3 Gems for Small Business Owners from Jack Ma

ThinkstockPhotos-637152312.jpgAt a recent business leader meeting put on by American Express, Jack Ma from the Alibaba Group was the guest celebrity speaker. The reason why was that Mr. Ma was invited to share a bit of his wisdom and advice, particularly to small businesses. American Express has been maintaining a campaign of supporting and driving sales to small businesses to help them grow nationwide.

A Little Bit of History

Jack Ma did not come from well-established roots like, for example, President Trump. Ma was born and raised in mainland China, competed against thousands of others for a rare spot in the Chinese university system, and could not find regular employment many times. Then, with a spare moment of luck, he was exposed to the internet and realized nobody had catered websites to the Chinese. From there, his success took off, most notably with Alibaba.com.

Simple Gems of Advice

In his speech, Mr. Ma focused his advice to small businesses on three points:

  1. He advised business owners and those considering the venture to find out why businesses fail. Schools typically only teach success stories, but it’s critical to know what causes some people not to succeed to avoid the same mistakes.
  2. Business owners should listen carefully to their next-door neighbors. They are, literally, average consumers who can tell a business owner a library of secrets about what a consumer actually looks for when shopping. The problem is, people tend to avoid their neighbors thinking they’re too nosy. It’s an opportunity missed.
  3. Small businesses should “fix the roof when the sun is shining.” It’s an analogy that essentially means a business owner should be making changes and additions when things are going well. When things are rough, or there’s a major challenge, it’s not the time to be spending energy and money on fixes. Get to a good point again before thinking about changing operations or adding to costs.

Get Out of the Weeds

A lot of what Mr. Ma provided in his speech may seem like common sense for small business owners, but it’s hard to focus on thinking strategically when one’s head is buried deep in just trying to make it through the day. This is why his advice is so important; it reminds business owners to take a moment once in a while to get their head out of the weeds and think in terms of running a company again instead of momentary crisis management. In Ma’s opinion, smart and successful business owners are looking, learning, and timing their decisions with the best opportunities. And, they are not ignoring the best sources of business lessons when they become available.

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If You’re Not Already Blogging, Now Would Be an Excellent Time to Start

ThinkstockPhotos-626669886Many people fail to realize just how important blogs are to a successful business because they still think about what blogs used to be. In the early days of the internet, many blogs were essentially “live journals.” If you wanted to read about what a trendy high school girl was having for lunch with her friends, she probably had a Blogspot blog that would let you do just that.

But today, blogging has become much more powerful and is one of the best ways to connect with your target audience.

The Power of Blogging: Breaking It Down

It’s been said that an incredible 79% of shoppers spend half of their shopping time researching products on the internet. While it’s true that product pages, technical specifications sheets, and other resources are important, users are also gravitating towards something much more human and valuable – blogs.

Think about the things that the right blog allows you to accomplish. First, it lets you dive deeper into certain topics, products, and services more than you ever could on a traditional product page.

Blogging is also a great way to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry, regardless of what that industry happens to be. It’s a chance for you to show that you really can walk the walk in addition to talking the talk, which ultimately helps build brand loyalty over the long-term.

Blogging, in general, also has a number of clear advantages over other forms of communication when it comes to engaging with your audience, as illustrated by these stats:

An Easy Way to Expand Your Reach

Remember, your blog is not a silo. The content that begins on your blog will ultimately make its way across social media as your users begin to share it, thus bringing more people back to your website over time.

Blogging can also help tremendously with SEO and search engine visibility. One of the factors that Google’s algorithm looks for when determining rankings comes down to how often a website is updated. If you publish one high-quality piece of content to your site every day, guess what? That counts.

Nobody is saying that blogging is the ONLY technique you should be using to connect with your audience. In truth, your long-term success will come down to you employing as many techniques as you can in order to further your quest of reaching the right people at the right point in their purchasing journey.

Wish You Were More Productive? Try These 3 Tips!

ThinkstockPhotos-502922626.jpgBeing productive means making room for the things you really want and uncovering new and innovative ways to work smarter, not harder. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier than you probably think it is. If you want to become more productive, here are a few key traits you should focus on.

Take Frequent Breaks to Recharge Yourself

Although this may seem a bit on the counterintuitive side, studies have shown that taking frequent breaks throughout the day help to recharge yourself. Our “biological clock” has two basic forms that are dictated by our natural twenty-four (circadian) rhythms and our shorter than a day, but longer than an hour (ultradian) rhythms. Our ultradian rhythms essentially function in 90-minute intervals. This is why it’s so easy to go from “firing all cylinders” to “boy I need a nap” and back again throughout the course of your work day.

Remember that managing your time and managing your energy are not mutually exclusive. Taking breaks will help get you over the hump and allow you to come back better and stronger than ever.

The Results Are All That Matters

In a piece originally published by Forbes on how to be a more productive manager, it stated how one of the key traits to focus on is leaning into the results, not the process. One of the reasons why we often feel overwhelmed at work is because we’re just not getting the results we’re after with a particular task. This causes our productivity (and as a result, our morale) to take a nosedive.

Because of this, it’s important to make your number one priority a high-quality, consistent, and reliable output, rather than simply trying to do as many things at the same time as possible.

Discipline, Discipline, Discipline

According to the experts at PsychCentral.com, one of the essential things that you can do to become more productive at work is to maintain a strict sense of self-discipline at all times. Highly productive people aren’t just able to eliminate tasks that are ultimately time-wasters – they also have a high degree of personal responsibility and are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves, both of which fall back under the distinct umbrella of discipline.

Hitting goals, meeting deadlines, fulfilling promises – these are the true goals behind that task you’re trying to find the time to accomplish. Maintaining focus on these through strict self-discipline is the perfect way to suddenly find more time in each day.

These are just a few of the key traits that you can focus on to instantly become more productive at work. This was the good news – the better news is that gains like these in your professional life will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on your personal life, too. You’ll be happier at home, and you’ll have more time to spend with your loved ones. It really is a win-win situation.

Your Willingness to Accept Feedback Will Affect All Areas Of Your Business

ThinkstockPhotos-637152194.jpgMany people make the mistake of assuming that feedback automatically equates to complaining. After all, people tend to not speak up about issues unless the topic reaches a boiling point, right? In reality, feedback doesn’t have to be like this at all. When given properly, feedback is constructive and can help to both reinforce what you’re doing right and pinpoint what you may be doing wrong.

No one is immune from the concept of feedback because no one is perfect. When you learn to accept feedback (regardless of where it is coming from or how positive or negative it may be) it will have a dramatic effect on all areas of your business.

Accepting Feedback Helps Employees Feel Engaged

A willingness to accept feedback has a direct relationship with something all business leaders should be concerned about: employee engagement. Feedback goes beyond open and honest communication and enters into a realm where employees are free to speak their minds when they feel it is necessary to do so.

If employees don’t feel like they can come to you with issues they see as essential, it can have a negative effect on your entire business. According to one study conducted by Execu-Search, 42 percent of all employees feel like company leadership does NOT contribute to a positive company culture. This goes a long way towards explaining why, according to a Gallup study, 51 percent of the U.S. workforce is not engaged.

The most alarming statistic of all is that these types of disengaged employees cost businesses between $450 billion and $550 billion annually. As a leader, this is the type of situation that you’re creating for yourself by being unwilling to accept feedback from those around you. Even if you don’t agree with something that an employee has to say, just the fact that you’re willing to listen to them goes a long way towards keeping morale (and company culture) as strong as it can be.

Feedback Acknowledges the Importance of Continued Learning

Feedback is also critical to the modern business for the simple reason that it sets the tone for everything that comes next. It’s less about your willingness to listen and more about showing that you’re always looking for ways to improve, to do better, to make stronger decisions, and to increase your performance.

Luckily, it isn’t hard to accept feedback at all, and you get can plenty of practice because it’s around us all the time. Every time you’re talking to an employee, or a customer, or a vendor, you’re getting feedback. Going out of your way to hear it can help make employees feel more valued, which in turn motivates them to work harder. It can also make your customers feel more valued, which strengthens your long-term relationships.

This type of actionable information is crucial for you to make stronger, more informed decisions in your position moving forward. Going out of your way to get constant, honest, and (yes, sometimes) raw feedback helps make sure that your actions are aligned with the goals of your business.

The Unexpected Benefits of Returns

A STRATEGIC RETURN APPROACH CAN HELP YOUR BUSINESS THRIVE.

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Can a return policy boost sales? The answer is yes! While it may sound counterproductive, a stellar return policy can increase customer loyalty and also boost additional sales after returns are made. This is because the majority of shoppers who return or exchange an item will make another purchase if the return experience was positive.

While returns are a growing issue for many businesses, a strategic return approach can help your business thrive. Here are a few tips to create a return policy that can help boost sales:

  • Create a simple policy with clearly outlined rules (for example, must return with receipt within 60 days from original purchase date).
  • Make it easy to find your return policy. Consider printing your return policy on your receipts, including a return policy card with all purchases, and ensure your return policy is easily available on your website.
  • If you are an e-commerce business, offer free return shipping, which will boost your customer’s confidence and encourage future purchases.
  • Promote your return policy on social media and in product advertising. For example, “free shipping on purchases and returns” can be a tremendous selling point.

If you’d like help promoting a return policy that will build customer loyalty, our creative team would love to help! Stop by or give us a call today at 856.429.0715

The One-Trick Pony Syndrome

Have you ever heard the phrase, “a one-trick pony?”

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Researchers believe the “one-trick pony” phrase comes from an entertainment background. According to research, the earliest reference was associated with circus ponies used to perform a trick or feat that impressed audiences. The ponies involved could do an amazing act, such as walking on their hind feet, but that was all they could do. Eventually, the audiences got bored with the show. In one version of the story, a pony had a dog partner that would ride on it. While the audience got sick of seeing the pony do the same thing every time the circus was in town, the dog gained fame because it learned and began to perform new tricks. In time, the dog became the star, and the pony was relegated to hauling circus carts.

Is Your Business A One-Trick Pony?

The moral of the story here is not to allow your business to get stuck on only one good thing. It’s tempting to think that if you have something good going, why ruin it? Well, over time that good thing will become less and less popular. The number of customers who want it will diminish and the business will have to start cutting prices to keep it attractive. Eventually, the product or service won’t sell at all.

Palm PDAs and Blackberry were both perfect examples of the one-trick pony mistake. They both had a really good product for a while, but both companies failed to upgrade and develop new products. Eventually, someone else did, and their customer base walked away. Those text screens on a Blackberry and similarly on a Palm PDA simply looked old and obsolete versus smartphones like the original Apple iPhone. The world had changed.

It’s Time to Diversify

Is your business riding the wave right now of a star pony? If so, now is the time to be looking for and generating a new path. Diversify into a new product or new service. Not only does it protect your business’ longevity, but multiple revenue streams from different customers will eventually offset each other when one of them starts to weaken.

Companies that map out their product/service life cycle and plan for eventual loss with replacement “ponies” are the firms that survive and grow. Don’t let all your energy, money, time, and effort go down the drain with a one-trick pony. Instead, use the initial success to be your springboard for the next one.

Take a Lesson from Disney

BE OUR GUEST

If you visit any one of the Disney Corporation’s facilities, you have experienced a phenomenon they call “Onstage and Backstage.” It’s quite a simple concept, and one that Disney has definitely perfected. The “Onstage” area refers to anywhere that guests may roam freely, while “Backstage” is where the cast members (employees) travel from one part of the park to another, take “Disney-free” breaks, and get into costume. For Disney, the separation between onstage and backstage is essential in maintaining the magical feel of their facilities.

Your company most likely has a similar onstage (customer area) and backstage (production area) structure. And while your employees may not use your “backstage” area to don their Mickey or Minnie Mouse costumes, there are things that go on behind the scenes that most of your customers are not privileged to see.

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That is, of course, unless you offer to take your customers on a tour of your facility. At most Disney facilities, visitors can take a ride backstage to see some of the inner workings of the magical world. The same can be done at your business. Allowing your customers a peek at the inner workings of your company and introducing them to your staff will improve your relationship with them. And, showing them any impressive machinery or workflow systems you have in place will increase their confidence in the work you do for them.

Take a lesson from the Disney Corporation and see what kind of response you get from offering backstage tours of your company. You may be surprised to see how many people would be interested in getting to know your company better, and the effect their knowledge can have on furthering your relationship with them.