Do you know your customers?
Alex Turnbull, CEO at Groove (an online help desk software), wasted $50,000 building a product his customers didn’t want.
He writes one of the more compelling blogs online. The blog details Groove’s journey from $0 to $500k in monthly recurring revenue.
One of theÂ things he would do differently would be to,”Spent a lot less time building, and a lot more time listening.”
What entrepreneur of any kind doesn’t want to start building almost immediately? Can you relate to his mistake?
That’s part of the fun of business. You take ownership. You get to build it. But building it with little knowledge of what your customer wants is a big mistake.
Just like Alex, you can waste a lot of time and money making something that ultimately nobody wants. So that’s why, unless you know your customer quite well in the beginning (maybe because you are the customer), you want to spend so much time listening and getting to know your customer.
How Can You Get to Know Your Customer?
For the most part, customers don’t tend to tell you what they really think. It’s scary for them to be honest. They don’t know how that will affect the service you give them. So most hide their true feelings.
What really happens is they have either a good or bad experience and then post about it on Facebook. Or they tell their family and friends in real life.
The Easy Way to Get to Know Your Customer
When you have a customer give you any kind of feedback, good, bad, or indifferent, take that seriously. Because that means likely several hundred more customers think the same thing.
If it’s something they like that you did well, make a written note of it and include it in your marketing more. If it wasn’t such a good thing, ask them how they’d like you to fix it, and see if there’s a way to permanently solve that problem.
You will get the occasional insane customer or two. So, carefully consider the circumstances of their complaint or situation when deciding how seriously to take it.
Let Your Customers Post Reviews
Reviews are a gold mine of customer information. For one thing, it’s easier to post what you really think versus actually telling someone. So you tend to get more truth with these.
And for another, you’ll see the same good and bad comments made over and over again. It’s easier that way to see what you really excel at, and what you need to improve.
The Hard Way to Get to Know Your Customer
Remember how your customers will likely tell everyone they know on Facebook about the good or bad things your company does?
Fortunately, CRM tools make it easier to do things the hard way. For just $20 per month, Batchblue monitors all kinds of information on your contacts, like their:
â€˘ Facebook activity
â€˘ Twitter activity
â€˘ Blog posting
â€˘ Flickr actions
So if they didn’t like something, you can find out about it and proactively approach them and give them a prompt resolution to their issue.
It’s harder. But anything that’s harder always produces better results for your business.
Your e-mail marketing messages can sell more!
Almost every new e-commerce business has a newsletter.
And they do it completely wrong.
With most…you see pictures of the products in all their glory.
That’s a good start (versus no newsletter at all).
But, if you track the sales you get from that, you’ll realize your sales are low. Or worse yet, nonexistent!
Mastering newsletter sales takes some time. You won’t master yours for many years, most likely.
But you can turboboost your results nearly immediately by learning from a company who knocks it out of the park every time.
What Kohl’s Does that Works
If you’re not familiar with Kohl’s, they’re a Wisconsin-headquartered clothing retailer that targets middle-class families. They carry other items too, like household decorations, toys, cookware, and jewelry.
But most consumers shop there for the clothing.
Anyway, I subscribe to an awful lot of e-mail newsletters. And they’re one B2C company that gets newsletters right.
Need ideas for subject lines that get more sales? Here’s a screenshot of my inbox with their e-mails:
Save that screenshot to your hard drive. Keep it with you for the rest of your e-commerce career.Â And model those e-mails when you write your own.
I guarantee you will get good sales rates when you follow Kohl’s model.
Let’s Take a Look at a Typical Kohl’s E-mail
First, Kohl’s warms up this particular e-mail with a couple coupons.
Now that’s pretty nice for those that open it. Instead of seeing products, they get a nice little gift just for opening the e-mail.
That’s an effective way to start off any marketing message!
These aren’t particularly big deals. But those who shop at Kohl’s know the company offers routine 15%, 20%, and 30% off sales.
So getting 20% off is a nice boost, slightly up from the minimum they give everyone.
2. Next, You See Products – And the Deals Available on Them
It’s important to have pictures of your products in your marketing e-mails. A visual helps your customers buy.
But here, Kohl’s again first offers a deal to get you to click through to their website.
50-60% off bath towels and rugs?
Lots of people are going to want to take a look.
The same for comforters and KitchenAid equipment.
I can’t tell you exactly what kinds of sales rates Kohl’s gets. But they get much better rates than companies that simply show their product offering in all its beauty.
And as with anything, you have to test what works with your audience. But now, you at least know the overall right direction to go in.
Failure? It’s okay. Just learn from it.
Who wants to admit it? Practically no one.
The public admission of failure is one thing. But it’s really your own personal view of it that matters.
And if you’re like me and most other people, you’d prefer never to experience the guilt, shame, and low self-worth that comes with failing.
But here’s the thing: failure is a necessary part of business growth.
How to Really Think about “Failure”
In America, you’re trained to think that if you don’t get what you want, or if you don’t get what others think you should want, you’re a “failure.”
Example: in high school, you’re supposed to want to be the champion. As an adult, you’re supposed to have nice cars and a big, beautiful house.
Fail to get those goals, and many in society quickly label you a “failure.”
But here’s the thing: everyone has setbacks. Everyone makes mistakes. And it’s from those mistakes that learning and growth comes.
So the only “failure” is the one who doesn’t try at all or gives up.
Seasoned entrepreneurs know this.
A Famous Business HeroÂ Who “Failed”
Think of the late Steve Jobs…did you know he was fired from Apple in 1985 at the age of 30?
Just recently in 1983, Apple had cracked the Fortune 500. Jobs went from the top of the world and all the way to the bottom again literally overnight.
During his absence from Apple, he founded Pixar (now owned by Disney) and Next, Inc. Apple fell to pieces in the meantime. And in 1996, they rehired Jobs as CEO. And you know how well Apple’s done since then.
You May Not Be Steve Jobs, But You Can Learn from Him
After his firing, Jobs could easily have given up and called it quits. One story says he considered trying to be an astronaut at the time.
The lesson to learn from Jobs is this: as long as you keep trying, there’s no such thing as “failure.”
Jobs lost everything over a power struggle at Apple.
But he came back from it all and resurrected Apple.
That doesn’t mean great and glorious things will happen to you.
But your situation improves if all you do is try, try again.
Have You Experienced a Big Setback?
If something at business hasn’t gone quite right, take a mental step back. Look at the situation.
What did you think would happen and why?
Something you thought wasn’t quite right.
No big deal.
What do you think you misjudged?
How can you create a controlled test so you can learn precisely what did not work?
Business is simple.
But it’s not easy!
So keep your head up. And continue trying again and again.
Do that, and you’re guaranteed to get to a better place.
Business coaching makes you a winner.
Tom Brady had the same passing coach, Tom Martinez, since high school.
Usain Bolt, by any standard the fastest man in the world, has a coach named Glen Mills.
Every best professional athlete or team in the world has a coach.
So why do entrepreneurs think they need to do it all alone?
That’s probably the great American mystique, isn’t it? Who coached the best entrepreneurs of all-time like Bill Gates, Henry Ford, or Steve Jobs?
The truth: Bill Campbell coached Steve Jobs. Bill Gates used a coach. Ford learned from people like Thomas Edison.
The Benefits of a Good Business Coach
You can certainly do it all alone if you want. It’s up to you as to what to do.
But you might want to hire one because:
1. You Save Yourself Mistakes
Business coaches have either made your same mistakes themselves, or they’ve coached someone else who has. So rather than spending years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars making mistakes, you can avoid many of them in the first place.
2. Gain Insights You Might Otherwise Never Learn
Everyone has blind spots. Michael Jordan had blind spots. I have blind spots. You have blind spots.
You simply can’t learn everything on your own. Your business coach will give you insights that you simply won’t learn on your own.
And they can be very valuable to your business in the long run.
3. Save Yourself a Ton of Stress
When you make mistakes, it’s stressful wading your way through the chaos that follows. With a business coach on your side, you’ll avoid some of those big mistakes.
You might even avoid a killer mistake that puts you into bankruptcy.
Remember, you won’t avoid all stress and mistakes. Business coaches aren’t perfect and don’t know everything. But you can avoid some of the showstoppers.
But Be Careful When You Look for One!
Unfortunately, lots of scams have popped up online. So research carefully when you look for a business coach.
Some want to charge you a membership fee to a forum. Others want an up-front fee, then an ongoing monthly fee.
You want someone who contacts you in person though. Not access to a digital forum. You don’t know if you’ll get fast responses to your questions.
You want a person who offers you a 1-hr free consultation and gets to know you and your business. Someone who meets with you personally at least once per month.
Whatever you do, research all your options carefully. Subscribe to their newsletters. Compare what they say on their websites.
Ask for a list of successes. Contact references. Never pay the lowest, or highest, fees you can find.
It should be ridiculously obvious you have one of the best coaches you can get. And this process might take months.
But that’s okay. Because a good business coach pays for themselves many times over when you find the right one.
Turn negative customer reviews into big business wins.
You decided to add product reviews to your website.
Great idea! Now you have free market research literally at your fingertips.
But whoa…you have a product with lots of negative reviews.
No one’s going to touch that product with a 10-foot pole now.
Relax – negative reviews are not a bad thing. In fact, they can be a marketing “secret weapon” that actually wins you more loyal customers.
Let me explain how and what to do:
1. First, Be Glad Your Customers TellÂ You What They Don’t Like
Would you rather know which products they don’t like and why?
Or would you rather run a brick-and-mortar and have absolutely no clue. In that case, you’d be upsetting your customers and losing business without any way of knowing it.
Better to know and be able to respond than have no clue isn’t it?
2. Now, Fix the Situation and Respond to Their Feedback Publicly
You have a lot of discretion in how you decide to fix the situation. Contact the customers by e-mail first, and see what would make them happy.
Then post what you did on the review itself, saying,”Sorry to hear this product wasn’t as expected. We’re happy to [offer you a full refund, give you a full in-store credit, plus 20% for the inconvenience.]”
Other people will see those reviews. And when they see you take the time to respond and make everything right, you’ll win more trust, loyalty, and sales.
And you know what makes lifelong customers?
When you fix what’s wrong. Most customers aren’t that upset by a mistake. What really makes or breaks their relationship with you is what you do with it.
3. Ask Your Now Happy Customers to Spread the Word
Remember, the internet makes word-of-mouth marketing happen 100s of times faster than in real life. Customers go and share their experiences with your company immediately on Facebook.
So, ask the happy ones to share what happened on Facebook. Just a 2-sentence, 30-second post that you fixed what was wrong is all.
That’ll win you even more sales.
3. Can You Do Something about the Product Itself?
At the end of the day, you may have found a lousy product to sell. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Mistakes happen in business. Lots of them.
So now you have to decide whether the product you sell can be fixed to make customers happy.
If it’s yours and you can do that, fix it.
If it’s not worth your time or you’re reselling someone else’s product, take it off your “shelves.”
Remember, Any Negative in Business is an Opportunity in Disguise
Finally, you can turn any sour business situation into a sparkling glass of (profitable) wine.
Your initial reaction will be anger and irritation.
Let it go. See the situation for what it is.
Make it right. Repeat. And you’ll win the game of business long-term.
Are you missing out on the big marketing opportunity that is Pinterest?
Last September, Pinterest finally shared how many active users it has: 100 million!
While it’s no Twitter (320 million) or Facebook (1.55 billion), it does equal LinkedIn in terms of active use (400 million total users and 100 million active users).
So Pinterest is now a force to be reckoned with.
And if you have a business that in any way benefits from product visuals, it’s worth your time to at least start working on Pinterest to see if it’s a good fit.
So let’s take a closer look at Pinterest:
1. First of All, Should You Even Be on Pinterest?
According to this 2015 research from Pew, Pinterest’s key demographic stats are:
â€˘ An increase in usage by men. In 2013, about 80.4% of all users were female. In 2014, that fell to 76.3%. So still largely used by women. But male usage isÂ increasing.
â€˘ Women and men 18-64 use the social network regularly. People over 64 also use it, but at lower rates.
â€˘ People on Pinterest have healthy incomes. Adults with incomes ranging from less than $30,000 to more than $75,000 use the network regularly.
Do those criteria fit who you sell to? If so, Pinterest is worth a try for you.
2. The Best Way to Start the Relationship
Ask your community what they’d like on free content, and build it for them. Make sure it’s the best of its kind.
Give it to them. Repeat the process over and over to succeed.
Share the content on Pinterest. Put it on your website and make sure people can Pin it.
Have you heard this, or ideas similar to it, anywhere else on our blog before?
3. Consider a Contest
Contests and giveaways are high risk, high reward. You might get great results…or little at all.
Think about running one. But don’t view it as the “magic solution” that’s going to drive your business to the next level.
4. Another Content Sharing Technique to Remember
If you offer the product or a service related to it, share content that you made about it. If you don’t offer the product or service, share it from another resource.
5. Don’t Spend Too Much Time on Pinterest
Any social network can easily become a timesuck, consuming almost all of your time and giving you next to no value.
With Pinterest, you should be able to execute your strategy in 2-3 hours per week max. Spend your other marketing time trying out different techniques or social networks.
6. Remember, Pinterest Success Won’t Be Fast Either
You always hear those amazing stories of rapid success online. Don’t be fooled – it’s taken the authors of those stories years of trying and failing before succeeding.
Use Pinterest’s analytics to keep testing what works and what doesn’t. Run your own A/B tests on images.
You’ll slowly learn what keeps your audience happy over time.
Follow those steps, and watch Pinterest become a consistent pipeline of happy customers for you.
Will you be a successful entrepreneur?
Do you have what it takes to build a successful online store?
After all, it’s easy, isn’t it?
You just buy a laptop, have an internet connection, identify some products, and you’re off to the races, right?
Not so fast.
Online, you only hear about the good parts of being an e-commerce entrepreneur. No one tells you what the day-to-day is like because it’s hard and not glamorous.
And that kind of talk doesn’t sell.
So here’s some of the qualities you need, or you mustÂ find a way to keep yourself sane if you don’t have them:
Every entrepreneur of any kind needs this. Your circumstances will work different than everyone else’s.
I mean, you may succeed faster or slower than the average.
And most things you try at first won’t work as expected.
The early days of any business are frustrating, draining, and filled with things that don’t work out.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s part of the process of learning what works.
But it can be mentally draining for a period of time.
2. Ability to Spend Lots of Time by Yourself
How many hours you work per week is up to you. For some people, sitting behind a laptop for hours at a time, all week long, and then all year, for years on end, is a recipe for insanity.
For others, it’s a dream come true.
Some tolerate it better than others.
For everyone, it’s a challenge at one time or another.
So how are you going to deal with that isolation?
3. Rigid Discipline
At home, there’s no one to motivate you to getting to work for the day. No one keeps you on task.
Netflix is just a couple button pushes away. So is Facebook and Twitter.
And maybe your gaming system too.
Some friends and family members think that because you work from home, you’re available anytime they want.
Do you have the discipline necessary to do what it takes to successfully run your business day in and day out for years on end?
4. Do You Know How to Learn?
Sounds funny when said like this, doesn’t it: “how to learn.” Every entrepreneur needs to learn.
But there’s a process to it.
Are you good at finding blogs, reliable blogs with concrete and accurate information, that show you what and what does not work?
Can you make mistakes on your own and draw the right conclusions from them?
Or do you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, not really learning the lesson? Which means you make the same mistake again and again and again…
Anyway, those are just some qualities successful e-commerce entrepreneurs have. You don’t have to be perfect with all of them.
But you do need them to some degree. And if you don’t, you have to be willing to work on improving the ones you’re weak on.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You don’t have time to make them all yourself.”
Have you heard this quote before? It’s true in life. And especially so in entrepreneurship.
E-commerce, just like any other business, is really a long series of mistakes.
Say you try a new promotion and get 5.0% more sales from it. Then you try a different one, and get 3.2%. Another gives you a nice 10.1% boost.
Through a series of trying different promotions, you learned exactly what works best for your e-commerce business.
And that, at its most basic levels, is what business amounts to.
So You Need to “Borrow” from the Mistakes of Others
Before the internet, you had to strategically build relationships with other business people or make mistakes on your own to learn.
That still works.
But with the internet, that process now works on steroids.
That’s because so many blogs are loaded with personal experiences and the mistakes, and wise moves, of others.
One of my mistakes in my own ventures was thinking I needed to “dream up” the best, most innovative way of doing things. That somehow, I could simply invent the best method, without having a deep understanding of what others were doing.
In reality, I found out, it was a wiser move to research those who were ahead of me and already successful. I didn’t yet have enough experience and knowledge to become a market-leading innovator.
What I Recommend You Should Do to Avoid Time-Consuming, Profit-Killing Mistakes
There’s already too much information online. And even more is coming.
About 95% of everything you ready is empty, meaningless, and a complete waste of your time.
So, it’s up to you to find that 5%.
What I’m saying is, find blogs with personal experience and in-depth stories of successes and failures. Make a long list of them.
Subscribe to their newsletters. Put their feeds in Feedly. Add them to your Twitter lists.
Write down the most fascinating things you learn – successes and failures. Have a special business folder dedicated to it.
Steve Chou of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, is a great example of someone with e-commerce success (along with his wife), who shares in-depth information.
You can learn so much from his mistakes and successes. And you’ll save years of lost time, and thousands in lost dollars.
Should You Take Expensive Business Courses?
Inevitably, many of these websites that share in-depth information want to sell you on attending a high-cost training, course, or seminar.
They’ll want thousands of dollars for it.
Should you take it?
What I will say is these high-cost trainings are not a waste of money, if you’re ready to take them and apply what you learn immediately.
The best way to choose a course you’ll get value from is to watch the big names in your niche and compare the highest-priced options.
Only after careful analysis, and a decided effort to act on the information, should you make your purchase.
A big trap many new business owners fall into is buying many trainings and books, but never actually doing what’s necessary to move their business forward. This is actually a diversion tactic they use to convince themselves they’re working on their business, when they’re really paralyzed by fear.
Investing Time in Yourself is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Business and Customers
Learning, by far, is the #1 thing you can do to push your business forward. You can spend your own time and money making mistakes (and you’ll have to at some extent).
Or you can learn from your own mistakes.
The choice is yours.
One of the many great things about entrepreneurship is you have lots of flexibility as to how to run your business. It’s one of the pluses over jobs, which typically reserve you to doing things a certain way.
Jobs work for many people. But you’re different, and like the creativity entrepreneurship offers.
Have you ever tried building a new product, or line of products? At first, it doesn’t sound like much.
But when you actually start the work, you find it’s time-consuming.
Plus, you don’t know how your customers will respond to the product line.
Well, there’s a simple fix to that: dropshipping. If you don’t already know what it is, here’s how it works:
â€˘ You provide the service, sales, and support for the product
â€˘ Another company provides the product itself
So it’s a simple way to test out new products. Once you know what sells well, then you can physically manage the product too.
Here’s how to go about dropshipping:
1. How to Find a Supplier
First of all, do not pay for any lists, even low-cost ones. They’re usually out-of-date. And dozens of other companies call the same businesses on those lists anyway.
To find a supplier, find companies you like that sell the products you want to offer. Make a list of the manufacturers of those products.
Call them directly and see if they offer drop-shipping.
Hard, tedious work. But it’s the best way to find quality drop-shippers.
2. You Also Get to Experience a Company’s Service for Yourself
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve heard me say most businesses don’t care about their customers.
I stand by that statement today.
The good thing about dropshipping is you don’t have a huge commitment with another company. So you can experience their service for yourself.
Then you can add and drop suppliers as you learn who really cares about their customers, and who just wants more money.
Remember, you can’t blame your dropshipper for errors. Since you use their services, and their customers found their product through you, they hold you responsible.
So don’t be afraid to drop your dropshipper if necessary.
3. Who’s Going to Manage the Customer Service?
One complication that happens with dropshippers is who handles returns or complaints. Your customers ultimately don’t care too much who actually does this.
But it does need to be clear who they call. And whoever does it must get them a good resolution to their concern.
So That’s Dropshipping 101!
If you’re new to e-commerce, you could make your whole store dropshipped. While it’s fast, easy, scales well, and makes testing simple, it does have low margins.
So it may not be a long-term business strategy to build your business around. But it’s great to help you learn what works and what doesn’t so you can have a healthier company long-term.
Of all the different advertising methods available, writing a guest blog post is one of the most effective.
â€˘ You get instant credibility and authority because someone else with that authority already endorses you
â€˘ It gets easier to earn additional exposure because you’ve done it once already
â€˘ To get published, you don’t necessarily need any sort of built-up reputation in the first place
But what makes one guest post much more effective than another?
Here’s a basic procedure on how to do that with Â your next guest blog post:
1. Research the Blogs You Intend to Post On
First, have a clear idea of who your customer is. Make sure you approachÂ blogs who speak to people who would be your target customer.
Small-time blogs, with just a few followers, will accept just about any guest post. That’s not where you want to be. You’ll get some SEO juice out of it. That’s about it. And in the long run, that’s a waste of your time.
What you’re looking for is blogs with posts that get hundreds of social shares per post. That means they have an active audience.
2. Understand Which Types of Posts Work
Different blog audiences response positively to different kinds of blog posts. After you identify some blogs, find the top 10 posts for each that get the most social shares.
See what you notice those posts have in common for topic type and how they structure their content. It’s important to observe every detail.
3. Identify Your Own Topic
Popular blogs like posts that expand on topics they’ve already written about. You could also:
â€˘ Respectfully disagree with the points made in another post
â€˘ Identify a “blind spot” topic you know their audience would love, but that hasn’t been covered in-depth yet
â€˘ Refute commonly held beliefs you know to be misunderstandings in your niche
â€˘ Provide a massive list of useful resources
4. Put Your Heart and Soul Into Your Post
Remember, an average guest post at a big-time blog with hundreds of social shares can do wonders for growing your business.
But why be average?
You want to grow your business as much possible as fast as you can. So put every last bit of energy and creativity that you have into your post.
I’m not joking when I say you might put 10-20 hours into researching blogs, contacting them, and writing your post.
But don’t worry about the time you put in. Your business will reap all sorts of dividends from your post. And those dividends will likely last as long as the blog you posted on stays online…or as long as you stay in business.
Your post will eventually get indexed by Google, and that will continue to drive traffic your way for years to come.
So here’s to your success with guest posting in 2016!