Bad Emails Are Worse Than None At All

I run across some bad emails in my inbox, but I have to give people an A for effort, so I have avoided using SMB emails as examples of WHAT NOT TO DO. In this case, the example below was so bad it borders on the “I really don’t care” level, so I decided they wouldn’t really care if I used them as an example (I’m not a complete idiot, so I blurred the logo and name throughout).

I just had to show how 10-15 minutes of some simple layout changes and editing make a HUGE difference in your business image.

See below how even with the same content, simple attention to eye-friendly tools can make all the difference in the chance your email will actually be read AND leave a good impression on your subscribers. At the bottom of this image are tips on what went wrong here…Email Before and After

Please, Please use these guidelines in your emails:

(Note how these guidelines were ignored in the example above)

  • Get AT LEAST ONE other person to proof for spelling and grammar.
  • Headings – A title should look like a title – create space around your title line and use appropriate font/size.
  • Image padding and placement – Use image alignment tools to allow text to wrap to the left or right or simply center your image. Add padding to ensure the image allows white space between the image and text for better viewing and reading.
  • WHITE SPACE in your body of text is imperative. NEVER have more than 2-3 lines in a paragraph. Remember, most people nowadays are reading their inbox on a mobile device. If they have trouble reading, they’ll exit out in a heartbeat.
  • If you use an Image URL instead of a jpg, png, gif, etc., the source for that image might move or be deleted (and you’ll never know when that happens), and as a result, it will also be deleted on your emails since that image lives at that URL. If you prefer using a URL because of storage limitations, use your own web page as a source or a photo storage site like Photobucket to give you complete control.
  • AND if you must copy and paste from a Word or other document, it MUST BE FREE OF FORMATTING. Your email service providers usually have a tool button in the Toolbar to paste from Word format free. You can also use your computer tools like Notepad to paste into first, then copy and paste from Notepad. This will remove all formatting to provide a clean paste.

These are just the basics, but look at the difference when applied…

What type of email would you rather your customers receive?

If you are ready to try email marketing – please click here for a free trial with Constant Contact.

SMB Owners: Don’t Get Bogged Down in Your Bookkeeping

You Can't Afford NOTto Delegate

Franchisees and small business owners of all kinds:

Business suffering because you’re bogged down with administrative mess? You say you didn’t sign up for bookkeeping when you dreamed of your new business?

Not focusing on what you love is a BIG mistake.  And guess what? There are people out there who LOVE bookkeeping. Yes, it’s true! And, thankfully, they are ready for hire.

EVEN IF YOU KNOW HOW

You choose a business because you are following your bliss, your passion, your venue to champion your skills. My guess is you never gave a damn about bookkeeping, ordering, payroll, maintenance, or many of the duties that are so necessary to run a successful business. Just because you know how doesn’t always mean you should.

I bet you’re still mowing your own lawn, too.

Time for a wake-up call

So why aren’t you hiring people to do those tasks? Or at the very least, delegating it to the person on your staff who does enjoy and excel at that kind of work?
The excuse I hear over and over is that you can’t afford to hire another person to handle those chores. You can’t afford NOT to!

Start with part-time help

There are many people who are taking on clients like you on a part-time basis:

  • Virtual Assistants
  • College Interns
  • Stay-at-home Moms/Dads who are dying to talk to adults and keep their fingers in the work  world part-time
  • consultants who want to make their own hours, and more.

Yes, you will have to monitor their work, but do hire someone to do what you hate or is eating up quality time in your business. Get back to your business at hand. You will be less stressed without those duties hanging over your head and they will do a better job with the full focus you need. That is what THEY love to do.

Boomer SMB Owners Tell Me S/He Can’t Do Social Media…

MS-DOS Command line
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-DOS

Nothing, and I mean nothing, including social media, is as hard to master as MS-DOS was. . .

Since my business demographic is primarily boomers, I know better. I’m a boomer, too. And I know full well that we boomers had to conquer and endure the pioneering stages of modern technology. Nothing, and I mean nothing, today is as hard to master as MS-DOS was. Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials don’t have a clue what a nightmare it was to work on a black screen with green letters and no graphics, no mouse. They never had to learn commands or have ever seen “A:” , or had to save content on multiple floppy disks, and most never sat in front of a v e r y  s l o w CRT that emitted unhealthy rays!

So, Back to the Boomers

So when these boomers who cut their computer teeth on difficult, dinosaur technology are telling me that social media is just too hard to take the time to learn  – –  sorry, but I’m not biting!

What I think happened to these otherwise savvy entrepreneurs, is when they began their businesses, technology was in an ever-changing mode. Obsolescence was the norm, and many were hesitant to invest in expensive technology that would most likely be outdated before it collected dust. Starting a new business means watching every nickel; technology avoidance and frugality became almost a badge of honor.

Culture Shock

Then, before these entrepreneurs knew what hit them, all of a sudden they were far, far behind others who had the time to keep up. In addition, any technology to be learned had to center around POS and bookkeeping. The learning curve on those was a bit time-consuming for owners, not to mention the time required to train staff. Who had time to jump into the social media craze while trying to run a business?

But now – da-da-DUM – there is no escaping social media for small business marketing. While it, too, experienced its versions of continuous obsolescence, social media has settled in as the most viable and affordable marketing vehicle for SMBs.

What I am finding is the biggest obstacle to success in social media, is that most successful entrepreneurs are classic introverts, even hermits. They live, eat, drink, and breathe their business to the point of no social life, but they like that! So of course they feel awkward trying to enter a SOCIAL medium that expects casual interaction.

So, yes, it is good to hire help, but it is also good to use that help to learn social media. WHY? Because social media is not successful unless the fans get to see what goes on behind the front doors. And if you don’t provide behind the scenes material (content, images, customer testimonials, etc.), then you are simply keeping a social media account alive with memes, quotes, product images – yawn……..

My best social media analogy?

Think of how many times you have driven by a small business and felt a tinge of apprehension about pulling in and checking it out. Why?

Because we don’t like to explore the unknown, especially when it has potential to waste our valuable time or money. Your social media fans are no different. They want some behind the scenes peeks at who you are, what you do, why you sell what you sell, what makes you different, and how will it FEEL to shop or do business with you!

Damn, you don’t have to marry these fans! Just like your customers, people just need to get to know each other! And that’s why social media works for those who do make the effort to put themselves out there for fans! Does that make sense?!

A Comedy of Customer Service Errors – a Marketing vs Sales story

Ruby Tuesday on North Carolina Highway 54 in D...
Image via Wikipedia

It is so important for Marketing and Sales to communicate. Ruby Tuesday and other chains must spend a fortune on their marketing; from print to broadcast, decor, menus, layout, everything. But if the on-the-floor experience doesn’t match the marketing, whose fault is it? Marketing or Operations – or both?

A true story. The little things really DO matter.

I was telling colleagues this story of a customer experience I had, and they all said I positively must blog about it. It’s true and not exaggerated, so I hope you enjoy this crazy little adventure of mine… To me, it is a great example of how operations and marketing must work together or both sides suffer.

Turn on the Wayback Machine

Waaaay back in 2004, I was a troubleshooting store manager at a (then) new outlet mall in a (then) fairly unsophisticated and remote location in North Georgia. Thankfully, the area has come a long way since then.

It was a tough adjustment for me, spoiled from working in major metropolitan areas with a wealth of hiring potential… “Dueling Banjos” from the movie “Deliverance” was playing in the back of my mind…

We just wanted to eat

It was time for the annual inventory, so, in anticipation of a long worknight, I planned to treat my staff to dinner and some great coffee. Simple enough – or so I thought. I forgot that this area was satisfied withcoffee that came in jars of brown powder. But I held hope for dinner… a new Ruby Tuesday had opened in the far end of the mall’s parking lot. Hooray – we can avoid Food Court heartburn!

An actual coffee bar had opened in the food court, too! I was so happy we had the option of real food and real coffee to ease the dreaded task of counting every item in the store – accurately.

Even better, Ruby’s had curb side pickup. I called ahead and ordered for everyone. They gave me my total, asked for the description of my car, and told me the order would be ready to pick up in 20 minutes. Perfect! I thought to myself, I’ll head on over while the staff closes the day’s business. How much easier could it get?

Wanted: Revolving Doors

I headed over to the Ruby Tuesday restaurant and parked in the pick-up spot in front of the curbside door near the backside of the restaurant. While watching every other waiting car get orders filled, I noticed something odd… The server did not go back in to the restaurant through the same door he exited. Instead, he walked to the front entrance… huh? He did this 4 more times, each time moving a little faster to get to that front door. Not surprisingly, my curiosity was peaking. Why didn’t he go back in the way he came out?

I was kept waiting and waiting for my order. The next time the server popped out, I waved him over and he assured me my order was on the way. Hmmmmm….  I waited a little longer and still no order. I decided I had to investigate. I left my car and now I’m annoyed for keeping my staff waiting. I walked to the curb side pick-up door and surprise! Locked. Now we all know why the server kept returning by way of the front door, but still don’t know why he couldn’t do anything about it.

We can’t make that item for ya – or anything else either

I walked to the front door and the hostess directed me to the service bar which handled curbside orders. I walked over and inquired. Someone went to check and returned apologetic. They were out of lettuce!!! They said they were waiting to know what I wanted to substitute. And they were going to ask me when?!? And what restaurant runs out of lettuce? Seriously? (only back then we weren’t saying “Seriously” so I probably said, “Really?”).

I asked about 3 other items – nope, nada, don’t have the items to make it. Finally I settled for something I hoped the staff would like and they went back into the kitchen after some more mumblings of apologies.

I didn’t trust them anymore

I decided to wait at the bar since it was hot outside, not to mention I also now had a trust issue emerging. Boy, good thing Twitter was still 2 years away… what a stream of bad customer service tweets were waiting here.

I’m still sitting there waiting… I was the only customer in the area, so I became privy to some staff chatter I probably wasn’t supposed to hear:

Why aren’t you using the curb door to come back in?

It’s locked.

Well, go get the key! 

Steve has it.

Well where’s Steve?

Nobody’s seen him for the last 20 minutes.

Ba-dum-tss….

If there had been Twitter, my feed would have been smoking! You couldn’t have scripted this better.

Then, finally, my order came out. Whew! But I was running out of time and still had to go to the “gourmet” coffee shop in the food court…

Again, what was I thinking?

So I get to the coffee place in the food court. They were still open for a few hours, so I should have no trouble here.  hahahahahahahahahaha :D

We only have regular?

I ordered a few flavored coffees. The young lady said, “We’re out of the flavored coffees, we just have regular.” I stepped back to look at the sign to make sure I was actually standing at the “Coffee bar.” Yup.  I was at the right place – at least according to the sign…

I asked her when some flavored coffee might be ready.

She said they weren’t going to make anymore.

I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt by asking if she were closing early or some such story that would make some kind of sense of her statement. She said no, that they just only make so much flavored coffee per day and so she wasn’t going to make anymore.

Wait, there’s more.

No stir sticks?

I was running out of time, so I just gave up and ordered regular coffee all around. Then I asked for cream and sugar. She wanted a specific number of creams and sugars before she would give me any.

And lastly – she was out of spoons and stir sticks! Unbelievably, I had to walk down to each of the next 3 food court stores before I could find spoons. The first one actually had some, but told me I couldn’t have any of his because I didn’t buy anything from him.

I was beginning to feel like this was some kind of customer service Twilight Zone and that surely I would wake up soon! First the food fiasco and now the food court and coffee stand fail.

Nope. It was real.

As I was walking out with my coffee and spoons, I spotted a familiar face at the courtesy desk and recounted my horrors of customer service. We agreed the hiring pool was just too dry. We wrapped up our conversation on the trials of hiring in an arena of folks that thought getting a Wal-Mart was their route to becoming akin to a big city.

Then, up walks an unshaven young guy in overalls and flip-flops asking for an application for a job. The courtesy desk host asked for which store was he applying? He said he didn’t know – what stores did they have? We all laughed and told him to turn around as he was in the middle of over 40 different stores in the food court alone.

He shrugged, we wanted to laugh.

I walked back to my store to share our regular coffee and non-lettuce bearing adjusted menu items… and went to work on our inventory.

So, corporate, listen up. What happens on the floor is what determines your ROI in marketing. You can spend all you want on marketing, but if operations aren’t up to par, your money is wasted.

Shopping Small is Shopping Wise for Busy Entrepreneurs

Shopping Small is Shopping Wise for Busy Entrepreneurs

Are you guilty of lost time picking through discount racks to NOT find what you need?

It is a far more enjoyable shopping experience to “Shop Small.” Since Entrepreneurs are always short on time, small business shops and services can be a huge time saver once you establish a relationship with the staff. And since you entrepreneurs are always watching every dime,  shopping small keeps you out of hot water when you need your needs met. For example, your small business will educate you on extending the life of your purchases, and proper use. In addition, with your sales history, they can make suggestions for wiser future purchases to supplement what you already own.

You will get additional value if you ASK your small business:

  • Do you keep my purchases on file?
  • Will I be notified of sales or specials?
  • Will you let me know if something I expressed an interest in goes on sale or is running out?
  • Can I work with the same salesperson each time if I find a good match for me?
  • Do you have a loyalty program?
  • Is there a maintenance alert program (for home and office machines, appliances, landscapers, etc) perhaps via email or texting?

ASK, ASK, ASK! You’d be surprised what they might offer for your customer service experience if you only ask.

I know our clients are very happy when we notice items of concern or mistakes FOR them before a consumer does. And by the same token, we are very happy to have small businesses who help US with their specific goods or services so we can keep our minds focused on our clients.

Generally, small business owners LOVE what they do. Give them a chance to treat you special and you’ll save a lot of time and money – and stress!

:) Take 5 minutes to post a good review on social media or review sites (like Yelp or Google Places for Business) for the small businesses who make your daily life easier! They work hard to keep you coming back.

Is KMart Abusing Employees with No Time for Thanksgiving?

This is just a quick poll to get your opinion on the insanity around Black Friday.


In case you aren’t aware, KMart recently announced they were opening at 6 am on Thanksgiving and remaining open for 41 hours through Black Friday. I tweeted them about it and later learned this is their standard reply for any negative social media comments around this decision.

@KMart replied:

“Our decision to extend hours is based in part on fdbk from our Members, who sought more flex holiday in-store shopping times.”

This is a case where the customer is not always right. Businesses must consider the impact on employees.

Huffington Post has a screenshot of a Facebook thread with this discussion.

As a Retail Career Dog, I remember that Thanksgiving and Christmas Days were the only 2 days a year I could promise my family I’d be there. Not the case for today’s employees… Soon they’ll be open on Christmas Day. Oh, wait, I think they did start that in 2012… :(

(Note: Sorry to pick on just you, KMart. Yes, I know many retailers are open on Thanksgiving. But that doesn’t make it right in a day and age when family ties are so fragile and family traditions that help hold them together are disintegrating.)

For Your Small Biz: the Best Times NOT to Tweet [Infographic]

Twitter is apparently still the most misunderstood of the social media platforms.

While I was cruising Pinterest, I ran across just one too many Infographics declaring the best times to tweet. Chicken Little was everywhere! If you aren’t posting at those times, you’ll fail!

Not hardly. And has it occurred to anyone that if EVERYONE is posting during those “prime time” spots, then those times will become flooded and then you’ll be just as anonymous as they initially warned.

The most important times to tweet are when your demographic is there. Period. If you aren’t searching relevant keywords to determine where and when your preferred listeners are, then you are shooting at random.

Well, I took a stab at creating my own infographic. Hope it helps put some perspective on Twitter for you!

For Your Small Biz... the Best times NOT to Tweet