March 5, 2014
Take a look at your storefront. What do you see? What do think your customers see?
Curb appeal is often one of the most overlooked ingredients for creating an amazing customer experience and that’s really unfortunate. It only takes a split second for people to form an impression, and that impression often starts when they’re driving by or pulling into your parking lot.
Working in retail management for a regional home improvement center when I was fresh out of college, I learned pretty quickly to pay just as much attention to the outside of our store as the inside. Our regional manager would make frequent and impromptu visits and I think it’s safe to say he was more than passionate about curb appeal. In fact, he was pretty much dialed in on every last detail—a mindset that’s stuck with me all those years later.
To this day, any time I go shopping I notice every burned out light bulb, trash can that needs emptied, cigarette butt in the crack of a sidewalk, and weed growing in the landscaping.
The most important step to improving your store’s curb appeal is finding the time to think strategically about what you need to do and then actually doing it. When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to miss or ignore quick fixes and potential problems.
Visible Exterior Signage
Your signage should be visible from the street (see example at the top of this post which you might be able to see from the outerspace!), parking lot, AND the sidewalk. Case in point, a new pizza shop just opened locally. From what I can tell, their name looks like etched glass—and it’s totally impossible to make it out from the highway. What is the chance that someone is going to pull in for a closer look? Zilch.
You also want to keep an eye out for any signs that have been faded by the sun. Either replace it or just take it down. In almost every case, having nothing is going to look way better than a raggedy old faded sign.
I’m a huge fan of sandwich boards. If you’re able to use one, it can be a great way to extend your signage beyond your storefront and really grab the attention of passersby—especially if you get a lot of foot traffic. You can showcase daily specials, or have some fun with it and do something clever.
Just yesterday, I saw a the perfect example on Twitter--a picture of a sandwich board with a message arranged in a flow chart asking “Is Everything Okay?” followed by “Yes” or “No.” Regardless of your answer, you were pointed to “Come and have a drink.” Creative and clever, you could just about say the same thing for a myriad of products or services. “Is Everything Okay?” “Come on in and get a haircut.”
I’m also a big stickler for store hours. If you want to test how good your eyesight is without having to see an optometrist, try to make out store hours for just about any business that has them displayed on their front door without leaving your car. I bet you can’t do it at least 75% of the time.
Creative Window Displays
If you’ve got them, flaunt them. Use window displays to provide a glimpse into your store and your product offerings and entice prospective customers to check you out.
Think about what you want to display and then experiment to see what looks best once you’re outside the store. Do your best to look through the eyes of your customers.
Once you have something in place, pay attention to whether it’s bringing more people in the door or helping you sell any more products. It can be the prettiest window display in the world but if it’s not helping you generate more business, it’s not working.
There is literally no excuse to have trash cans overflowing right outside of your front door. None. The same holds true for weeds, burned out light bulbs, and any other items that could make your small business appear disheveled.
Take a walk around in the morning and look for anything that needs to be addressed. Do the same thing at night. If you need to hold off, say to call in a professional sign company to replace some bulbs, that’s okay—just don’t let it linger for months. The last thing you want is one letter in your sign to wink at people from dusk till dawn.
If you really want to create an unforgettable customer experience, don’t overlook the importance of curb appeal. Whether you know it or not, the outside appearance of your storefront is forming opinions (both good and bad) from the moment someone pulls into your parking lot—if not sooner.
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Ed Yourdon]
February 20, 2014
Shrink wrap? A cardboard box? Some of those annoying packing peanuts? When you think about product packaging, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
For me, it’s all about the customer experience.
Anyone can throw items in a box (and by anyone I mean Amazon, Walmart, and every other big box retailer). But as a small business owner, you have a chance to make your product packaging something more—something amazing.
It’s those little touches--the unexpected details that get people excited about buying your products, make them want to tell others, and keep them coming back for more.
If you’ve ever received one of the packages I’m talking about or spoken with someone who has, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Cookie Crowd makes ginormous gourmet cookies. Because they’re delicious, they could’ve just gone with some simple packaging. But they didn’t.
They added some yarn, included a tag with their name and website, and also make it possible to include a handwritten note along with your order (see image above). Something you’d expect to see at a fancy local bakery, not something you’d expect to get in the mail.
It’s been a few years since I received my first order and I still have one of the tags. That’s right, I kept a tag from their “Scout” cookie (their ultimate s'mores cookie) just to remind me of how awesome they were.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the cost of the yarn and the extra time it takes to put the finishing touches on their product packaging is far outweighed by the reaction they get from their customers.
MOO.com is my go-to source for business cards. Their quality is second to none. But what I love most about them is how they use their product packaging to create an amazing customer experience.
I’m already excited by the time I place my order. I don’t need any more convincing. I’m not going to suffer from buyer’s remorse. Yet, they still take the extra time to include whimsical messages that immediately bring a smile to my face.
Whether it’s a “Yay!” sticker on the outside of the box, or a slick little sleeve that says “Your moo mini cards are inside. Open them. Quick!” they’ve got me hooked.
And of course I can’t talk about product packaging without mentioning the Nest Learning Thermostat.
Founded by two former Apple employees, they immediately understood the importance of creating an unforgettable customer experience—all the way down to their packaging. I don’t own a Nest (yet), but I did witness just how much of an impact their product packaging can have on one of their customers.
I was at the Apple Store chatting with one of the associates when he mentioned he was moving to California to work at Apple headquarters--the mother ship.
Unprompted, he said the thing he was going to miss most was his Nest Learning Thermostat. That’s when he started to go into a play-by-play about what it was like taking it out of the box for the very first time. How the thermostat was packaged and how excited he was as he opened it—they couldn’t pay for a better endorsement.
Here's a quick peek inside their product packaging...
It’s easy to think a customer’s experience is over once you make the sale. But that’s definitely not the case.
Your product packaging—from the way it’s shipped to the way your customers feel once they open the box—can be just as important as the product itself.
Small touches they’re just not going to get from Amazon and other big box retailers. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a ton of money. Just look at the examples from Cookie Crowd and MOO.com.
Product packaging is another reflection of your brand AND your small business.
How are you going to create an amazing customer experience?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
By: Shawn Graham
[Images: Cookie Crowd; Flickr user: Linking Paths]
February 13, 2014
It’s easy to get tunnel vision. You can get so caught up worrying about how to attract more customers and sell more products that you forget about sharing the marketing love with other local businesses.
But great marketing—the stuff that gets people excited about your business and your brand--is about more than just making a sale. You’ve got to always be adding value for current and prospective customers. And sometimes that means referring them to someone else.
Some owners just get it. They actively promote small businesses via social media, face-to-face conversations, emails, etc. They’re always listening to what their customers want and are more than happy to point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, and all too often, their peers don’t reciprocate.
When you help promote other local businesses everybody wins. Customers will start looking to you as a source of helpful information. Businesses will get great word-of-mouth endorsements which help them sell more stuff. And you will get huge karma points for supporting another member of a tight-knit community.
This just happened over the weekend. I was chatting with a local business owner named Nicole. She makes really awesome hand-crafted jewelry using upcycled (fancy word for recycled) materials.
All I needed to do was ask what other exhibitors she thought I should check out. Without skipping a beat, she proceeded to give me a personal tour of some of the other booths. If that wasn’t enough, she not only provided a quick overview of what she thought made them so awesome, but she also shared some of her favorite products. It was like watching an episode of Oprah’s favorite things or having a personal concierge. Seriously, how freakin awesome is that?
Nicole didn’t have a hidden agenda. She just wanted to help other local business owners be more successful. That’s who she is. She gets it.
Each and every time she talked about one of their products, she had the same energy and passion as if she was talking about something she created herself. As a shopper, I can tell you that energy was totally contagious.
Most businesses would kill (okay, I’m sure there are at least a few that wouldn’t go that far) to get a ringing endorsement from another local business owner.
10 minutes. 5 seconds. The next time you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or chatting with a customer, remember to share the love.
When you help other businesses be more successful, everybody wins.
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Marcel Hauri]
February 5, 2014
Have you ever wondered why some blog content immediately pulls you in and grabs your attention while others seem to miss the mark?
The best business blogs have a way of presenting their information better than others. What makes them stand out?
I’ve pulled together this list of 7 best practices to help you improve your business blog content today…
1. Create A Catchy Title
In just 5-7 words, your title needs to immediately capture the attention of your unique target audience and actually make them want to keep reading. No pressure, right?
Creating catchy blog titles is part art and part science. Start by thinking like your customers and identifying the types of questions they would ask. You should also think about the titles that typically capture your attention and what makes them unique.
Once you have some ideas, try a few different variations and see which formats work best.
2. Add Visual Interest
I’m huge on using images on a business blog. Huge! When done right they really help to make your content pop—even more important as our attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter. Charts, photos, screenshots, block quotes, and other visuals can all be great additions to your posts.
I try to use a mix of photos I’ve captured with my smartphone and images I find through Creative Commons. If you’re using someone else’s work, always (ALWAYS) make sure you have their permission.
3. Use Lists
I’d have to say lists have become the most popular way to organize content for most business bloggers. This post is a list.
Whether you use
to break up your content, lists not only help to break up your content and make it more readable, but they also give you numbers you can use to tease your post when you’re crafting your title.
4. Limit Paragraph Length
Nobody wants to read one continuous block of text, no matter how interesting your writing style or the topic.
You need to give your ideas and your content a chance to breathe and to make your post easy to skim and scan.
Break things up. Writing for the web is different than business writing. After a few sentences, start looking for opportunities to transition to a new paragraph.
5. Link To Other Blog Posts
Links can add a ton of value for both you and your readers. When you point them to other relevant posts on your blog, that keeps them on your site longer and helps increase the likelihood they’ll form a connection with your business and ultimately make a purchase.
Likewise, your readers will appreciate being able to easily access other helpful information--even when you link away from your blog.
Strive for a mix of internal links (your posts) and external links (articles, posts from other business blogs, etc.)/
6. Tell A Story
No I’m not talking “It Was a Dark And Stormy Night.” But whether you’re writing about computer hardware, industrial design, or life insurance--every post will have a beginning, middle, and end.
Your introduction sets the stage for what’s to come—teasing the rest of your content and pulling the reader in.
From there, you want to include the meat around whatever it is you’re writing about.
Wrap things up with a strong close, encouraging your readers to do something—leave a comment, share your post with their social networks, download an ebook, etc.
7. Establish The Right Tone
I like to keep things conversational. With each post, my goal is to write content in the same way I talk about the topic if we were having a face-to-face conversation. Personally, I think that always keeps things a little more interesting. However, there are a lot of options when it comes to the style and tone of your business blog.
What’s One Thing You'd Like To Improve About Your Blog?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Looking for more tips? Download a free copy of Blogging for Badass Small Businesses
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr User Owen W Brown]
January 28, 2014
Yesterday I stopped by a small locally-owned business.
After a few minutes chatting, the owner asked one really important question. One that every small business owner should ask every new customer.
Want to take a guess what that question was?
If you said “How did you hear about us?” you are correct.
As it turns out, I found him through the Better Business Bureau website—something they were actually thinking about discontinuing because they thought nobody saw it.
By asking that one simple question…just six simple words…he was able to get immediate and first-hand insights into how I found his business.
Talk about huge.
Instead of making inaccurate assumptions or random guesses, all you need to do is ask. The answer to that one simple question can help you understand your customers better and make more informed decisions about where you should be spending your time and your marketing dollars.
I know I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been asked that as a first-time customer. In this case, they assumed the Better Business Bureau website wasn’t working for them when, at least in our case, it was. All they need to do is ask a few more first-time customers and they can start to identify a trend.
Don’t assume you know where your customers are coming from.
Every phone call, email, and face-to-face conversation is a chance for you to gather real-time insights directly from your target audience. When it comes to marketing, it usually doesn’t get much better than that.
Once you gather enough feedback, use that information to help determine where you focus your time and attention. You just might just find something you thought wasn’t working was actually working quite well.
Best of all, asking won’t cost you a thing!
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Kelly Teague]
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