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The value of time

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.

save time, marketing ideas, business forms

Dwindling spiral of time.

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.

-Jim

Accurate Forms & Supplies

817-498-4840

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The secret to handling lagging sales

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.

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Gasp!

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.

The easiest money you’ll ever make

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.

Call us today at (800) 777-0072, visit our website at http://www.accuratesupplies.com or email me at jkurtz@accuratesupplies.com.

Best regards,

Jim Kurtz

Accurate Forms & Supplies

Time is Money

In our never-ending quest to save money or get a great deal, we often forget all that goes into a purchase. How reputable is the seller? What happens if I need to return the item? What if I’m not happy with my product or service? How convenient and responsive is the seller’s customer service?

For example, let’s say you want to buy some business cards. You call a professional printer (such as my company) to get a quote. After consulting with you as to budget, design, and features, the printer quotes you, say $50 per 1000.

Next, you browse the internet and come across an online company that has stock designs that you simply input your personal information over. The same 1000 cards costs only $20! Wow, great deal! Seeing such a great price, you jump on the internet site and order your cards.

After waiting a week, you receive your cards and realize that the name is misspelled. You go back to the website and realize that you typed in the name wrong, and got exactly what you ordered. The company you bought the cards from has an automated phone tree that takes 5 minutes to get through. Then, you get a voicemail (or worse, get stuck in a phone queue for 30 minutes). By the time someone answers your call after 30 minutes on hold (or after a day in the case of voicemail or email), you’re understandably frustrated. Hearing your angry tone (no doubt the 30th angry voice they’ve heard that day), the customer service rep curtly explains that the online proof is considered your authorization, and you can’t get a refund or credit, but will have to reorder.  Now, you’re either stuck with crossing your name off and writing it in, leaving it misspelled (both of which looks unprofessional) or reordering the cards.

At this point, if you decide to reorder, you’ve invested $40 plus all that time trying to get your issue resolved.

Had you gone with the first printer, you could have gotten a professional design uniquely suited to your business, an extra set of eyes to look over your information for errors, and an extra chance at officially proofing the information.  If the cards came back wrong, you could call the printer and talk to a real person, possibly gotten a credit or reprint or had the situation otherwise handled smoothly.

While my example is centered around business cards, it applies to everything.  Manufacturers are constantly cutting back on customer service, tightening their return policies and reducing customization; all in an effort to cut costs and offer everything dirt cheap.  Unfortunately, if there is a problem of any kind, you’re facing a truly daunting task in trying to resolve the issue if you’ve chosen a dirt cheap vendor.

All this is not to say that you can’t get a great deal from a reputable company.  All other things being relatively equal, I love cheap price as much as the next guy.  But if I have to choose between a manufacturer that I know has lousy customer service and a company with great customer service that is a few percent higher, I choose the more expensive option.

Why?  Because time is money.  How much time would I spend on the phone trying to navigate to a decision maker, explain the problem (as he or she probably knows nothing about my order), haggle back and forth and finally get approval for a resolution to a problem that is due to the vendor’s error (let alone if I made a mistake)?  That’s time that I should be spending on the phone getting more business or handling more important things in life.

Keep that in mind next time you’re out shopping.  And show some love to those of us who work just as hard to deliver great service in addition to good prices.

How pinching pennies can make you penniless

As the economy continues to be sluggish, many people and companies are tightening their wallets and trying to shave every penny they can off their expenses.  While this makes sense on the surface, it can have damaging long-term effects.

I’ll share my personal history to illustrate this.  For several years, I’ve had quite a lot of debt.  About $10k in credit card debt, and another $50k in unpaid student loans.  Much of this debt was incurred as I struggled to find gainful employment out of college; and later, when I was laid off and was out of work for a few months.  To try to get out of this situation, I responded by trying to cut any and all expenses I could: reduce the heat and A/C, cut out all eating out, reduce entertainment to nil, etc.

I expected that if I reduced my expenses, the result would be more money available to pay off debts and greater stability.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.  Every time I started making headway, some mysterious emergency would come and wipe out my progress.  My cars broke down.  My son had accidents or got sick.  Unexpected problems arose.

Only recently, when I stopped focusing on money problems, debt and cutting, did things start to turn around.  I focused on earning more.  Bringing in more income, rather than reduce outflow.  I quickly found new opportunities to earn extra monet.  The bills settled down, emergencies stopped coming up, and I’m finally starting to pay off those debts.

I’ve witnessed the same phenomena in business.  When I worked for a wholesaler in the foodservice industry, I would inevitably run across cheapskates who haggled me down as much as they could to get a better price.  The worst ones had 5-10 separate vendors, and shopped around on every item.

Instead of getting rich, however, most of them went out of business or struggled just to keep their doors open.  They spent so much time trying to stop money from going out, that they never focused on bringing more money in.  None of the several vendors showed any loyalty to these customers, as they barely made any money themselves.  When the account went even slightly past due, they were cut off.

A better approach is to pick one or 2 vendors and partner with them.  Find the vendor that has the best combination of price, service and knowledge of their business (and yours) and give them all of the business.  They will take care of you.  They will give you creative ideas.  They will help you get the word out.  They will promote your business using their social media, word of mouth and other channels.  We’ve just started doing this with our vendors, and we are already seeing positive results.

More importantly, don’t skimp on your marketing budget.  While you shouldn’t continually throw money out without results, you shouldn’t cut marketing completely either.  The big advantage of social, online and email marketing isn’t so much in the cost as it is in the ability to track results.  Pay attention to which messages and specials get responses and sales.  Then, back up your online messages with print and hard copy promotional materials that repeat that message.  Some people still don’t use social media or respond to online marketing.  However, by using online marketing strategies first, you can eliminate a lot of the trial and error involved with finding a marketing message that works.  Then, you can use your hard copy pieces more efficiently to really bring in the income.

Happy hunting!

Jim

AFS

How to Increase Sales through marketing without going bankrupt

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.