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Real Small Business, Real Word-of-Mouth, Real Improvement.

Real Small Business, Real Word-of-Mouth, Real Improvement.

I don’t mean to bite the hand that feeds me, but I’ve noticed that we of the small business/entrepreneur blogging world talk a lot about word-of-mouth and other great business principles, but rarely do we write about actual experiences from small businesses applying the stuff. My goal is to change that with some real case studies of real businesses applying great business principles and enjoying the benefits. Here is my first attempt.

Chuck & Joan Matheny own two Sport Clips locations in greater Phoenix. Sport Clips is a hair cut place that caters to guys. Every stylist chair has a TV tuned to sports, all the décor is sports related, and they have an “MVP” service that includes a hot towel and a neck massage. Their motto is “Guys win.” If you’ve never been comfortable in the fru-fru world of hair salons, this is the place for you.

Anyway, last September Chuck was looking for a way to improve the performance of one of his locations. It had a great staff and a good location but wasn't performing like he hoped it would. Rather than pay for traditional advertising, Chuck decided to focus on encouraging his existing clients to spread the word. Four months later, without spending a dime on advertising, Chuck’s weekly sales were up well over 20% and have continued to grow.

From the client's perspective, Chuck's program starts with a simple invitation received at the conclusion of their service. The invitation is the size of a business card. It includes the stylist's name and offers a free service upgrade in return for visiting a web site to provide feedback. "Our feedback survey is extremely short," says Chuck. "It literally takes our clients less than sixty seconds to complete. Our goal is not to get feedback on every little thing, but to learn if the client is happy with the service and start an ongoing dialogue."

The ongoing dialogue is initiated with the last question of the survey that asks if the client would like to receive additional information and specials from Sport Clips. Nearly 90 percent of those that provide feedback choose to receive additional information. That’s a pretty good “opt-in” rate. Once customers opt-in, Chuck uses technology to stay in touch with them. First-time customers automatically receive reminders via email, including a discount coupon, every three weeks to encourage loyalty. Every customer that signs up receives a birthday greeting from Chuck including a discount on their next hair cut and Chuck regularly sends out email specials associated with holidays or other events.

The Sport Clips client experience is remarkable and worth talking about in and of itself, but Chuck also takes extra steps to encourage his clients to tell others about their experience. Each time a client completes a survey or receives an email from Chuck they are given the opportunity to forward online discount coupons to their friends along with a personal message. Thirty percent of the clients that join Chuck’s program take advantage of the opportunity and send an invitation to their friends.

Chuck's efforts have paid off in many ways. His stylists love the customer feedback and take greater pride in their work. He knows who his most loyal customers are and can contact them without paying for advertising. And, most importantly, his customers are actively telling their friends to try Sport Clips. All of which have lead to healthy growth.

Time, effort, and money required? The invitation cards that Chuck’s stylists hand out are business cards ordered from Vistaprint. They run about 4 cents a piece--four color both sides. Chuck uses PromoterZ for his online survey, opt-in list management, outgoing email and online referral generation needs. Cost: $50 a month. In terms of time required, Chuck spends a few minutes each day responding to customer feedback. Once a week he shares feedback with his managers as part of his manager meeting. He also spends some time each month deciding on a special offer to send out to his loyal customers. This month? Fathers and Sons that come in together get a Free MVP upgrade for Dad and a half price haircut for son.

Get customer feedback, generate referrals, and increase repeat sales for as little as $150 a month. Learn more

Are You Holding Your Bathroom for Ransom?

Are You Holding Your Bathroom for Ransom?

I was on the road over the weekend and found the stupid business idea of the week--no make that century. Driving on the interstate to Flagstaff, Arizona (beautiful place if you have never been there) and needed to stop for a bio break. Sign on the business establishment's front door: "Our Bathrooms are for Paying Customers Only!"

Now I know exactly where that sign came from. An employee, maybe the manager, maybe even the owner got tired of trying to keep the bathroom clean and seeing people walk in and out without buying anything. Simple conclusion and solution: "No more free loaders! The bathroom is a benefit reserved only for those people that buy! Toilet paper doesn't grow on trees! Let's get a sign up, that will save us some money and some time!" So up goes the sign telling potential customers that they are an annoyance and if they want relief, they've got to pay.

I would love to compete with the guy that made that decision. I'd make my bathrooms glisten and smell of sweet things. I'd hire a teenager to stand outside the bathroom door and hand road-weary travelers a warm towelette to refresh themselves. I'd invest in some big signs on the interstate that say "Come use our sweet smelling bathrooms--absolutely free!" Then I'd sit back and watch my suppliers try to keep up with the demand.

Would some travelers come and go without buying anything? Sure, but I would smile and thank them for using my bathroom. Why? Because I know there is no way they are going to be able to keep my remarkable bathroom a secret. When a person asks how their trip went, they are going to say, "It was long, but we found the greatest place to stop. They actually give you a warm towlette and then they thanked us for using their bathroom--and we didn't even buy anything!" And when it is time to make the return trip, where do you think they are going to stop? At my remarkable sweet-smelling bathroom and chances are this time they are going to buy a tank of gas, a bag of jerky, and a 32 oz soda!

Here is the point, whether your business is on the interstate, the internet or any location in between, the name of the game is traffic. The more people that walk through your door, the more you are going to sell. The best way to build traffic is not to hold free services for ransom. Have you ever seen anyone happy after paying a ransom--even if they get what was promised? No! More likely they feel violated and manipulated. So don't do it! Be the good guy and make more money at the same time. If you've got something free and remarkable you can offer, don't hold it ransom, get it out in front and use it to get more customers to walk through your door then make sure they have a remarkable experience. Soon your sweet-smelling bathroom will be world famous...

Get customer feedback, generate referrals, and increase repeat sales for as little as $150 a month. Learn more

Best Post of the Week, Anywhere!

Best Post of the Week, Anywhere!

One of our posts from last week got some recognition and we couldn't resist tooting our horn a little.

Innovation 101, an entry posted on May 22nd was selected from multiple small business and entrepreneurship blogs to be included in the Carnival of Entrepreneurship hosted by Pam Slim's Escape from Cubicle Nation. Pam selected seven posts from all those submitted. Of our post she said, "The lead picture is worth the visit!" Check out the lead picture and rest of the post here here.

In addition, the same post was selected as the "The Best Post of the Week, Anywhere!™". This is from a blog called Political Calculations that does a review of the 10 business blog carnivals each week. Here is what they had to say:

"Dave Free shows off the process of innovation in a home drywalling project he took on with his son. The engineer, economist and entrepreneur in me all agree that this is, hands down, The Best Post of the Week, Anywhere!"

Like I said--tooting our horn just a little. You can visit the Political Calculations blog here.

Unhappy customers tell on average 22 other people. If you ticket price is $50 that is $1100 in revenue. How would you like to know before they tell 22 others? Learn more

5 Steps to a Sales-Doubling Buzz Force!

5 Steps to a Sales-Doubling Buzz Force!

Interested in doubling your sales? That is exactly what Proctor & Gamble did with their Dawn Direct Foam dish detergent. How did they do it? With a word-of-mouth marketing program called Vocalpoint. According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, this is how it works:

Procter and Gamble looks for customers that match their target criteria, in this case moms and particularly those with large social networks. They find most of them by advertising online and through referrals. Participants are asked to talk to their friends about new products. In return, P&G promises a stream of new product samples, "a voice that is going to be heard," and specific messages to share. So far 600,000 moms are participating.

According to Steve Knox, the CEO of Vocalpoint, the most difficult challenge with word-of-mouth marketing is making it predictable. His solution: find a strong reason why a person would want to share product information with a friend. The article goes on to say--and this is very important--that the message given to the participants is always different from the one P&G uses in traditional media.

For example on the Dawn campaign, traditional ads stressed the grease-cutting power, But the message sent to the Vocalpoint mom's focused on how fun the foam was for kids to use--so fun they would be asking to help wash the dishes. They also received a sponge shaped like a foot and a dozen $1.50 coupons. The result: sales in the three test markets were double those in markets where Vocalpoint was not used.

Sound expensive and difficult to manage? I don't think it has to be. Here are five simple steps to get your Buzz Force going and your sales increasing:

  1. Make it worth their while. Proctor and Gamble offers two things: product samples/discounts and a sense of empowerment. Both make their participants feel like a VIP or an "insider." That is your goal. Price the coupons such that you will be happy to see your "buzz force" using them and remember the pay-off is not just your participant coming back in with the coupon but the friends they are talking to and the feedback they are giving you.
  2. Invite your customers. The need to invite is obvious, the method can vary. Proctor & Gamble places ads to attract those interested. That can be expensive. Why not just invite your customers as you complete your transaction with them? There are several ways to do it. You can start by asking for feedback and then follow that up with an invitation to stay in touch. Another option is to invite them to join a birthday or some other kind of club and then develop the relationship from there. Finally, is the direct approach. "Interested in joining our fan club? You get discounts and sneak previews you can pass along to your friends."
  3. Give them a message worth telling. Hopefully your business is so remarkable that your customers will be anxious to tell their friends about you, but don't leave it to chance. Remember Proctor and Gamble always gives their buzz agents a specific message that is easy to share with friends. Put yourselves in your customers' shoes--what would be an easy way for them to tell their friends about you? Maybe it is "privileged" information: "Did you hear Subway is coming out with a new sandwich?" Maybe it is a great deal. "Hey, next time you need a hair cut let me know, Sport Clips gives me great coupons." Or maybe it is something just plain remarkable, "I got two movie tickets today from my insurance guy!"
  4. Give them another message worth telling. This shouldn't be a one time campaign. Stay in touch regularly. Those who have "opted-in" want to hear from you. The more ideas you give them to talk to their friends, the more likely one will work for them and you'll start seeing their friends.
  5. Listen and Learn. Perhaps this one should have been first rather than last, because it is very important. Those who join your buzz force can become your best source of market intelligence. They know and like your product, they know how people react to your product, and they are willing to put some effort into your product. Ask them what they think and listen carefully. Look to their feedback for message ideas and ways to improve your offering. How do you think the Proctor and Gamble folks figured out kids like the foam? It didn't happen in a board room.

Still sound like a lot of work? There are tools that can be used to greatly streamline the time and effort required to manage a word-of-mouth marketing program (Caution: shameless plug approaching). PromoterZ is one such tool. In simple terms, it gives users a quick and inexpensive way to invite participants, gather feedback, send messages (including online coupons), and even includes an easy online way for the buzz force to pass the word to their friends. It handles the logistics so that you can focus on the message. Check it out at www.promoterz.com.

Find your happy customers and put a megaphone in their hand. Learn more

Listen First!

Listen First!

Listening is hard. Let's face it, we are all problem solvers. If we weren't, chances are we wouldn't be in business for ourselves. We don't have a lot of time to spend listening to long stories. So we quickly pick out the "important facts," develop (or should I say jump?) to a conclusion, and move on to the next problem. According to Laurent Flores , the founder and CEO of, crmmetrix not listening enough to customers is exactly what is wrong with most marketing today. Here are his steps to go from marketing to consumers to marketing with consumers:

First: Listen to conversations. Learn from consumers and leverage the words consumers "recognize themselves in": a message is about an idea, and the words that support it best.

Second: Listen and engage the consumers who matter in your category. Leadership is not universal, but category related. Look at natural touch-points with your customers, such as the brand website, to find the influencers who want to engage with their favorite brands.

Third: Test the words. As stated earlier, evolving the message with influencers is key. Indeed, rather than just testing the message idea, test the words consumers will recognize themselves in. Let them have a say with a simple online VIP vote, for example.

Fourth: Seed trials and give them the ability to spread. Engage influencers further in trying and testing your product during an exclusive special VIP invitation. Give them the means to spread the word by making samples and campaign materials available (that they actually developed themselves, remember), and they will drive sales for you.

Fifth: Continue listening and keep involving them. Because markets are conversations, continuous listening to consumers during and after the campaign is key. Listening will not only provide the necessary measurement to better manage WOM, but will also naturally boost consumer engagement and relationship with your brand for your next campaign.

Some really great ideas here. When was the last time you asked your influencers or promoters (you know who they are don't you?) to vote on one of your advertising ideas? Modern technology makes the logistics easy. How about exclusive previews and samples for your promoters? You want them talking? First listen and then give them something to talk about.

The Happiest customers tell on average 8 other people. Who are your happiest customers? Promoterz knows. Learn more
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Seeds from the blogworld
We search the business blog world looking for posts that illustrate principles, or "Seeds", that if followed, or "planted", will help small businesses grow. We list them here for your convenience. Enjoy.

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