Customer experience remains one of most exciting marketing opportunities for every business, regardless of industry. Here are eight things that must be true to fulfill customer expectations every time they do business with you.

Customer Experience: 8 Ways You Could Fail to Meet Customer Expectations

No matter what unique novelty you build into your customer experience marketing strategy, if you fail to deliver when it comes to what the client expects from you in the first place, it might all be for naught. Use this eight point checklist to ensure that you don’t miss the mark with your customers.

Meeting customer expectations is the baseline from which a truly compelling customer experience can be created. But if you don’t know what customers expect to be true each and every time they do business with you, you run the risk of failing to deliver for some customer must-have’s.

A study released by the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) called Creating a Seamless Customer Experience reveals the areas that customers say represent the experience they want to have with the brands they do business with. In the study, respondents were asked to select up to three basic customer expectations which they considered most important relative to “the ideal customer experience.”

One note of caution: In this case, “Ideal” is not the ideal.

The word ‘ideal’ has more than one meaning. Most often it’s used to describe something that is perfect, as in: “existing only in the imagination; desirable or perfect but not likely to become reality.” But as it relates to this study, the definition that is more applicable is, “satisfying one’s conception of what is most suitable.” As you think about the customer experience your business provides relative to these eight customer experience baselines, remember that these are elements that customers want to be true of each and every interaction when it comes to the brands they do business with.

You might also like: 3 Ways to Improve the Customer Experience at the Point of Sale

In other words, you’re going to have to do even more to exceed customer expectations. That said, it’s also worth noting that many of your competitors may be missing the mark when it comes to providing an ideal customer experience in one or more of these areas. If your business gets them all right, you could be giving your business a competitive advantage and improving the way customers perceive your brand.

CHART - baselines for meeting customer expectations

8 Baselines for Simply Meeting – Not Exceeding – Customer Expectations

1. Fast Response Time – 47%

Whether you are being asked to provide information, a quote or proposal, or you must deal with a customer complaint, consumers said that providing a fast response was critical.

2. Simple Buying Process – 47%

Equally important to buyers is that the purchasing process be simple. Our marketing director often paraphrases this concept as “Marketing 101: Make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy.” Any time the customer has to jump through an unnecessary or unexpected hoop, it represents something that might interrupt the buying journey and stop the sale.

3. Knowing Where My Stuff Is – 34%

Whether it’s buying a commodity online or a service that takes months to complete (such as website development), your customer wants to know where their items are in process and when they can expect them. They want to know that their stuff isn’t lost, stolen, or forgotten along the way.

4. Omni-Channel Experience – 25% and 14%

Your customers want your business to “feel” the same whether they are interacting with you in person (or in-store), on your website or blog, one fourth of the consumers surveyed said that clarity and simplicity across channels was important to them, and fourteen percent said that consistency of product information across channels was key to their perceiving a customer experience as ideal.

5. Being There When I Need You – 22% and 14%

Whether it’s having the ability to engage with a brand over multiple channels (in person, by phone, via email, social channels, etc.) or wanting to know they can reach a brand representative at a time most convenient to them, customers want to know that your business will be there when they need you.

6. Giving the People What They Want – 12% and 7%

Buyers increasingly expect that brands will personalize their buying experience, and that means much more than an auto-fill field that inserts their name after the word ‘Dear’ in an email message. Keeping track of customer purchases, preferences, and interests and creating better buyer profiles in the spirit of predictive marketing can help ensure that you don’t waste your customer’s time with irrelevant offers.

7. An On-Going Relationship – 10%

One out of ten survey respondents said that their ideal customer experience included brand engagement after the sale. If you aren’t checking in with customers post-transaction, you run the risk of failing to identify dissatisfaction or giving customers the impression that your business simply doesn’t care about whether they were satisfied with the customer experience. Plus, checking in after the sale is a great way to encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews, ratings and testimonials for your business online, and lay the foundation for referrals and repeat business.

8. A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name – 7%

Fans of the popular sitcom Cheers will instantly recognize this reference to the show’s theme song, referencing the fact that people want to go where everyone knows them (and is glad that they came). In the survey, seven percent of respondents said that their ideal customer experience would include a brand that recognized them (and their preferences) as a customer, regardless of the channel they used to interact with the brand. In addition, seven percent of respondents also said that they expect brand engagements to reflect their preferences and interests as revealed on different channels.

In business, professional success may come down to one critical skill that trumps all others, regardless of generation or industry, and it’s this: self-management. The new leadership. Here’s why.

Self Management IS the New Leadership

If you spend any amount of time reading the HR and staffing articles that fill social media news feeds and business magazines about attracting and managing Millennials you might come to believe that the balance of power has shifted from employee to employer. Today’s employers are admonished to offer flexible work schedules, create teams, eliminate hierarchy, do away with titles, offer cafeteria and non-traditional benefits packages and more if they expect to attract “the best and brightest” among Millennials and the younger generations that will follow them into the workplace.

What seems to be missing are articles telling Millennials and emerging generations how they can adapt, grow and develop in order to succeed, including advice that might shatter their misconceptions about what the work place will be like. Zappos, Amazon and the like have embraced hierarchy and work environments that work well for their business models; however, to think that one type of work style translates to all industries and business types isn’t logical. Companies that rely on constant invention and innovation need to be structured in a way that facilitates those activities, but the vast majority of businesses in the U.S. are not Amazon-like in work environment or organizational needs.

One size does not fit all when it comes to employers, nor does one size fit all when it comes to employees, regardless of age or assigned generation. Some people thrive in the holacracy; others, not so much. To think that one style of workplace would be best suited for everyone in a certain age group is as illogical as assuming that one type of teaching style suits all students. It’s just not true.

Here’s something that is true regardless of age, regardless of industry, regardless of work environment: Self-management is the new leadership.

Whether you work in a role with lots of goals and measures or few, whether you work in an environment with lots of oversight or little, and whether you work in a business that has lots of policies and procedures or hardly any, success in any type of business comes down to your ability to effectively manage the time and resources at your disposal, even if that only resource is you.

Self-management covers a lot of turf. It’s about managing work time in a way that is purpose-driven, focused, disciplined and productive – but that’s not all. It’s also about having self-control, and that includes time spent doing work but it also includes time spent in meetings, on teams, and time spent interacting with bosses and co-workers.

At its core, the new leadership – self-management – comes down to four main components: observation, discernment, wisdom and a bias for action.

Here are definitions for each along with synonyms that help to clarify them even more.

Observation

The action or process of observing something or someone carefully in order to gain information. In other words, you keep an eye on things. Synonyms: surveillance, scrutiny, watching, study

Discernment

The ability to judge well. In other words, you have the ability to accurately interpret what has been observed (with at least some degree of objectivity) and begin to form conclusions or strategies as to appropriate response or next steps. Synonyms: judgment, acumen, shrewdness, sensitivity, intuition

Wisdom

The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. In other words, you have the knowledge and/or experience needed to determine which would be the best options from among possible actions or strategies that should occur next. Synonyms: understanding, intelligence, astuteness, insight

Bias for Action

The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim. In other words, you’ve seen the problem, developed solutions, chosen the right one and you are willing and able to take action for resolution, response or progress. Synonyms: exploit, achievement, accomplishment, feat

Whether you’re a sole proprietor, part of a traditionally-structured business or a team-member in a holacracy environment, these abilities make you more valuable, more effective and more successful. If you’re an HR, staffing or recruiting professional, these abilities are going to set your best candidates apart, regardless of their age or assigned generation. If you’re a business owner who is wondering which of your staff should be developed for leadership or promotion, choose those that display these characteristics.

If you’re a Millennial – or someone even younger – who is about to enter the workforce, these are the attributes that will help you grow, adapt and succeed over the course of your professional career, perhaps more so than any other skills you have. Self-management is the new leadership (and it was the old leadership, too!)

Great networking skills can translate into new opportunities, more leads and sales, and higher retention and referral rates. Use the networking skills laid out in this infographic to find out whether your networking skills are up to snuff.

Networking Skills Infographic: 10 Things the Best Networkers Understand

Effective networking is a talent that comes naturally to a lucky few. For the rest of us, it’s important to decipher the elements that the best networkers already understand so that we, too, can enjoy the benefits that strategic networking can generate.

There’s an old saying that says “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Knowing the right people (i.e., having the right people in your network) might be the key to landing a new job, filling the sales funnel, keeping important clients engaged and generating coveted referrals.

Your network (noun) consists of the people you know; networking (verb) are activities you can engage in, in order to grow your network strategically. Adapted from the Business Insider networking skills infographic below, here are eleven things that talented networkers understand, that you can master, too.

Infographic – 10 Ways to Test Your Networking Skills

1. It’s not business, it’s personal.

Although networking is a business activity and – done well – produces business outcomes, most networking occurs in social settings, giving participants a better opportunity to assess whether you are someone they want to do business with based (at least in part) on whether they enjoy spending time with you as a person.

2. Pitches are for closers, not openers.

While many sales professionals hope a great pitch will mean easy conversions, elevator pitches work best when a lead is ready to buy. When networking, focus on introducing and exploring topics that speak to customer needs, and save the elevator pitch for closing time.

3. Everyone doesn’t need your card.

Exchanging business cards at the end of a conversation, instead of the beginning, gives you an opportunity to write something personal and important about the exchange on the card that you give away as well as the one you receive. This can make it more likely for a prospect to reach out to you, or help you remember what was important to the prospect when you reach out to them after an event.

4. Spend more time listening than talking.

When you meet up with a likely prospect at an event or through networking activities, it might be hard not to jump into talking mode right away. The more time you spend listening (really listening!) and assessing the prospects real need, the more likely you are to deliver the information that will be compelling to them.

5. Have a book of short stories.

When you get an opportunity to talk about what you do, try telling stories about customer resolutions that are likely to relate to the audience at hand instead of talking products and services. Talking about customer outcomes, gains and resolutions helps your prospect envision these results as probable for themselves, if they choose to do business with you.

6. It’s not a numbers game.

Sales processes are often viewed as a numbers game. The more quantity of leads that get put into the funnel, the more that will convert to real sales by the end. When it comes to networking, all connections are not equally valuable. Spend time seeking out and cultivating quality contacts vs. trying to get as many people as possible into your network.

7. There is real work involved in netWORKing.

From the work you do in advance of activities to research and prepare to moving out of your comfort zone to engage people you don’t know, and give them a reason to want to know you too, the more work and strategy that goes into your networking efforts, the more return on investment you are likely to realize.

8. A network isn’t a circle, it’s a sphere.

A circle is a flat, one dimensional shape, while spheres are multi-dimensional. If you only connect with people you can sell to then you are merely skimming the surface when it comes to networking. You will be missing out on potential referrals and the chance to cultivate relationships with people who do not need what you have to offer now, but will in the future.

9. What goes around, comes around.

Networkers who are constantly trying to sell or engaging only in self-serving activities aren’t going to be perceived as valuable relationships. The best networkers understand that a lot of what constitutes effective networking are activities that are not self-promotional or self-serving at all. Connecting people with resources and solutions, sending links to interesting articles or apps, and getting involved in charitable and civic endeavors can all make you a more valuable networking partner, and keep you top-in-mind for when prospects do want products or services like yours.

10. Know when it’s time to move on.

Knowing how to end a conversation is just as important as how you begin it; and maybe more. Time is valuable. Whether you are connecting with someone over coffee or at a networking event where many other people are present, have a plan for ending the conversation that plants the seed for future interaction or gives people a reason to follow up with you (or welcome your follow up call or email) later on.

Infographic - 10 Ways to Test Your Networking Skills

Routines are great if they lead to more productivity and quality of work-life, but routines can also detract from your goals if they reduce efficiency or needlessly interrupt your time. Here are ten things that you can do at home to be more productive at work.

Be All That You Can Be – 10 Ways to Be More Productive at Work

Nine of out ten people admit that they have wasted time at work in one way or another, according to an infographic published by YAST (included below). While time spent on social networks and excessive socializing are among the culprits, nearly half of workers indicated that the biggest time waster in their workday was the need to attend too many meetings.

While human beings are not machines, and it would be impossible to make productive use out of every minute of every workday, there are things you can do to ensure that you get more out of your workplace. Whether you want to demonstrate your value in pursuit of a promotion or you simply need to make your business more profitable, understanding the flow of your work day can help you identify tasks that are eating into productivity or interrupting your focus – and preventing you from getting the most important things done.

If you are losing your first hour of the day to email, or finding that social media, socializing or scheduling tasks are keeping you from being the superstar you want to be on the job, try doing one or more of these ten things from home so you can get more done at work.

10 Ways Doing More at Home Makes You More Productive at Work

Evaluate your email

Scroll through email before going in to work. Respond to anything that is critical or acknowledge emails that will be responded to later. Make a short list of those items that need to be dealt with as soon as you arrive at the office. Knowing that your email has already been evaluated, hold off on checking your inbox until later in the morning (or even after lunch), focusing instead on working productively to complete mission-critical projects.

Find your First Five

List the first five things that you will do after getting to work, then discipline yourself to do nothing else before those five things have been completed. Obviously emergencies or unexpected problems may derail your plans, but knowing how you will hit the ground running instead of trying to piece a plan together after you get to work will help you get more out of your first few hours on the job.

Plan for Physical Needs

Reclaim the minutes – or hours – spent wondering what’s for lunch by preparing healthy, energy-improving snacks and a lunch ahead of time. If you do plan to order out, try creating a week-long menu you can follow instead of spending time each day trying to figure out what sounds good.

Summarize a Successful Day

As you think about the work day to come, determine what one (two or three, etc.) most impactful things you can do that would make the day successful in your eyes, regardless of what else gets done.

Track the Day’s Traffic

A few seconds spent checking the day’s traffic could mean minutes – or even hours – that you don’t spend on the road. Make checking your route to work online a habit before you walk out the door each morning, and predetermine a few alternative routes that you can take if your first choice is jammed up.

Plan for Personal Needs

To be more productive, you need to eliminate distractions. Is it time for an oil change? Do you need to pick up kids, dry cleaning or groceries after work? Before you leave for work in the morning, list out the personal tasks that you also need to accomplish and decide when you will get those done in light of your work day needs.

Scan the News Sites

Phone alerts and social media status updates about industry happenings, current events, celebrities and other items of interest can all create interruptions. Before you go to work, hit up a few news sites online so that there will be fewer surprises during the day.

Screen Social Network Feeds

Social networks can be valuable tools in helping to build business, but they can also become a black hole when it comes to lost productivity. Just as with email, scroll through your social media feeds before leaving for the office and avoid visiting these sites again until later in the day.

Add to Your Energy and Enthusiasm

From a first cup of coffee or protein-packed breakfast to an hour of exercise, coming into the day with more energy will help you be more productive on the job and feel happier, too.

Schedule reminders

Perhaps even more so than a to-do list, setting up reminders and alerts that pop up during the day can help to keep you on track when it comes to regaining your focus or finishing time-sensitive tasks.

Infographic: Biggest Work Place Time Wasters via Yast

Biggest time wasters at work infographic

You’ve got an app – now what? Retail, service and restaurant businesses that use push marketing effectively can score more sales and increase revenues.

More than half of all app users have push marketing notifications enabled on their mobile devices according to a whitepaper called Recipes for Perfect Push Messages recently published by Localytics.com. These users launch apps 88 percent more often than users who have push notifications disabled, which means that they are biting when it comes to notifications. Taking this into account, we are offering these five tips on how to use push marketing to attract more shoppers and increase sales.

How Does Push Marketing Work?

A push marketing notification (also called server push notifications) is a form of automated loyalty marketing where a software application sends information to a computing device (like a smartphone) without a specific request from the device’s user. This information could be delivered as an email message, text message, social media notification or an app notification.

Although the user has not requested the information, there is still an element of permission-based marketing here as the user must have at some point opted in to an email subscription, text subscription or has downloaded and app and either set or left app notifications turned on.

5 Ways to Use Push Marketing to Increase Sales

#1 and 2: Send Push Messages on the Right Day at the Right Time

What is the best time to send a push notification? It depends.

The Localytics study found that – in general – push messages have the highest click rates when sent in the afternoon, between Noon and 5 PM. Evenings were the worst time to send push messages, perhaps indicating that consumers hold evening hours as reserved for personal and family time, or indicative that it’s too late in the day to head out to a local retailer’s location.

Which day of the week do app notifications get the most clicks?

Saturday and Sunday were (by far) the worst days to send them and Thursday was the weekday with the lowest click and response rate. Push messages sent on Fridays received the highest click rate, Tuesday the second most.

Best Advice: Push notification success comes down to knowing what shoppers want, and when.

Like any other type of marketing, you have to understand likely shoppers and your brand’s ideal buyer types to know when they would be most likely to open and read a notification as well as when they would be most likely to take action. These times might be the same and they might not. And different segments of your audiences may also call for different push marketing strategies. The more you can segment and customize push notifications, the better your click and take-action rates are likely to be.

For instance, to attract consumers shopping at retail stores on weekends, mid-morning on a Saturday or Sunday might be the perfect time for a restaurant to send a push notification. That same restaurant might want to send push notifications about using their facilities for corporate parties on a weekday morning or even late afternoon, thinking that staff responsible for planning the company party would be more likely to read, research and book space at that time.

#3: Less is Much, Much More

When it comes to push notifications, less content seems to be more effective. Click rates for notifications with 10 or fewer words were 8.8 percent, dropping drastically to less than five percent for notifications of 11-20 words and falling even further for messages with 21 words or more.

Best Advice: Focus on one message and use clear, compelling language to get your customer’s attention. Think of a push notification the same way that you think of the seven seconds you have to get the attention of someone who visits your website. Fail to connect quickly and you lose the opportunity.

#4: Tell Them Exactly What You Want them to Do

For years conventional marketing wisdom has suggested that asking questions is a great way to discover buyer motivations and help them move through the buying journey from brand discovery to preference and purchase. For push notifications, the opposite holds true. Click rates go from 3 percent to 6 percent for push notifications that don’t ask questions, but tell the user what’s important or what to do instead.

Best Advice: People are freaking busy! Tell them what they should do (come in) when (now) and why (compelling time-limited offer).

#5: Use Super Offers to Attract customers

Need to imply urgency? Telling shoppers when offers end is likely to produce more action than telling them they have to shop today. The Localytics white paper offers up some key tips for which words get more clicks with holiday shoppers, with words like “super” and “offer” coming in on top with nearly three times as many clicks as words like “today,” “deals” and “win.”

Best Advice: Use words that convey compelling value and time-limited urgency to get customers to act. Remember that people are busy and they have lots of options when it comes to spending their money. Use words that make your message stand out from the pack.

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Request a free, no-obligation quote and get the marketing automation you need to nurture loyalty, attract customers and increase sales. 

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Here are ten contingency planning ideas to cope and compensate the next time business emergencies affect to your organization.

Contingency planning for business is crucial because things happen. Phone systems go down. Staff responsible to open up don’t show up. Storms hit. Servers crash. Popes and potentates visit. The truth is, there are any number of reasons why customer service could get interrupted on any given day.

Emergencies, Contingency Planning and How to Pass the Time When the Phone System Goes Down

contingency planning ideasDo a Google search for lost business productivity and you’ll find a slew of articles on the cost to business in lost productivity due to insomnia, social media, surfing and even the demands of managing one’s fantasy football team. It will make you wonder how American workers ever get anything done at all (ha ha).

While you might be able to address and reduce productivity and sales lost to causes like those, you may not be able to do anything to remedy things when your phone system goes down, your server crashes, or outside causes make it impossible for you to do business as usual.

On days like this, you can wait it out, or you can take action and make the best of things. With the latter in mind, here are ten things you can do when your phones go down to recoup your losses and retain your sanity!

Contingency Planning – 10 Things to Do When the Phones Go Down

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Send notifications out by email, social media and smoke signal – if necessary — to let your customers know that a temporary problem has occurred and you’re working to sort it out. Let them know of any contingency planning options they have for doing business with you. Let them know when they can expect things to be back online, and let them know when they are.

Circle the Wagons

Lock things down and ensure the safety and security of your employees, premises, data, etc. A small problem like a phone system outage is an ideal time to practice your emergency preparedness plan and see how well the plan will work in case of an even worse disaster. Take what you learn to improve your plan for the next time.

Shop Around

A system failure might indicate a problem with the platform or your own infrastructure. When you find out what went wrong, make sure you can make it right or consider replacing critical infrastructure with a more reliable system.

Commiserate with the Community

Do you have products that could help out other business owners or community members who have been affected by the same problem that took your phones down? This is a great opportunity for your business to make its presence felt in the community by helping out where you can.

Come Together

Rather than leave employees to their own devices while they wait for things to come back online, take advantage of their downtime to engage in team building activities or deliver brand and product knowledge training.

Brainstorm

While staff are on hand and standing by, hold a brainstorming session to find ways to resolve or respond to the crisis on hand. If resolution is out of your control, use the time to brainstorm ideas for improving customer care, tapping new markets, improving efficiency, or for some other facet of your organization.

Order In

Let employees know you care and make waiting more enjoyable by bringing in food, beverages, or other supplies that can help them weather the storm or wait out the outage.

Divert to Cells

A company phone system outage does not have to mean lost orders. Let customers know that account executives can be reached by cell phone so that customers can place orders, make payments, check on the status of their shipments and so on for the duration of the outage, or purchase prepaid cell phones for use as part of your emergency preparedness plan.

Ask for Help

In times of emergency, even competitors can become trusted partners and friends. Reach out for help or (better yet) establish relationships ahead of time which can be tapped for assistance when inside or outside forces take your business offline.

Throw in the Towel

No business owner likes the thought of closing up shop for the day but sometimes throwing in the towel, regrouping and getting the rest needed to fight another day is the right thing ‐ and the best thing – to do. Decide ahead of time how long employees will be required to wait around before being sent home and how employees will be notified that they should not come in to work on days when opening is not a viable option.

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Financial Contingency Planning 

Our cash advance financing might be the ideal solution when you need working capital to recover after an equipment failure. Likewise, if your point of sale or merchant services infrastructure let you down, now might be the right time to find a new credit card processing company or replace your POS equipment and software.

Request information about our solutions using the form below.

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Strengthen your brand, focus on what is most profitable and shed inefficiencies. Five ways to turn business ideas into reality and make your business a better place for customers and staff.

5 Strategies That Can Turn New Business Ideas into Reality

No matter what type of business you own or how long your doors have been open, there is always something that can be improved. As new business ideas emerge it can be challenging to implement even the best of them when it means challenging the status quo and overcoming internal resistance to change.

1. Create a formal system for evaluating business ideas.

“It is by acts and not by ideas that people live.” Anatole France

Entrepreneurs and business owners usually don’t have a shortage of ideas. Without a formal system where ideas can be evaluated, plans of action can be developed, responsibilities can be assigned and measurements can be defined and tracked over time, most ideas – even the best of ideas – might never see the light of the work day.

2. Involve everyone.

“Ideas are like pizza dough; made to be tossed around.” Anna Quindlen

There’s a saying that goes, “too many cooks spoil the brew.”  This might be true in the kitchen, but in organizations that want to grow and change, the more people that weigh in, contribute, buy-in and become personally invested in change initiatives, the better. When your staff feel listened to and ideas are refined to reflect their feedback and concerns, they are much more likely to buy in and get behind transformative business ideas.

3. Embrace real change.

“The difficultly lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” John Maynard Keynes

It’s human nature to resist change and fall back on what is familiar, especially if new behaviors don’t bring instant gratification. Remember you will not be able to achieve new goals with old ways of thinking and old ways of doing. The pace of change in today’s competitive marketplace alone dictates that you need change ambassadors in your organization if you want to grow. Empower and rely on people on your staff who aren’t afraid to take on big challenges and learn new things!

4. Proselytize.

“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of connections is the key to quality.” Charles Eames

If you want to achieve big things, you can’t afford to have staff that don’t believe in the vision. Everyone in your organization, everyone, ultimately has the power to contribute toward or against your business goals. Make sure they are all on board.

5. Invest adequate resources.

“Money is a wonderful thing because it enables you… to invest in ideas that don’t have a short-term payback.” Steve Jobs

Your willingness to fund and allocate staff, time and other corporate resources to a given initiative is a direct reflection of your commitment to achieving the goal. No matter how sound or exciting your business ideas are, without allocation of adequate resources – including money – turning them into reality will be difficult.

Our business finance tools could be ideal options if your business lacks the working capital needed to execute ideas that will help your business grow in the New Year. A merchant cash advance can provide your organization with a lump sum of working capital that can be used for many different business purposes.

How to Make and Keep New Business Goals

An Outbound Engine survey found that less than half of small businesses have a plan for growth. But many business ideas need a marketing or operational plan in order to succeed. As you implement new ideas make sure they are tied to plans that include specific goals and measures. Psychologytoday.com offers up several tips for setting and sticking to goals, and we’ve adapted their list for business owners here:

  • Don’t try to do too much at once, limit to one or two goals that are most important
  • Set realistic goals with specific, measurable benchmarks and a finish line
  • Don’t wait until New Year’s Day – make goal setting part of your organization’s process on an on-going, systematic basis
  • Be accountable and assign goals and tactics to specific people with dates set for measures, reports, and contingency plans
  • Be accountable to your accountability plan – where does the buck stop?
  • Communicate and celebrate incremental successes
  • Embrace change; you can’t achieve new goals with old thinking and the same tactics
  • Each day ask the question: what can I do today to move toward the goal?
  • Make sure that your company is “healthy;” fix what goes wrong internally so that employees can focus on reaching the goal
  • Have some fun along the way!

Business location is one of the most important decisions that someone launching or expanding a brick-and-mortar business will make. Here are five tips for choosing the right business location that can help you zero in on the best one for your business.

5 Ways to Determine Whether a Potential Business Location is Right for You

Location, location, location! For brick and mortar businesses, few decisions will have more of an impact on the ultimate success and sustainability of their business than the location where they choose to open their doors. Here are five things to consider if you are going to open a new business or expand your business to a new location any time soon.

Few decisions will impact a new business’s ability to be profitable and sustainable more than that of where to locate the business. We came up with this five-point checklist to help those who are looking for help in deciding whether a potential location would be good for their business in the short term as well as over the long haul.

5-Point Checklist for Choosing the Right Business Location for a Brick and Mortar Store

1. The Proximity of Ideal Client Types (Target Audiences) to the Business Location

Put me in an interesting location with good people – and I’m there.” – Jane Curtin

The proximity of a proposed new business location to individuals that would be a close match to the organization’s “Ideal buyer types” as well as general target audiences is the first consideration that must be satisfied. If a brick-and-mortar business location is not convenient to an adequate number of target audience members relative to where they live, work or play, it’s not likely to be successful or sustainable.

One obvious way to determine whether a location would be suitable for starting a new business or expanding an existing business into a new location is to spend some time at the site, watching to see what type of clientele is patronizing the other existing businesses in the area. Census data and trends can also provide important insight. And free tools like Claritas 360 Zip Code Look Up (formerly Nielsen’s Prizm) can provide you with an overview of the demographics and lifestyle characteristics of zip codes immediately surrounding a proposed site.

2. Business Location Price (Compared to Projections)

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” – Winston Churchill

The cost of a business location is not just a dollar amount. This Excel spreadsheet Entrepreneur.com profit and loss template can help you lay out a three year projection that puts a location’s rent (or lease or mortgage amount) plus property taxes, insurance and other costs into perspective.

profit and loss statement template

Besides the actual dollar amount you would pay to lease, rent or buy in order to get into a prospective new business location, you should also take a look at whether the landlord is willing to make concessions or allowances for any of the following:

  • When does the agreement kick in? You do not want to be paying rent during the weeks or months it takes to make the upgrades, repairs, renovations or remodeling that need to be completed before your doors even open.
  • Who is responsible for the cost of renovations and upgrades needed to open your business?
  • How long are you going to be locked in, how much notice do you need to give in order to vacate, and are there any ‘kick out’ clauses that give you the right to leave if your business can’t make it there?
  • Are rent increases automatic or tied to a percentage of business growth? How often has the landlord typically raised rent for tenants, and how large have the increases been?
  • Who is responsible for facility repairs and maintenance for your square footage? How about for common areas?
  • Will you have the ability to sublease the space or re-assign the lease to another business should your business need to move somewhere else (or close?)
  • Can you add co-tenancy agreements, so that if a tenant leaves that typically helps bring traffic to your store, you can relocate as well?
  • Can you negotiate for an exclusivity clause that prohibits the landlord from renting other nearby properties to competing businesses?
  • Do you have to make personal guarantees or provide any personal collateral that would be at risk if your business could not fulfill the terms of the lease?

Before signing onto a long term lease or rental agreement, it would be well worth your time to speak to other tenants or the owners of nearby businesses for insights on the quality of property management that the landlord generally provides. It could also be beneficial to work with a broker in order to negotiate through the terms of the agreement in order to protect your business, your own personal assets or achieve concessions which effectively reduce the real cost of the property.

3. The Business Location’s Amenities

Location is all about the efficiency of work for me.” – Michelle Grabner

Some of the location’s amenities may be reflected in the lease or rental agreement as noted above in terms of costs; however, that’s not all. For instance, a location’s proximity to key vendors and suppliers could also make it a more attractive alternative than others.

A location that provides an easy commute and also offers great options for employees to eat, shop, workout, and so on, that could also make it more attractive to quality hires, as would enhanced security and safety, low crime and an overall good reputation.

When considering amenities, think about the non-direct benefits that a location has to offer. If these characteristics make it more attractive for your customers or your employees, they should be considered.

4. The Location’s Alignment with Your Brand

Location is the key to most businesses, and entrepreneurs typically build their reputation at a particular spot.” – Phyllis Schlafly

The location you choose for your business should align well with your brand. If the appearance, décor, ambiance and other characteristics that impact customer’s perception of your brand do not align with your brand’s reputation (or the brand reputation you want to build), then the location may not be right.

You may be able to upgrade or renovate to turn a location’s square footage into one worthy of your brand reputation; however, if other businesses in the area or common areas contradict that image, then – again – it might not be the best place for your organization.

5. Projected Location Changes

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” – Michael Porter

Here today, gone tomorrow? When choosing a location for your startup business or choosing a place to add a new franchise or branch of your business, you can’t just consider what the location has to offer today, especially if you will be committing to a long term lease or you will be investing significantly in order to bring the space up to par.

Project into the future three years, five years, ten years or even twenty years down the road. How will your business change? Will the site still be adequate to your needs? Is there room to expand? Will the location continue to be convenient to where members of your target markets are expected to live or work?

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Overcoming buyer objections can quickly turn into arguing, so it’s important to master persuasion skills and strategies in order to avoid turning off prospective customers by coming on too strong.

Overcoming Buyer Objections – 6 Persuasion Strategies Could Help You Close more Sales

When it comes to your buyers, are you overcoming objections, or just arguing? If you cross the line, you are much more likely to lose buyers than convert them. Here are six persuasion strategies every sales and marketing pro should master in order to close more sales.

Not all buying cycles are created equal. For low cost or low risk goods and services, sellers may not need to do much more than make buyers aware of the opportunity to buy.

For B2B and high-priced retail sales and marketing professionals, however, the buying cycle is usually more complicated. If you find that it’s difficult to distinguish between the art of overcoming buyer objections and arguing over buyer’s concerns, it might help to take a closer look at these six strategies that present persuasion in a more scientific light.

Before someone becomes a customer who is always right, they are a buyer who probably doesn’t have all the facts. The job of sales and marketing is to identify the buyers who have needs that their products or services are best-suited to meet, desires most-likely to fulfill or problems most-likely to resolve. Once found, the next step in the buying cycle is educating the prospect and – if needed – overcoming objections.

You might also like: 73% of Consumers Would Pay More for Good Customer Service

When a buyer is not convinced that their objection is being adequately addressed or has a long list of objections, it’s easy for explanations to turn into arguments. Once the process takes on a negative feeling, a buyer will often walk away and it can become difficult to salvage the opportunity to make a sale. In some cases, unhappy buyers will even tell other people about their negative experience, and preclude the opportunity for other sales as well.

Master 6 Persuasion Strategies and Get Better at Overcoming Objections [Infographic]

1. Reciprocation

Reciprocation in business is the idea that customers often respond positively when – as a business – you do something they perceive as (a) positive and which lies (b) outside of their expectations. Studies show reciprocation works as a method of persuading others to take desired actions. For instance, when restaurant waitstaff included candy with the bill, on average:

  • Women left 21% higher tips
  • Men left 18% higher tips

2. Social Validation

Remember those times your parents asked this question: “If all your friends jumped off the top of a bridge, would you do it too?” when they wanted to encourage you to resist peer pressure? It turns out, you might! One social validation experiment attempted to determine how many people would follow suit when they saw someone else (or a group of people) looking up. They found that:

  • When passersby saw one person looking up, 4% of them looked up as well
  • When passersby saw 5 people looking up, 18% of them looked up as well
  • When passersby saw 15 people looking up, 40% of them looked up as well

3. Consistency

Some people will stick to their guns in order to appear consistent to others. For some people, even providing informal or tacit approval of an idea or commitment is enough to make them follow through. The infographic below note that one fund-raiser asked people to sign a petition of support two weeks below his event and the result was a whopping 100% increase of monetary contributions due to prior commitment.

4. Respect for Authority

Uniforms, suits and other trappings of authority can go a long way to inspiring trust and helping to persuade people to take action – even when that action could be perceived as illegal! A University of Texas-Austin study found that 350% more people were willing to follow a man crossing the street on a red light – when that man wore a suit and tie.

5. Liking

People like to accommodate people they like, plain and simple. Three statistics referenced in the infographic include three techniques that might make people like you better:

  • Compliments – A UNC (University of North Carolina) study found that both true and untrue compliments produced the same amount of liking
  • Cooperation – Like reciprocation, people may be more willing to take a desired action when they perceive that you are meeting them halfway
  • Congruence – People may prefer to do business with you when they identify personal interests that align or other similarities that exist between you

6. Scarcity

Get ‘em before they’re all gone! When quantities are limited, people are more likely to take action in order to avoid loss. Plus, when items are moving quickly or nearly sold out, people may perceive them as more desirable.

*Studies and Statistics Cited by The Science of Persuasion Infographic (Below)
Impact Learning Systems (a division of Miller Heiman)
Infographic - science of persuasion overcoming objections

In addition to the lists of the 10 Worst and 10 Best States for Startups, we’re suggesting five ways startups can thrive, no matter where they’re planted.

Top 10 Best States for Startups and the 10 Worst; But 5 “Buts” to Help You Thrive Anywhere

As a leading credit card processing company with headquarters in western Washington, we are thrilled but not all that surprised to find that Washington State was No. 1 on the list of Top 10 States for Entrepreneurs as reported on businessnewsdaily.com. That said, it is impressive that six of the top ten and all of the top five states ranked as most conducive to startups are in the western portion of the U.S.

Top 10 Best States for Startups

  1. Washington
  2. Wyoming
  3. California
  4. Colorado
  5. Oregon
  6. Texas
  7. Delaware
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Montana
  10. Missouri

The list’s rankings are based on a number of factors, including number and quality of startup opportunities, the state’s business climate, business taxes, productivity, cost of living, whether there is adequate available workforce, median education, and access to capital.  Among those states rated as least favorable to startups, many made the list because of a high rate of failed businesses in those states.

Top 10 Worst States for Startups

  1. West Virginia
  2. Hawaii
  3. South Carolina
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Virginia
  6. Maryland
  7. Vermont
  8. Arkansas
  9. Rhode Island
  10. Alabama

Moving to one of the states where startups are most likely to succeed might not be an option for you; however, there are things that you can do to make sure your business can thrive anywhere. We came up with five principles entrepreneurs and business owners should take to heart.

5 Buts for Startups That Want to Thrive

Scrimp – But Never On Quality

There is nothing wrong with thinking lean; in fact, it’s often a business necessity for startups. Scrimping and cutting costs wherever possible can help reduce operating costs and give startups enough time to begin to generate growth momentum.

But scrimping on quality is always a mistake! This doesn’t mean that your startup has to have the best, it means you need to provide good quality and value for customers’ day in and day out.

Save – But Spend on Marketing

When business contracts, marketing activities are often first on the chopping block, with some startups and small businesses opening their doors without even having a formal marketing plan at all.

But cutting the marketing budget when business is slow will usually just make things worse. When business slows, put more resources into marketing, not less. Likewise, if you cannot tie results to marketing efforts, it might be smart to change your marketing mix, but don’t eliminate it!

Raise Working Capital – But Preserve It

Low cash flow or lack of working capital set aside for unexpected problems or emerging opportunities can bring startups to their knees. Startups that open their doors with enough working capital and the ability to generate cash flow needed to meet operations and grow have an advantage right from the start.

But depleting working capital reserves or spreading cash flow too thin can put startups on shaky ground. Consider using cash flow management tools like invoice factoring to speed up cash flow or preserve working capital by using merchant cash advance or equipment lease financing instead of buying equipment outright.

Go for Broke – But Live to Fight Another Day

The very nature of startups involves risk taking. There is no such thing as a sure thing! There are times in the life of a startup – and in any business – where it’s absolutely essential to take risks that take entrepreneurs outside of their comfort zones.

But taking risks doesn’t have to mean risking everything. The bigger the risk you are considering, the more vital it is that you identify warning signs or statistics that allow you to minimize losses and enable your startup to live to fight another day.

Grow Big – But Keep Thinking Small

As startups become small businesses then grow into midsize companies and even large corporations, new employees will come on board, infrastructure will get bigger and – inevitably – many things will change.

But the values, innovation and culture that you set out to create in the beginning don’t have to change. While you are still small, think about the characteristics that set your business apart whether you’re located in one of the worst or best states for startups, so the most important values they can be strategically preserved and promoted as your company grows.