Category Archives: Organization
How much is your time worth?
If I asked 1000 people that question, I’d probably get 990 different answers. And, if I asked the same 1000 people that question a week, month or year later, I’d get 990 different answers. In business, the question can be answered by taking your salary and dividing it by the hours you work to arrive at a value of your time. Interestingly, your perception of time changes with your workload. If you’re twittling your thumbs, you probably would not have as much sense of urgency as when you’re swamped.
As a vendor of promotional products, corporate apparel, signs and print marketing, I often run into buyers who invariably buy the cheapest products they can find. Those customers, unfortunately, do not understand the value of time. Case in point: I recently built a custom website for a customer to order all of their embroidered shirts from. In addition to building their personalized e-store, we gather the individual orders by employee, embroider the items with the correct logo (they have 2 color variations, based on the color of the item), bag the item and label it with the employee name, split the orders into 16 locations and ship them out.
Sure, they may be able to do all of this work themselves, but is it worth it? To save a hundred dollars by shopping around apparel companies, embroiderers, freight companies and ecommerce brokers, they would wind up spending thousands of dollars in labor, invoices, checks and other expenses.
The moral: when planning a major job, consider all of the time that will be involved in implementing each solution. Quite often, the penny you save in product may cost you more money and headaches than you realize.
Then, call me. 🙂
I’ll save you the most precious resource you have.
Accurate Forms & Supplies
In talking to hundreds of sales managers, CFOs, CEOs and business owners over the years, I’ve encountered a somewhat disturbing trend. This trend is a behavior pattern that I’ve encountered when discussing my products and services. This pattern, while common, can be deadly.
The pattern I’m referring to centers around statistics and how these decision makers react to them. When statistics begin to go down, the first thing many of these decision makers do is cut back on expenses. The idea seems logical at first; if your sales and profit are down, you need to cut expenses to balance out the P&L statement. However, I believe it is a mistake, and sometimes a huge one. I’ve even seen many salesmen do this (and I have too in the past).
The first thing a company MUST do when facing a slight dip in sales or profit is PROMOTE. Economy is important, but you have to promote as a first action. If you fail to promote, your slump will either get worse or be prolonged. If you think about it, promotion makes the most sense. To promote means to make your business, product or service known and well thought of. If sales and profit are down, and you rein in your expenses and fail to promote, you rob yourself of the opportunity of garnering more sales and closing the deals that are close to completion. New customers who may only now be ready to buy or entertain presentations will not be able to find you easily. Old customers may not know what specials or other products you have. All of this means that the action that can directly add sales and profit on an immediate basis – PROMOTION – will not occur, and your business will continue to slump.
The same thought process works for individuals also. If your personal statistics are down slightly, you need to PROMOTE. Salesmen who experience lulls or dips in their sales need to promote and get their name and products out there. Work hard to get appointments, make more calls, send more emails, disseminate sales materials, etc. Other employees can get their statistics up by promoting and PRODUCING. Sometimes, if your job doesn’t directly relate to sales, the action step is to produce. For example, if the Accounts Receivable clerk has a responsibility to process invoices, send out invoices and receive payments from customers, each of these responsibilities can be measured in statistics. Then, if the number of invoices sent, checks in, etc., start dropping, she can Promote by calling people directly for payments, asking sales departments if there are any pending sales to invoice, etc. She can then Produce by getting those invoices out and checks in.
Promotion doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money.
It can be as simple as emailing your customers and prospects to let them know you’re there, or better, that you have a product or service that can really help them. Email blasts are good for broad contact, but you should also send personal, individual emails or messages that focus on a specific product or service for that customer. Make sure you tie in how that product will help that particular business or individual. Other forms of promotion are phone calls, cold calls (when done correctly), website ads, how-to You Tube videos, etc.
My company is positioned to help businesses in two ways: promotion and economy. We consult with customers and help them design one or more marketing pieces, such as flyers, postcards or promotional items. Our relationships with manufacturers helps us save money while promoting.
Our connections also help customers save time and money on their office supplies, toner and printer supplies, business forms and A/P checks. It is a good strategy to use cost savings on these items to pay for promotional actions.
If enough companies and business owners stopped complaining about the economy and just PROMOTED, we would go a long way toward turning our entire economy around, not to mention putting extra money in our pockets.
As we come out of Thanksgiving and roll into the holiday season, I find myself gasping for breath.
Sales is a fun endeavor, with lots of randomity. On any given day, I’m cold calling, following up on leads, generating proposals and following through on existing orders to make sure my customers are well satisfied.
The last point deserves some mention, for both buyers and sellers. In the age of the almighty Internet, buyers have unprecedented access to a wide variety of vendors. I was talking the other day to an account that buys custom printed envelopes from a small printer in Iowa. By “small” I mean the printer was a one-man operation. My prospect said he found the guy on the Internet while searching for a good price.
Given the fact that there seems to be more competition than ever, most sales people seem to succumb to cutting their price to be competitive. I view it differently. I’m not a low-price guy. I save my customers money by consulting with them to design the form or options that best fits their needs. I follow the process from start to finish, including the production, delivery and follow up stages to ensure my customers are satisfied. When there’s a problem or delay, I let my customers know in a timely fashion so they are not left guessing at where their product is. I answer my phone!
While all of this may seem to limit how much business I can win, on the contrary, I build a loyal customer base that understands the value of service.
As a buyer, keep in mind that the low price guy may not be the best option, especially if you want a quality product, or if you want to know that the vendor you’re using will get your product right and on-time.
I believe good is ultimately a better value than just good enough.
As salesmen and business owners, we have limits. How many leads can I generate? How many prospects can I see or call per day? How many presentations can I make to decision makers? How many deals can I close?
The latter questions are the ones salesmen, management and business owners are most concerned with, because closing deals is where the money ultimately comes from.
However, the first few questions can be the most challenging questions to answer. Salesmen spend a great deal of their time trying to generate viable leads to present their products and services to. If the average salesman was spending 80% of their time making presentations and closing deals, they would be highly successful. Indeed, this is what highly successful salesmen do. They use referrals, marketing, social media and other means to generate leads for them so they can spend the majority of their time selling.
Having said that, I find that I am extremely busy. Between managing my staff, following up on existing leads and presentations, taking care of existing customers, managing our social media and website content, etc., I find that I lack the time to diligently prospect and cold call. Much like any manager and/or business owner, I find myself needing about 5 more of me than I have to get everything done.
On the other hand, I know that I can do a better job, with better service at a more competitive price than my competition. All I need is more business.
This is where you come in. If you refer customers to me, I’ll give you a 10% finders fee on the first order. If they order $200, you get $20. If they order $1000, you get $100. And, I’ll reciprocate by giving you leads in return when I can.
If you have a business and would like to use me, I’ll give you a 10% discount for mentioning this blog.
My areas of expertise: business forms, custom print, business cards, envelopes, postcards, 4 color process, business check printing, pressure seal, labels (stock and custom), tax forms, printer toner and supplies, and storage media.
Promotional product lines: Calendars, holiday cards, trade show giveaways, custom apparel (screen printed or embroidered), tools, banners, signs and magnets.
Yes, we do all of that and much more. We’ve been satisfying customers for 29 years, and we’re always looking to help more people.
Accurate Forms & Supplies
In my experience, many companies tend to go to extremes when it comes to marketing: they either don’t want to spend money at all, or they throw larges sums of money away on the same marketing strategies, whether they work or not.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to strike a happy medium to grow your business without breaking the bank.
There are a wide variety of opinions about how much of your overall budget should be spent on marketing. I don’t like this approach, as I feel each business is different. Rather than focusing on spending, say, 10-15% of your budget on marketing, a better question is: “where am I at with my business, and what are my immediate short and long-term goals?” If the business is just starting out, and sales haven’t taken off yet, telling the new business owner to spend a thousand dollars on a direct mail or Facebook campaign might be like telling a bowler to run a marathon. Furthermore, 15% of nothing isn’t going to be very effective.
On the flip side, a major corporation with a good reputation may find that they can accomplish their goals with a budget of much less than 10% of revenue.
The key to being effective lies in expanding your sphere of influence from where you are now to a higher level. This new sphere of influence should be a definite, achievable goal. Don’t count on “going viral” (but be ready in case it happens) to achieve success. Focus on steady, demonstrable growth. If the windfall comes, great. If not, know you are on the path to success. Your sphere of influence depends on how much attention you command from others. In business, the best kind of attention to get is a reputation as an expert. How much attention you command depends on establishing communication lines with as many people as possible.
The goal of marketing, then, is get people’s attention in order to extend your communication lines wider and wider; while simultaneously portraying yourself as valuable.
To extend your communication lines in an ever-widening sphere, one looks at how big the sphere currently is. If you are new or small, your sphere of communication may be only 20 people. Your first goal may be to build that sphere of communication to 100. Thus, your marketing strategy should to geared at establishing good contact with 100 people. Keep in mind, you may have to actually contact 500 or 1000 people to get 100 that will actively be interested in you or your business to remain in good communication and/or buy anything from you or otherwise refer others to you. This can be done inexpensively, using email, social media (Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin especially), writing blogs, distributing business cards; even walking around with informational flyers works. A technique I like is “mutual benefit” marketing; I buy from you, or advertise and refer people to you, and in turn, you buy and refer people to me. Social media is a great tool for this (think of the Barney song, “I Like you [on Facebook], you Like me…”).
In your early marketing efforts, pay attention to what messages and media are effective. If offering discounts doesn’t work, maybe branding your business or product as the hip thing does. Ask your potential clients and existing customers what motivates them to buy a product or service. To avoid sounding like an obvious sales pitch, I ask what purchases they’ve made recently. For example, I sell print marketing and office products. At a trade show, I ask what equipment they’ve bought recently, or who they’ve hired recently. If they haven’t, I ask if business is down and get their opinions. If they have, I asked what made them choose that model or person.
I may not be able to sell him a new car, but I CAN find out that he bought the Porche because it makes him appear successful. After talking with 10-15 people at a mixer, I find that all of them like to look successful. Guess what message will be in my next email blast or flyer?
The specific tools you use depends on your business also. My company, Accurate Forms & Supplies, is primarily a business to business (B2B) enterprise. Therefore, I’m not going to go to Walmart and put my business card on people’s windshields. First of all, it’s annoying and not an effective way to get your name out there. Second, my product line isn’t geared toward individual consumers; so even if it wasn’t annoying, most of the people seeing my card or flyer couldn’t purchase my products anyway. I would want an informational flyer or ad that communicates to business owners. Then, I would need to place the information where my target market will see it AND be interested enough to want more information. Wall Street Journal, talk radio, etc. are where I’ll be looking to get my message.
As your business grows, your marketing should grow also. Once your communication lines grow to 100, 200 etc., your marketing should grow to attempt to target hundreds or even thousands of potential customers and referral partners. Here, your looking at having a professional website, backing with automated email autoresponders, email newsletters, and advertising. A key point here is, do what was successful to get you to this point. If business cards and social mixers didn’t produce results, but Facebook advertising did, expand your Facebook advertising and drop the unsuccessful actions. Use the tools and messages that worked in the past, rather than holding onto unsuccessful actions.
Notice I didn’t necessarily say, “spend a lot more money.” If I got started by just printing flyers and handing them to people and that worked well, I just expand it. I could hire 2-3 guys and have them pass out the flyers for me. Or, I could hire a company that passes out flyers for me. I can call Jim and have him print thousands of the flyers in color for less money than it costs me to print them myself (OK, shameless plug). The same action that cost me $50-100 and my personal time could reach 20x more people, while the cost of the new scale only increases 2-3x.
To conclude, marketing should be geared toward 2 things: 1) expand your communication lines and promote your business on a gradient scale; and 2) correctly target and reach your potential customers with a message that will make them either want to buy or be curious enough to follow up and seek more information.
Stay tuned for more detailed information on how to utilize the techniques mentioned in this article.
The digital age was supposed to completely eliminate our need for paper, resulting in a complete reforestation of the Earth, empty landfills and a Golden Age for mankind (OK, I may be exaggerating a bit there). However, some 15-20 years later, copy paper, Post-it notes and business cards remain fixtures in virtually every office. Why hasn’t this vision of a truly paperless office become a reality?
One may just as well ask, why don’t we have flying cars? The parallel here is that they both seem like great ideas in theory, but fall short in practice. If some moron zips across 5 lanes of oncoming traffic, while updating their Facebook status to avoid having to circle back for that tasty cheeseburger or designer handbag on sale on the highway, chaos ensues. When they can do that in a flying car 1000 feet off the ground, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “the sky is falling”.
In a truly paperless office, the business cards, Postits, and stacks of forms are replaced by emails, instant messaging and computer desktops filled with so many icons, it begins to resemble a Monet painting.
(Monet’s Garden at Giverny) (a very cluttered desktop)
The happy medium, of course, is a hybrid of the two. While eliminating the clutter of stacks of paper does sound appealing (my desk is made of wood?), email and electronic documents are not an end-all answer either.
Email is great for the quick notes. “Did you get my request for information?” “How is that project coming along?” “Do you have pricing yet on that job?” These are all best done through email. For some, such quick-hit messages are being done through texting or instant messaging (IM for those who actually use it). My texting speed on my phone is about 5% as fast as the average teenager, but I do use texting. If you had to use Postit notes for every note, the office would quickly look like a pink and lime green blizzard recently rolled through.
When I want to go into greater depth, such as this article, I usually create a Word document, or if the information is general in nature, I create a blog like this one. I then copy a link to the article and email everyone I want to read it. I also post links to Facebook and Linkedin when appropriate.
That is the true advantage of electronic media: being able to reach lots of people at once. Imagine trying to write, “mandatory meeting at 10am Friday,” and physically copying that message 15 times, then walking to each person’s desk and handing it to them. Or, I type that message once, copy in all of the people I want to invite (or even better, creating a contact list and typing the name of the list), click Send and I’m done. Email marketing and online marketing are great tools for advertising specials, giving advice and showcasing new products to a mass audience.
Paper, in my opinion, is better for individual communications. If I want Susan in marketing to see a promotion, rather than the entire marketing department, I create a flyer, then print it out and give the physical copy to her. Paper is also better for long documents that require extensive time to read. I find that my eyes start to hurt after reading something for more that a few minutes on a computer screen. This is not so much of a problem with paper.
Ironically, as more and more communications move from paper to electronic formats, paper becomes more valuable as a medium. Back when email and electronic media were new, they were effective because they weren’t amid a pile of papers on a desk. Now, as email and other electronic communications are more and more ubiquitous (wide spread), paper gets noticed. If I get to my office and a have 20 emails and only 4 sheets of paper, I tend to look at the papers first. Psychologically, I feel more productive that way. I think, “I’ve got 2 tasks: one will take an hour, one will take 5 minutes. I’ll do the 5 minute task first.” Another factor is, paper seems a bit more personal, because it’s tangible. I can feel it. It has mass. Whereas an email can be deleted and forgotten, a flyer, postcard or business card can stick around. It winds up in a rolodex, drawer or filing cabinet. If it was a message or advertisement, the chances are it will get read more than once. Also, people tend to be nosey. They look over at what’s on their neighbor’s desk and glance at what’s there.
A paperless office may or may not ever become a total reality. Both paper and electronic media have their place in today’s world. If you use them correctly, you can stay organized, focused and remain successful and balanced.
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Nowadays, we are often so busy handling our business and putting out fires that the last thing we have time for is sifting through piles of offer letters or meeting with 15 salesmen every month, just to save a few pennies here and there.
However, it is a good idea every now and then to review your business transactions and audit your business. The information age makes it easier than ever to get competitive information about the products and services you use. If you don’t regularly look at what you’re paying, you could be wasting a lot of money.
I recommend a schedule to make sure you are staying on top of expenses:
1) Utilities such as Electricity, phone and internet service, etc.; once a year
2) Rent/leasing fees: once a year, or minimally every time your lease is due for renewal. Even if you aren’t planning on moving, if the leasing market is down when you are renewing, you may be able to leverage that fact to get a break on your next lease, or have the landlord include renovations or other bonuses.
3) Labor: Every 6 months. You should have a performance review with your immediate juniors twice a year. Let them know how they are doing, relative to your expectations. Use the opportunity to open a dialog about what challenges they are having. Not only will they get a better idea of what you want from them, but they may also give you vital information about ways to improve your business.
4) Cost of goods: Every quarter. This varies from business to business. I’ve seen owners check prices every day; while some almost never do. I personally believe if you have made sound relationships with your vendors and are doing a good job in marketing your business, every quarter should be enough.
5) Insurance: Every year. Health insurance is the biggest of these. Make sure you are on the right plan that strikes a good balance of benefit to your employees and your cost. Providing healthcare that is cheap for you but provides little or no benefit to your employees will actually cost you money, because none of your employees will use it.
If, after doing an audit on one of these points, you feel like you’re not getting the best deal, schedule half a day to meet with 2-3 salesmen who offer the product or service. Chances are, you’ve had several drop by your office in the time since your last audit. Include a salesman from your current vendor, unless it is blatantly obvious that they are really taking advantage of you, based on your initial research. The reason for this is that quite often, there are many variables at play. Cost, convenience, service, and payment arrangements can all play an important role in total cost of ownership. What good is it to save $30 per month on phone service if the system breaks down often, or you have to spend an hour on hold to get an issue resolved?
Good salesman will not just pitch their product or service. They will provide valuable insight into the details of what they’re offering, and important options to consider. A customer service rep in a call center often won’t have this information. Be sure to be clear when making the appointment that you’ll want this information.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called on a particular prospect who ignored my attempts to get a meeting with them, only to find out later that I could have saved them money and given them a higher level of service.
Doing this audit won’t always mean you wind up switching companies. Sometimes, you’ll find that the company you’re with has a different option that better suits your needs, and switching plans saves you money. This happened to me recently with my electric company. It also doesn’t mean that your relationship with your vendors will suffer. If your vendors have done a good job for you, they will welcome the opportunity to continue to serve you and have the conversation about your business and where it’s headed.
Recently, I had a frustrating experience with one of our vendors (who, because they finally DID resolve the issue, shall remain nameless). After they notified us on our monthly statement that they would be charging us additional fees that were not part of our contract, we started a claim to get the fees removed. In handling the issue, they took over three weeks to finally get us an answer. During that time, for well over a week, they didn’t return any of my calls or emails, or attempt to communicate to me in any way regarding the status of my claim. When I finally did get the customer service specialist that was handling our case on the phone, asking why she hasn’t returned my calls, she said she was training some new hires, and hadn’t checked voicemail (apparently, not for several days, as I had left several). I can only hope she is a hypocrite, and not teaching the same bad habits to the people she was training. She said it would be 5-7 business days before she would have an answer from her corporate office, and that she couldn’t do anything about it until they got back to her. After ten business days, we again didn’t hear from her, nor did she return our calls.
Finally, I got so frustrated that I called the original salesperson who sold us the service. I explained, in an annoyed tone of voice, that it was imperative that she call me back before talking to her company, so I could explain what has been going on (my intent was to save her some time, rather than having to go back and forth to find out what has been happening). I also said that if we didn’t hear back in a timely manner, we would be leaving her company. This salesperson sent my owner an email (bypassing me entirely) saying, “I would prefer to drop you an email..instead of interfacing with Jim. In all the years of selling I have never worked with someone as RUDE and difficult as he is.” After explaining what steps had been taken up to this point, she said we would still be liable for the $195 cancellation fee if we chose to go to another company. For the record, I didn’t attack her personally, use any foul language, or say anything else that I would classify as “rude” or “difficult”. My anger and frustration was apparent in my brief explanation of the hell her customer service specialist had put me through up to that point. It saddens me as a salesman to hear another salesman with such a thin skin and low tolerance for a customer’s frustration.
All this brings me to my point: customer service is a dying art. A big reason why companies like this come and go is that they don’t take care of their customers. Imposing fees, altering the terms of agreement of a contract, burying disclaimers and loopholes in a sea of legalese on contracts, ignoring complaints, not returning phone calls and forcing customers to wait on hold for several minutes at a time (only to connect with someone who can’t resolve your issue–thus requiring many more minutes on hold) has become, to greater or lesser degree, the norm in business today.
Many companies lure in new customers in with great prices, only to lose them due to lack of service, or worse, lack of CUSTOMER service. With the Internet, social media and all of the other informational tools available, companies can’t afford to have a bad reputation. Today, word of mouth isn’t just limited to 4-5 housewives gossiping over a fence. With social media, Manta, Google and other tools at people’s fingertips, word of mouth can spread virally to hundreds or even thousands of people. Great prices can only win you so much business. If people look up your company and see negative comments and reviews all over the place, and from many sources, they won’t buy from you; and in many cases, justifiably so.
While no company or organization can be totally fee of negative criticism, you can avoid the lion share of criticism by doing the right things in the first place. First, be proactive in your communication to your customer. If you have established a good communication line with your customers, you will avoid most problems before they become problems. If you know something will be coming that will adversely affect your customer, such as the fee increase mentioned above, call them and let them know beforehand. Don’t wait until the increase happens, try to covertly mention it via email or on a statement (as the above company did), or the ABSOLUTE worst thing: don’t EVER try to sneak it by a customer. If you routinely do that and force customers to find out for themselves about a fee increase or charge, keep your resume up to date and handy, as you will be needing it soon. In the event a problem has occurred, do the following:
1) Listen to and understand the complaint.
2) Give your customer a time frame to resolution. If you think it will take a day to find out, say so. If the process must be referred to someone else, make sure that person understands the time frame that was communicated to the customer.
3) Stay in communication with your customer. If it is taking longer than expected, communicate that to the customer.
4) Handle any negativity or frustration with patience. Understand that the customer is probably adversely affected by whatever the issue is (they can’t afford the cost difference; they need the product, etc.).
5) Be respectful of the customer’s time. If you can’t resolve the customer’s issue right then, ask to have the appropriate person call them back instead of making the customer waste their time on hold.
6) Work diligently to solve the problem quickly. If you handle problems quickly and efficiently, you will actually improve customer loyalty and respect instead of losing it. Mistakes happen. How you handle it determines whether your customers like you and continue to do business with you or start looking through their rolodex for that competitor who has been calling them.
Most people reading this will react to the above by saying, “of course. That is just common sense.” For those who read it and thought, “That’s ridiculous”, please refer your customers to me. I could use the extra business.