Author Archives: smbizcafe

Improving Your Business With Value Added

One of the buzz words we hear on a regular basis is Value-Added.  One of the questions we hear on a regular basis is – what does that mean?

Basically, Value-Added simply means providing a service or product that current customers will pay money for that is connected in some way to what they are already purchasing from you.  For example; a company that provides carpet cleaning services, also sells spot remover or a store selling kitchen utensils and supplies also selling cooking lessons. 

Do you have space in your location that could be used for seminars or demonstrations?  Do you have employees who have a skill that customers would enjoy seeing or that they could learn from?

Brainstorm with your staff or do a survey of your customers to determine what they might be interested in that you could provide and make profit on.  Typically these will be products or services that are related to what you are already selling and that are of interest to current customers.  However, these could bring in new customers as well.

Be careful that you price these out so that there is profit and of course you want to make it convenient for your customers.  With the busy schedules that we all seem to experience these days, convenience is often the reason for purchases.


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Keeping It Continual

Marketing your business requires continual attention and effort.  Add to that the fact that the marketing world is continually changing and evolving and you can quickly become overwhelmed with the choices, the methods and sometimes the cost.   Arguments can be put forth that slow and steady wins the race, be first out of the gate with the new, stay with the tried and true – we’ve heard so many ideas we’ve lost track.

There are a few points that are important in marketing no matter what tactic you use.

  1. Your unique selling point

As a business owner, you should be well aware of what your USP is.  Every business needs at least one in order to stand out in the crowd.  Not sure what it is for your business?  Ask you customers why they frequent your business, what do like best about your business.  They will be more than happy to tell you and you might be surprised at some of their answers.

Once you have your USP be sure to use in whenever you advertise and be sure to mention it as often as you can.  Above all else, make sure that you continue it.

  1. Stay connected and consistent

In this day and age you must stay connected to your customers.  The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” certainly applies.  On a daily basis we see advertisements everywhere, many of which are from our competitors so if you are off the grid so to speak, you lose.  This doesn’t mean you have to place ads daily – there are many ways to make contact points and stay in your customers view.  A comment on facebook, a tweet, attending a networking event, engage with your customers and your community and you will reap rewards.

  1. Keep it fresh

It is important to keep your marketing fresh.  Using the same advertisement year after year can be interpreted as being a business that is behind the times, old fashioned, too busy, not responsive.  Show people that you have a business that lives and is in touch with the world.  Update your website, post regularly on your facebook page, ensure you keep your branding but freshen your ads on a regular basis.  A business that shows life will thrive.

  1. Stay truthful

Todays customers are pretty savvy.  They know what they want and have typically done their research.  Be sure that you have accurate information on your products and that it is reflected on your website and by your in store staff.

Don’t promise delivery in a specific time that you know you cannot meet.  Be truthful and potentially deliver a day early.  That kind of customer service will go a long way to creating a happy customer.

If you mess up, admit it and fix it.  Don’t try to place blame on a supplier or someone else.  Own up to the error and do your best to correct it in a reasonable amount of time.  Your business will gain respect for being honest and caring enough to make it right.

Marketing takes on many forms and is in a constant state of change.  It can be a jungle if you are not informed and if you are without a plan.  In the long run, taking a bit of time on a consistent basis to plan out your strategy will save you time, money and stress!

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Customer Complaints

Every business experiences it from time to time and it is hard to hear that someone is unhappy with your product, service, or policies.  After all, you work hard to provide quality and affordability to your customer.  Try to take this negative and make something positive out of it.

Dealing with a customer complaint can be an opportunity for you to improve your business, review an old customer policy, better train your staff and in the end, maybe even create a loyal customer.

Act In A Timely Fashion

When you discover that a customer in unhappy you cannot ignore it, you must act immediately.  A problem will simply become worse with time.  Find out what the problem is as quickly as possible.  Your willingness and effort to make it right will demonstrate to your customer that they are important to you and that you are a conscientious business person.  The longer you wait, the more upset the customer gets,  the more difficult the conversation will be and the chances of satisfying that customer become more difficult.

Offer A Solution

Ensure that you are well informed of the problem and offer your customer a replacement product at no charge.  If it is a service they are unhappy with, really look at why they are unhappy and offer them a repeat or even upgraded service, but be sure that it is up to par with their expectations.

Was it a communication breakdown that caused the problem?  Apologize and take this as an opportunity to provide some training to the employee involved so that they are able to improve the communication and potentially avoid a strained customer relationship in the future.

Is The Complaint Public?

With the popularity of social media many customer complaints are in this public forum.  Again acting quickly will help to diffuse the situation but never delete a complaint from your social profile.   That will make your customer feel that you do not care and could possibly create even more public bashing.  As quickly as you learn of the situation apologize and express your desire to correct the situation.  Move the conversation off-line by contacting them by email or telephone and resolving the problem quickly.  You will gain respect from others on social media by showing genuine concern and a quick response to resolving the situation.

Not every situation will have a happy ending but the key is getting an accurate understanding of what went wrong for the customer, fixing it and putting practices in place to avoid the same situation in the future.

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Where Do I Find Clients?

This topic can be the most stressful part of opening and operating a small business.  Particularly for a service oriented business.

You simply cannot sit and wait for customers to find you.  Be pro-active and go out and get them !

Business Organizations

Consider joining and participating in a business or social organization in your community.   But simply joining is not enough, you have to be active and make connections with other members.  It is these personal connections and relationships that will pay off with new customers and referrals.  At the same time, you will be giving back to your community!

Friends and Family

Enough cannot be said about the importance of the support new businesses reap from friends and family.  Yes, they are often the first paying customers and clients a business will see.  But it is the support they provide in spreading the word and helping to create a personality for your business.  Be sure to help them in helping you.  Give them a few business cards that they can hand out, tell them how much you appreciate their help, host a special “Friends & Family Only” celebration opening.  They will always be your strongest supporters.

On Line Advertising

New businesses do not always have significant dollars to advertise, but there are many ways to get the word out for a reasonable cost.  Not advertising is not an option.

In this day and age being on-line is a no brainer.  Applications such as facebook, instagram and even a basic website can be done with little to no cash outlay.  They will however, cost you in time.  But it will be time well spent.  Choose the platforms that your target customers are using.  Choose a couple of platforms and do them well and consistently.  If you choose too many, you will have to limit your time to such a degree that none will be well done and ultimately your business personality and brand will not be promoted well.

Almost every business needs a website.  Many people use their smart phones and tablets to look up contact information, addresses and even shop before physically going to purchase the product, so be sure that you choose one that will also be mobile friendly.

Traditional Advertising

Don’t forget that even though you are using online methods to advertise you still require traditional advertising as well.  Depending on your target market, newspaper or radio may still be very beneficial for your business.  Having a well rounded advertising and marketing plan is imperative to being successful.

Advertising must be a continual activity for any business owner.  Once you stop advertising, you will start losing ground to your competitors and lost ground is difficult to regain.  Sit down, set up a plan, and then follow it – you’ll be glad you did!

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Loyalty Marketing

We hear the term often, but what is Loyalty Marketing?  This is when a business focuses their marketing to existing customers by offering perks and/or incentives.  It is often less expensive and easier to increase the purchasing of an already happy customer than to attract a brand new customer.

VIP Members

This type of offer is not new, but it still works.  Offer a VIP Membership – it does not need to cost the customer anything to join except maybe providing an email address.  Then once a month through an email offer members a new product preview 2 days earlier than non members, or sale prices a day earlier.  Set up a special VIP Member evening outside of normal store hours to view your new fall or spring product line and provide coffee and tea.  Offer VIP members free Christmas wrapping of gifts or free samples.  It does not have to be costly.

Special Offers

Everyone likes to feel they have gotten something for free.  So set your sales to feed into this emotion.  Buy one get one half off, or purchase a specific product and receive a free gift.  This will often attract previous customers that you may not have seen for awhile.

Birthday/Anniversary Perks

Through your customer database you can improve customer loyalty.  Consider sending out a Happy Birthday card or email.  Do you have small items that you could access in order to send a gift out on a client birthday or wedding anniversary?  Consider sending a card out with an offer of a 5% discount on purchases during the month of their birthday.


Is there a business down the street that you can partner with to offer discounts to employees of both businesses?  Is it possible to co-ordinate your sales events?  Sharing the cost of marketing will likely reduce your costs and entice new customers into your establishment.  It will also get employees at both businesses referring to each other.


Many large corporations have seen success in creating games to bring in customers.  Try a store scavenger day, a scratch for discount weekend or pick a card for a free gift day.  People love the fun of games, and it is easy to create excitement by promoting it in-store for a few weeks prior to the event.

Try something silly like offering a discount for anyone in a Hallowe’en costume during that week leading up to October 31st and post photos on your business Facebook page.

You can reap benefits by using a little creativity and energy to bring customers back into your business to make repeat purchases.  And, it can even add a little fun to the day !


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Being Informed Key For Start Ups

No one wants their business to fail and yet, many start a business without taking the time to give themselves the best chance for success.

It takes passion.  As an entrepreneur you have to be passionate about what you are going to do, otherwise you are simply giving yourself another job.  A new business takes dedication and lots of time so if you don’t have a passion for it, things will quickly become tedious and your efforts may be less than what is necessary to build a successful business.

Get things right the first time.  Business registration, municipal business permits, HST, income taxes, payroll, WSIB, insurance, etc.  Missing components or not understanding a regulation can mess things up and can actually take more time and cost you significant money down the road when you try to clean them up.  Take the time to learn what your responsibilities are before you start the business, get everything set up properly before you begin and then operate accordingly.

Planning.  A Business Plan can be an owners best friend, and should be updated on a yearly basis.  It is important to plan out your marketing, employee training, new product introduction, etc.  Without a plan you can fall behind on tasks, or miss out on important government reports that can cost you a great deal of money and time.

Don’t go it alone.  Every business owner needs a support system, and not only at start-up.  Family and friends offer support in many ways, even just being able to bounce an idea off of someone you trust is valuable.  There are also programs available to small business owners that can provide Mentors who will offer their experience.  Take advantage of these programs.

Look for customers before you begin the business.  In the early stages it is often difficult to pay yourself as you are searching for customers.  So try to attract them before you open.  Get out and talk to people about your business, attend networking events, make contacts !

Do your research.  You must know as much as possible about the industry you will be working in.  You must know about the products of course, but you must also know everything possible about regulations, your competitors and what your clients expect.  Research will always be important as your business develops. Change is inevitable.  Just look at how Social Media has impacted the world of advertising.  If you are not staying abreast of change you will fall behind and your business will suffer.

One person does not know everything.  Surround yourself with professional people who will advise you or possibly take care of the things you don’t know.  Many business owners have wasted valuable time performing tasks that they are not qualified to do, only to discover later that they could have hired someone to do it for them at less cost than what they could have earned during the same time, and with a great deal less stress.

Take the time in the beginning to set up your business legally and make sure everything is organized.   It  will go a long way to help you build your business with less stress and more opportunity to be successful!

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Word Of Mouth Marketing

New business owners will often tell us that “word of mouth” is going to be a big part (sometimes the main focus) of their marketing .  We all know how powerful a happy customer can be and the impact it can have on a business.  But … the majority of people are not necessarily vocal about their satisfaction with a business or service until asked.  Conversely, we are more apt to be vocal when we are dissatisfied.  So if you are sitting back and waiting for great word of mouth to happen, you might be disappointed.

Any kind of marketing, including “word of mouth” takes effort.  And yes, there are things you can do to help it happen!

#1 Use Your Business Cards Wisely

A very wise and savvy mentor that I know always tells her mentees to give customers 3 of their business cards and to tell them “one to keep and 2 to give away”.  Make it easy for your customers and clients to make referrals to you.  If they have a couple of business cards they will give them away to people and they will be happy to help out their friends and colleagues.

Remember, a whole stack of business cards will do you no good sitting in your desk drawer, and they are very affordable.

#2 Support Your Own Clients

Do you have a client or customer who also owns a small business?  Do you have other clients who could benefit from their product or service?  Make that referral, promote their service.  It will come back to you as they will refer people to your business.  Mutual referrals will grow and benefit you both!
#3 Ask

Sometimes, all it takes is a request.  Ask some of your clients and customers if they would consider providing you with a testimonial that you can use on your website or in-store.  Choose wisely – ask individuals who are established in the community and are well-known so that it carries some weight.

#4 Give Them Something To Talk About

It takes an exceptionally happy customer to initiate positive word of mouth for your business.  You have to consistently provide excellent customer service, get to know them and make them feel appreciated, ask for and accept their feedback on products, etc. and then do something with that feedback.  When they feel special and appreciated they will talk about your business in a positive light.

When you put some thought into it, most business owners are able to come up with ideas that will appeal to the emotions of their customers.  Make them feel important, special, appreciated, safe, understood and provide them with positive experiences on a consistent basis.  Being proactive will result in positive word of mouth – don’t sit back and wait for it, make it happen!

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