to work miracles on the ground.

Self-explanatory.

Self-explanatory.

Selling is an aspect of business where your input on the front lines is really required Steve Jobs-style. Interactions with your customers will reveal many pointers and ideas that you can take advantage of in order to make your sales effort more precise and focused.

4. Minding the business’ coffers

It’s quite ironic that for many entrepreneurs the sight of a healthy bottom line is what causes them to grin widest yet they are stubbornly hesitant to learn about how to prepare balance sheets, profit and loss statements and cash flow statements. While finding and paying fine accountants and bookkeepers to handle these matters on your behalf is undeniably convenient, the truth of the matter is that entrepreneurs who are personally involved in their business’ financial matters are best placed to lead their ventures to long-term success.

Successful entrepreneurs are involved with the money right from the get go...

Successful entrepreneurs are involved with the money right from the get go…

Being in charge of the financials will enable you to among other things know your business’ health, be sure of its tax compliance, and be able to monitor trends such that you can plan ahead based on facts rather than assumptions.

5. Undisputed team leader

As the business owner you also have the distinction of being employee #1. This means that even if your business does not hire other people you’ll be responsible for leading yourself. Being team leader means that you’ll have to espouse all the qualities of an efficient team and lead from the front.

There can be no other way for entrepreneurs to lead - it must be from the front

There can be no other way for entrepreneurs to lead – it must be from the front

Running a business successfully is no walk in the park – it requires dedication, commitment, zeal and focus from everyone involved. The team will eagerly play ball if they see you doing your part with vim and then some.

6. Head visionary and strategist

How big do you wish to grow your business? Does your vision portend success? To achieve mega growth you will need to have a solid strategy for the future. Indeed the most successful entrepreneurs have all grown from the ground up because one eye is firmly fixed on the big picture.

Successful entrepreneurs look at the big picture and strategize on how to get there...

Successful entrepreneurs look at the big picture and strategize on how to get there…

As such, even as you are engaged in the day to day running of your nascent business’ operations, you should ensure that all the present effort is essentially about preparing the groundwork for future growth and success. Long-term vision is imperative.

7. Head of creativity and innovation

Unless you are dealing with something quite unique that virtually nobody else can offer e.g. corks then constantly wearing your thinking cap is not an option. Why? You need to ensure that your business will always remain relevant and competitive.

New and relevant ideas will be key for your business'success...

New and relevant ideas will be key for your business’success…

Businesses often reinvent themselves after their previous brilliant offerings become obsolete. Reinvention is about progressively providing new offerings that can satisfy the needs of your customers. Reinventing is actually an investment of time, money and brain cells. Done well, you’ll certainly reap handsomely moving forward.

8. Chief perceiver of opportunity

Your ability to utilize the entrepreneurial qualities of foresight, instinct and alertness will definitely contribute to your business success. Given the dynamic nature of societal trends, new opportunities and possibilities are constantly being revealed. Only the entrepreneurial eye can identify these opportunities and only the entrepreneurial mind can come up with a blueprint of how to harness them profitably.

As an entrepreneur you need the ability to sense opportunity...

As an entrepreneur you need the ability to sense opportunity…

You therefore always need to keep an eye on trends. Specifically, you need to be aware of changing needs and requirements with the aim of providing innovative solutions.

9. Informed risk-taker

This role is ideally connected to that on opportunity perception described in the previous point. Entrepreneurial risk-taking describes the willingness to perform the actions required to harness an identified business opportunity knowing full well that the actions could result in profit or loss.

...as well as the skill and capacity to make a profitable swoop

…as well as the skill and capacity to make a profitable swoop

As such, considering the unknowable nature of the result you expect, your actions in this regard will need to be based on informed assumptions. It is for this reason that many successful entrepreneurs have on several occasions invested time and money in seemingly profitable opportunities only to have their fingers burnt. On most occasions though, these entrepreneurs’ achievements can justly be described as legendary.

10. Motivation guru

The rigors of running a business are such that you’ll always need steady hands to steer the vessel forward towards success. Even so, the exertion will regularly take a toll on you and the team hence the need for everyone to enjoy some down time for purposes of re-energizing.

Every team member needs to feel fully appreciated and involved in order to be optimally productive

Every team member needs to feel fully appreciated and involved in order to be optimally productive

Keeping the team well motivated is essential and there are many ways to do this besides paying competitive salaries. You can start by making the workplace atmosphere and culture truly conducive to productivity. It is also vital to make the team part of your vision; you can really use some of the bright ideas and suggestions your team can offer. Rewarding effort and goal achievement is also imperative.

Your customers and prospects should never have to wear this expression...

Your customers and prospects should never have to wear this expression…

Consider the following facts and stats about customer service:

  • 80% of people who do not receive good service do not complain
  • 73% complain when things go badly wrong
  • A person who does complain tells nine people
  • 12-16% leave without registering a complaint after receiving poor service
  • 10-30% of customers leave after one complaint
  • >80% leave if they have experienced three or more mistakes
  • 5% increase in retention increases profits by 25-125%
  • Acquiring new customers can cost five times more than satisfying and retaining current customers.

Looking at these pointers it is clear that whether you are running an online store or a brick-and-mortar outfit, customer satisfaction is at the heart of your business’ success.

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Providing stellar customer service is really not that hard. Once you get started you just need to maintain the habit. Knowing how necessary this is for your business’ success is definitely sufficient motivation to keep you on course.

Good service is good business. ~ Siebel Ad

The following customer service practices need to become synonymous with your business:

1. Easy accessibility

How easy is it for customers to contact you? Being easily accessible is one of the small joys you should never deny your customers. There’s really no joy in being the proverbial needle in a haystack, or do you have something to hide? And who says that all calls are trouble? You could be ignoring a huge order.

Customers and prospects should easily be able to reach you via several channels of communication...

Customers and prospects should easily be able to reach you via several channels of communication…

Accordingly, ensure that your contact information is readily available. Also, whatever the channel of communication is, don’t make customers wait too long to get a response from you; having to run after them after they become disgruntled won’t be much fun.

You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work. ~ Laurie McIntosh

2. Taking responsibility

As a small business owner you need to realize that you are your product or service. Your employees, if any, need to realize that when dealing with customers they are the voice of the business. It should be clear that they need to stand behind the business’ products and services. This applies regardless of whether the product/service you are offering has been created in-house or if you are distributing/wholesaling/retailing a product.

Fighting customers over faulty products you sold to them is a quick way to ruin your business' reputation

Fighting customers over faulty products you sold to them is a quick way to ruin your business’ reputation

Should anything be the matter with what you are selling, customers will expect you to take responsibility for the fault. After all, it is you that received their money. You obviously don’t expect them to take up the matter with the product’s manufacturer. Shirking responsibility in such situations reeks of blatant disregard for customers and you will lose them in droves.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates

3. Empowering your employees

This is absolutely vital. You can be sure that customers will notice and appreciate this because of the practical benefits that accrue to them from you doing so. In fact, employees will prove to be inefficient backers of the business’ products/services if you haven’t empowered them to deal with customers’ problems.

A team that speaks with one voice gives customers and prospects the confidence to do business...

A team that speaks with one voice gives customers and prospects the confidence to do business…

You should therefore refrain from stifling your employees’ freedom of judgment and voice. This way you will spare customers the agony of having to hear excuses like “I’m not allowed to do that” or “Let me call the boss”. What happens if you are not around for the day?

You should understand that customers tend to be loyal to businesses where they are assured of good service come rain or shine. And who knows? Perhaps your employees are better at public relations than you are.

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. ~ Donald Porter

4. Customer appreciation

It’s true that “Cash is king”. Nevertheless, it is customers who bring in the cash. Your business therefore needs to show customers that their business is truly appreciated and there are many ways of doing this. With time, as the relationship grows, appreciatory habits will become second nature.

An appreciated customer is a happy and loyal customer...

An appreciated customer is a happy and loyal customer…

Your business should treat its customers as individuals. Learn your customers’ names and refer to them as such. Gradually you will notice things about them that will feel okay to compliment. Remember that they are people too and they’ll be able to tell whether or not you are faking it.

Every great business is built on friendship. ~ JC Penney

A sincere relationship can be very rewarding – the possibilities are endless. Perhaps your customer is the nurse you’ll need to take care of you in hospital or indeed the sleuth who’ll help to apprehend a “customer” who vanished without a trace after you trusted him with some merchandise.

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers. ~Ross Perot

5. Anticipating customers requirements

When customers purchase a product or service from your business you are basically helping them to solve a problem. Understanding this is crucial because if you can no longer solve that problem then your relevance to the customer will start to diminish.

Knowing what your customers need it's quite easy to think of alternative ways to keep them satisfied...

Knowing what your customers need it’s quite easy to think of alternative ways to keep them satisfied…

Accordingly, you should make efforts to know your customers much better. In case what they buy from you isn’t available you should try to find suitable substitutes and convince them to give them a try. Perhaps they will like them. Good customer service in this case will require you to be proactive.

Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet. ~ Kevin Stirtz

6. Selling at the right price

Issues of price will always be a source of concern for customers everywhere. Your customers will always be keen to know whether the prices you are charging them are fair or not.

Do your prices feel like extortion? Very soon no one will want to buy...

Do your prices feel like extortion? Very soon no one will want to buy…

You cannot afford to overcharge a product/service that customers can easily buy elsewhere. Even where you have the privilege of setting your own price, e.g. for freelance copywriting services, you need some sort of pricing strategy to help you decide what rates will be appropriate for different clients.

Try not to make customers feel that you are pushing them to spend more than they are prepared to pay. Of course, you don’t have to do business if the price isn’t right.

Make a customer, not a sale. ~ Katherine Barchetti

7. Maintaining high standards of quality

Your product/service should meet and exceed your customers’ expectations. Customers will assess your product’s quality based on its performance, conformance to standards, features, reliability and durability. You can expect that they will be a dissatisfied lot if your product/service fails to live up to their expectations as set by you.

This is how it should be. Period.

This is how it should be. Period.

Errors do happen though and your customers will certainly understand the reason why you let them down if you are immediately forthright about the matter and you offer logical explanations and remedial measures.

On the other hand, ignoring their hue and cry is business suicide. You really don’t want customers to start treating your business with some sort of suspicion. Trying to correct this perception later down the line is most likely going to be an exercise in futility; too little too late.

Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you. ~ Mark Cuban

8. Making the customer experience as convenient as possible

Perhaps the best way to address this concern is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Imagine which of your business’ practices make customers feel like they are being forced to jump through hoops despite being the people bringing in the money.

The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary. ~ Sam Walton

Don't make customers and prospects do this - they'll very soon take their business elsewhere

Don’t make customers and prospects do this – they’ll very soon take their business elsewhere

Now imagine the new measures you can adopt to become more convenient. Would you feel happier as a customer? You would? Implement these ideas immediately. Most of your loyal customers will immediately commend you and spread the word.

Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you. ~ Chip Bell

9. Offering sound information and advice

While customers know that they need to purchase a certain product/service, they are sometimes not too knowledgeable about their options, prices, terms, warranties, etc. As a business owner you should realize that taking advantage of an uninformed customer can only benefit you once – perhaps never if the customer is the suspicious type. No one appreciates being taken advantage of.

Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~ Damon Richards

Don't be stingy with information and advice - share it with your customers.

Don’t be stingy with information and advice – share it with your customers.

As such, take time to find out what your customers want. In case you can offer a better option then don’t hesitate to make suggestions.

The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing. ~ John Russell

10. As for online business owners…

A good number of online businesses have managed to set the customer satisfaction bar quite high. The onus is on you to do the same if you rely on e-commerce for your bread and butter. You don’t have to match what big players like Amazon are doing but you can certainly learn a few things from them.

The customer experience is the next competitive battleground. ~ Jerry Gregoire

Ensure that customers and prospects need just a few clicks to find what they need in your online store

Ensure that customers and prospects need just a few clicks to find what they need in your online store

For your website to provide excellent customer service the following issues should be addressed:

  • Content – Always ensure that your site’s content is fresh and enticing, both for actual customers and prospects.
  • Search – Customers and prospects should have an easy time when trying to find a product/service they need on your website. You should therefore ensure that on-site searches return relevant results.
  • Navigation – If customers and prospects find it difficult and cumbersome to access various locations on your website then you risk losing them. Accordingly, ensure that your site’s menus are handy and that the entire shopping experience is well streamlined.
  • Mobile – Today most people are going online via the mobile platform. Your site can’t afford to ignore this fact. Ensure that it is soundly optimized for mobile devices.
  • Language – Basically, an online store is designed for international business. This being the case, your site’s contents should be translatable into at least one other major language. Your site should also offer global support.
  • Integration – Although this may be quite tricky, you should ensure that customers enjoy the same sort of top-notch experience whether they are buying online or offline.

In the world of Internet Customer Service, it’s important to remember your competitor is only one mouse click away. ~ Doug Warner

Do millennials make up most of your customer base? Here’s an interesting infographic with lots of ideas about how you can deliver top-notch customer service for this generation of consumers:


customer service

Your choice of product packaging tells customers  a lot about what they should expect from you...

Your choice of product packaging tells customers a lot about what they should expect from your brand…

However superb your product may be, its success to a large extent depends on your choice of packaging. There’s no doubt that a product’s performance is more important than its packaging. Nevertheless, the fact that prospective customers can only make an assessment of a product via its packaging means that you have no choice but to get inspired about this aspect of your product.

Effective product packaging should play the following roles:

  • Function – The packaging should be able to protect your product during transit and as it is displayed on store shelves
  • Attraction – The packaging should be able to entice potential buyers to choose, pick and buy your product from amongst all the options available on the shelves
  • Promotion and facilitating the decision to purchase – The packaging should effectively provide relevant information about your product and which may include source, ingredients used, directions for use, etc. This information is vital in helping potential customers to decide whether or not to buy.
  • Differentiation – Your product’s packaging should be adequately unique to enable customers to identify it easily

Adhering to the pointers below will give you success with product packaging:

1. Keeping it simple

Effective product packaging is all about making a potential buyer’s decision-making process as simple as possible. Immediately customers reach the section where your product is displayed they should be able to easily identify it from amongst the rest.

There is nothing excessive about effective packaging

There is nothing excessive about effective packaging…

Simplicity is also vital in case it is a new product or you are launching in a new market. Your product’s name, brand name, package and description should be easy for the eyes thus facilitating and encouraging potential customers to pick and buy.

2. Describing the product for what it is

In an attempt to boost sales you may be tempted to exaggerate the abilities of your product.

Don’t.

Simply state the facts and promise potential users attainable expectations based on your product testing results. If you have a good product you can be sure that sales volumes will gradually increase thanks to the positive feedback and reviews that satisfied users will offer.

Confidently state what your product offers; the consumers verdict will soon be out...

Confidently state what your product offers; the consumers verdict will soon be out…

Exaggeration, on the other hand, will ultimately hurt your product’s sales potential as you’ll have to deal with disappointed, dissatisfied and skeptical customers.

3. Being audience-specific

If your product is designed for a specific market audience you must ensure that its packaging plays the part. Just like the product, packaging cannot be universal.

This also applies for products that target the same core audience. For example, different men prefer different cologne fragrances. As such, the packaging for the different colognes cannot be the same.

Audience-specific packaging helps to facilitate easy decision-making.

4. Standing out from the competition

Prior to launching your product you should scour the market in a bid to, among other reasons, find out what the competition has to offer. Based on what you see you should be able to come up with a packaging design that will enable your product to stand out.

The packaging immediately tells you that this is a brand of chocolate may be worth trying...

The packaging immediately tells you that this brand of chocolate may be worth trying…

Your aim should be to create product packaging that is unique, a huge improvement on the competition’s effort, and relevant.

5. Using high quality materials

Product packaging is indeed a substantial aspect of product development; it does require a considerable chunk of money. This notwithstanding, the need to use high quality packaging cannot be overemphasized.

Your product's packaging design needs to match your core audience's expectations...

Your product’s packaging design needs to match your core audience’s expectations…

Your product’s packaging needs to be good enough to make a strong first impression in the mind of a prospective buyer. As such, you cannot afford to compromise on quality. Get the best of what is available as per your budget.

6. Enhancing user convenience

This particularly applies for products whose packaging affects the manner in which they are used. In this case the packaging design needs to be handy.

Knowing the contents, this product's packaging design is definitely handy...

Knowing the contents, this product’s packaging design is definitely handy…

For example, Harpic’s toilet cleaner is packaged in a suitably designed squeezable plastic bottle with a bent neck and a nozzle, two features that help to get the cleaner under the toilet bowl’s rim.

7. Factoring in future product varieties

After successfully launching the flagship product for your brand you might think of following up on this success by introducing several other product varieties. In most cases your marketing task will be easier if the new varieties will be similarly packaged.

The original Harpic toilet cleaner bottle is blue in color. Subsequent varieties are similarly packaged but the bottles colors are different.

8. Ensuring the text’s legibility

All the text on your product’s packaging should be clearly legible. A prospective buyer should rapidly be able to scan through your product’s descriptions provided on its front and back. This is crucial for decision-making especially if the product is new or use-specific.

The text definitely needs to be legible in this case...

The text definitely needs to be legible in this case…

Proper text legibility is enhanced by several factors including font type, size and color, and overall packaging color scheme. Additionally, only the most important information should be printed on the front. Reserve the back for ancillary information.

9. Vetting multiple packaging designs

Before you settle on a particular design it is advisable to seek other people’s opinions. The idea is to present different packaging design options to several objective persons and letting them pinpoint the design they think will be most appropriate for your product. You, of course need to brief them about what need the product aims to address and the section of the market you are targeting.

Chances are that their feedback will provide you with some insights that you had overlooked; perhaps the design you had in mind may after all not be as suitable as you may have thought.

10. Keeping up with the times

What makes for a great packaging design now may not work when the next generation of your target market emerges. For this reason you need to spruce up your product’s packaging every once in a while.

This is real; top brands do it all the time. Just think of how many times Coca-Cola has changed the shape of its bottles.

The trick is to retain your product’s original charm but to package it for the present.

Some products' classic packaging charm always remains fashionable though...

Some products’ classic packaging charm always remains fashionable though…

The don’ts…

11. Targeting everyone instead of the target market

Borrowing from the old adage “You can’t be all things to all people”, you should realize that your product just cannot work for every other consumer. This is true, even for universal products like table salt and drinking water.

Although this product's use is well understood, the target audience is unspecified...

Although this product’s use is well understood, the target audience is unspecified…

So, forget about universal packaging; go for what will work for your core audience. In the same way that you have developed a product for this target market, come up with a fitting packaging design.

12. Using hard-to-open-and-use sort of packaging

If customers find it difficult to open your product’s packaging and/or find that using the product is inconvenient, chances are that they will explore other options the next time round. As such, don’t go for a packaging design that will require users to learn specialist skills in order to use the product.

Opening and using your product should be quite easy...

Opening and using your product should be quite easy…

There are plenty of design options that you can employ to enhance convenience e.g. perforated openings, flip caps, shrink-wrapping, ribbed bottles, etc.

13. Failing to freshen up your packaging

Very few products can retain their original packaging designs for eons and still sell well e.g. nails, sewing needles, etc. Even so, manufacturers may regularly have to renew their logos, and so on.

Generally, updating your product’s packaging regularly will contribute to its success moving forward. A snazzy look is a selling look.

14. Assuming that words and terms mean the same thing everywhere

While your product’s name may sound amazing where you come from, the word/s may have a totally different meaning elsewhere. This is a crucial consideration if you intend to sell your product to a target market that is spread across different tribes, nationalities, cultures and/or religions. It is for this reason that certain products are sold under different brand names in different markets.

15. Failing to communicate your product’s unique attributes

It is foolhardy to assume that your product will do well even though its packaging bears only a scanty description of the contents. What information will prospective customers use to make a buying decision? This is a no-brainer.

16. Failing to provide different package sizes

For some products you just have to provide different package sizes. Even for regularly used products like cooking oil and detergents, selling a single package size won’t do.

The realization that different types of consumers love and use your product is vital for success.

The realization that different types of consumers love and use your product is vital for success.

Customers make their purchasing decisions based on various factors including price, use frequency, shelf life, sell by date, personal lifestyle, and so on. Ignoring such concerns won’t augur well for your product’s commercial success.

17. Omitting crucial product label details

All consumers, you included, have a habit of trying to find out all about the various products that they use regularly. This will naturally start with a scrutiny of these products labels. The scrutiny is typically more intense after a product has been bought, say after the customer is back home after shopping.

A label-less product is a suspicious product. Consumers need details.

A label-less product is a suspicious product. Consumers need details.

Consumers will be more reassured if your product bears all the typical label information they are used to e.g. environmental concerns, product security, sell by dates, etc. If your product lacks any of these details it is likely to be treated with suspicion.

There's a lot to think about before starting a business. Success will require entrepreneurial prudence.

There’s a lot to think about before starting a business. Success will require entrepreneurial prudence.

In the planning and starting-up of a business enterprise a novice entrepreneur will certainly have to contend with multiple tasks and problems.

With respect to these realities it is worth appreciating the usefulness of having a checklist in helping the individual to cover most, if not all, of the variables that are involved in starting a business. With such a checklist you will be able to address two main concerns i.e.

  • Evaluating your preparedness in terms of starting the planned venture and
  • Ensuring that you get off to a great start once you launch the business

The following are some of the most crucial questions that you must find answers to as a prospective entrepreneur:

1. How is your reaction to business opportunities like?

Successful entrepreneurs are known to react quickly to seize business opportunities whenever they arise. These reactions require a good measure of instinct since pursuing such opportunities does entail some form of risk-taking.

Like successful hunters, successful entrepreneurs make the most of opportunity...

Like successful hunters, successful entrepreneurs make the most of opportunity…

Poor business people, on the other hand, are known for their procrastination which results in missed opportunities and general poor business performance.

In this regard, would you describe yourself as proactive or reactive?

2. How good is your management of energy and time?

The old adage “Time is money” holds true for any entrepreneurship activity. Ideally, you should be one who is willing to commit energy and time to activities that will profit your business venture.

Building your business successfully will require lots of time and effort - it's going to be hard work...

Building your business successfully will require lots of time and effort – it’s going to be hard work…

The start-up stage is extremely crucial. Creating a successful business from the ground up will require 101% of your involvement, no compromise.

Are you ready for self-sacrifice?

3. How prepared are you in terms of saving money, making business contacts, and learning / training about your prospective business engagement?

Most of the successful entrepreneurs we know are people who had taken time to get prepared financially, mentally, and emotionally, for the task ahead. Prior to starting a business you must fully understand what the decision implies – it is a process that will require you to be wholly committed to the cause.

Start from the bottom and build upwards with the work-ethic of termites...

Entrepreneurs start from the bottom and build upwards with the work-ethic of termites…

Think about how termites build their nests. Individual grains of earth are gradually pieced together and the result is an imposing structure so rigid and strong. Likewise, you will need to prepare a solid foundation upon which to grow.

4. How well or how badly do you take discouragement or failure?

Successful entrepreneurs are those who have thoroughly understood that both discouragement and failures are realities in the business world. They are however pragmatic and work hard to make their business ventures successful. While being persistent in their efforts they also don’t over commit themselves and their resources to an extent that initial failures will ground them for good.

You might be tempted to quit - but this shouldn't be an option for you...

You might be tempted to quit – but this shouldn’t be an option for you…

Are you ready to be persistent or will you quit as soon as things start going wrong? What will you do if customers don’t show up as anticipated?

5. Do you have a competent adviser or team of advisers?

Prudent entrepreneurs seek the advice of seasoned business people in different lines of enterprise. They do so in order to have their ideas vetted before they embark on them. Doing so has spared many novice entrepreneurs undue financial and psychological hurt.

Having a good advice and support team is definitely vital in the early stages...

Having a good advice and support team is definitely vital in the early stages…

There’s no substitute for experience, and a problem shared is a problem solved.

Do you have a group of persons that you can consult with moving forward?

6. Have you established that the demand for your products and services actually exists?

This holds more so for innovative ideas. Talking to people about the idea may give some form of encouragement but the crucial consideration is ideally whether the intended product or service will actually be bought and become profitable.

Eureka! But is there market demand for your product?

Eureka! But is there market demand for your product?

Have you studied the marketplace and confirmed that there’s indeed a demand for what you plan to start selling? What similar solutions already exist? How does your solution stand out from the rest?

7. Have you established the financial implications required in starting up?

It is important to have a clear picture of what your business’ start-up costs are. Additionally, you’ll need to factor in money estimates that will help the business run well for at least six months after its inception.

Starting, running and sustaining your business will need money...

Starting, running and sustaining your business will need money…

8. Do you have enough to go on for at least a year?

Apart from the start-up and operating costs highlighted in point 7 above you must have a sufficient income or savings to maintain your upkeep for at least a year. This is so whether or not you have a family to support. These monies should be sufficient until a point where the business venture starts earning you a good income.

9. Do you have any external sources of funding in mind?

Sometimes it so happens that individual savings are exhausted before a business takes off. It is therefore prudent that you have reliable sources of potential financing backup in case such a scenario arises. How well prepared are you for such an eventuality?

10. What form of business organization do you have in mind?

There are quite a number of business forms that you can create including a sole proprietorship or a partnership.

Will yours be a sole-proprietorship where everything depends on you?

Will yours be a sole-proprietorship where everything depends on you?

All these forms have different implications and you are well advised to clearly understand these before you settle for any. A lawyer’s advice may come in handy here.

11. How do you plan to maintain your records?

Successful entrepreneurs have an efficient system of knowing what their incomes and expenses are, and how much their businesses owe or are owed. Such a system need not be complicated in design – it just has to serve the purpose.

Proper record-keeping will ensure that information about your business is always readily accessible...

Proper record-keeping will ensure that information about your business is always readily accessible…

Record keeping is an integral part of any successful business. Effective accounting will only become possible if there are accurate records to start with.

Is the record-keeping system you have in mind going to be appropriate for your type of business?

12. Will the venture need personnel?

Entrepreneurs whose businesses have to hire personnel understand the importance of having a skilled team. Prior to establishing your business you must first ascertain that the kind of people you need exist and that you can afford to pay them.

What type and number of employees will your business require?

What type and number of employees will your business require?

Where will you find the sort of personnel you require? Will you need full-time employees or will freelancers be appropriate?

13. How will your pricing be organized?

It needs to be clear from the onset that a correct pricing of your products and services is of the essence. Basically, successful entrepreneurs set prices that will help them cover all their production expenses as well as earn them a viable profit.

Product price has to reflect the production costs incurred and the expected profit margin

Product price has to reflect the production costs incurred and the expected profit margin

What considerations have you weighed in arriving at your proposed price? Will the revenues you’ll earn as a result of selling at this price be adequate to sustain the business?

14. How soon can the initial investment be recouped?

One aspect of successful businesses is such that they are able to recover their costs of investment in a reasonable time-frame. Such costs include items like machines and equipment, any construction and design work, etc., and they are recovered from the profits the business earns.

From your own estimations, how soon do you think this will take?

15. Does your business satisfy the legal requirements?

Successful entrepreneurs make a thorough background research into all legal aspects that are required for their ventures to operate within the law. You should therefore identify all the permits and licenses that you should secure before starting off.

Eventually, running an unlawful or illegal business is not worth the entrepreneurial effort...

Eventually, running an unlawful or illegal business is not worth the entrepreneurial effort…

Will you be operating within the law when you open your doors for business?

This checklist is neither conclusive nor does it suffice for every type of business. It however offers a general idea of what prospective entrepreneurs must bear in mind if they intend to be successful at the nascent stage of their business ventures.