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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Bringing IWD into your business

International Womens Day logo

International Women’s Day on 8 March – what does it mean to you?

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is on Saturday 8th March. It is both a celebration of women and an acknowledgement that many women are living difficult lives.

In some countries, IWD is a public holiday (at least for women) and is similar in importance as Mothers Day.

While it is not a holiday in Australia, you can choose to make it important – or simply acknowledge that it is important to many of your customers.

Celebrating IWD

Some of my ideas for celebrating IWD as a business are:

  • treat your staff to breakfast or morning tea – even if  your staff consists of you and a pot plant!
  • get the males to do something nice for the women they work with (obviously this requires the men to be willing to participate!) Maybe they bring in food for morning tea, make the tea/coffee all day or ‘man the office’ so the women have a longer lunch break
  • offer specials or extras to female clients for the day/week/month
  • encourage women to take an interest this month, especially if you industry is not seen as particularly female-friendly or of interest to women. For example, I’ve helped AvSuper prepare information about super for women; a mechanic could run a basic car maintenance course for women; local tradespeople could teach women to do minor repairs through a class or articles in the local paper
  • put up a poster in the office/shop or add a banner to the website to acknowledge women – it could be generic or somehow relate to your business
  • do some fund-raising during March with the proceeds going to a women-centric organisation
  • donate x% of March profits to a women’s cause
  • send an email or card to your female clients thanking them for what they do (and for being your client of course!)
  • sponsor a local activity or group participating in IWD – schools and sporting groups in particular may appreciate this

What ideas have you considered for your business?

Have you been inspired by another business’ involvement in IWD? What did they do?

Answering complaints

I have been on the receiving end of poor business service recently – and it really is not pleasant.

Losing my business should be unpleasant for that supplier, too, as it means I no longer refer clients there.

Not delivering as promised has had a huge impact on my client – that put the supplier in a bad light, of course. And needing to make multiple requests to find a revised delivery date became very annoying very quickly.

But what has really made me turn my back on that supplier is how they handled these delays.

Dealing with complaints and problems

In life, sometimes things go wrong and promises aren’t kept.

Angry man about to hammer a piggy bank.

Do you want your customer to be this angry? It could cost you a lot more than coins in a piggy bank if you don’t try to resolve their concerns.

When your business can’t deliver, though, you have two basic options. Be honest and apologise to the customer, or ignore it and pretend there is no problem.

Guess which option the above supplier chose…

I was given an excuse the first time I complained. The second time I was told ‘I can’t see any record of you calling on Monday’. And it still took a week for the sales person to respond to those messages. And more days before she gave me a revised date.

Every contact from the sales person had a little ‘sorry for the delay :(‘ message and ‘I look forward to hearing back from you again’ but generally ignored most of what I wrote in my formal complaint. I did not feel she was taking my concerns seriously nor that she was particularly interested in helping me get my order fulfilled.

The end result being that I am working with my bank to get a full refund and I will not use this supplier again.

Positive responses to complaints

To learn from my ex-supplier’s example, here are things they could have done to improve the situation – even if the delivery was delayed by more than two weeks.

  1. Ideally, they could have contacted me with an expected delivery time when I first placed the order – especially if they knew they were busy and couldn’t make the promised times on their website. And especially as I had requested this in my original order…
  2. As soon as I made contact about the delivery not reaching me as expected I should have received contact from the sales person. A quick ‘sorry for the delay – let me look into what is happening and get back to you’ would have been better than silence as I would have felt they were interested in serving customers
  3. After multiple contacts from an unhappy customer, they could have tried to help me get my delivery and feel better about them. Whether that was regular follow ups, a discount, a bonus offer or something else doesn’t matter – the lack of that meant the problem is what I associate with their brand now.
  4. The sales person could have actually answered my concerns in her email – and probably could have left out sad faces, frankly. I’ll give some examples of that in a separate post next week.
  5. Acknowledged my frustration and let me feel heard. For instance, instead of telling me they hadn’t recorded my first call they could have said ‘sorry – we should have answered you by now.’
  6. When they told me ‘I’ll get back to you soon’, they should have contacted me rather than wait for my next complaint. Again, it would have been much better to have kept their word by contacting me and letting me know what was happening (even if it was limited information) than let me wait and lose any confidence in their business.

Do you deal with complaints?

Have you ever thought about how you respond to complaints from customers?

It can be confronting to admit you’ve done something wrong (or less than ideal anyway) and may be tempting to hide from it, but you can turn things around if you deal with a complaint well. Or at least minimise the damage.

Preparing an attitude and perhaps a procedure ahead of time may help your business do better with complaints than my ex-supplier. I hope you do a lot better, in fact!

* Image courtesy of Kozzi

What does April Fool communicate?

Did you see Virgin’s glass floored planes announcement on Monday?

Court jester (harlequin) dancing as April Fool
In short, they joined the April Fools Day spirit and announced a plane that would allow you to watch the passing ground as you flew. Spectacular views maybe, scary probably!

A number of other companies also ran some jokes on the day, and it got me thinking about the message behind such jokes.

What does it say?

Running a public joke like that can obviously be taken a number of ways, but I think most people appreciate it as long as it remains appropriate.

Making a joke shows the company can be fun and don’t take themselves too seriously. It may make it seem more approachable and flexible, too.

It could send a message of being too frivolous or flippant, but I think that comes back to keeping the joke appropriate – to the business brand as well as generally appropriate for the public.

Is it a good business tool?

I think it can be good for a number of reasons:

  1. making people smile and feel good generates warmth towards your brand
  2. getting into the spirit of a particular day or event shows community involvement and can also build good feelings towards the business
  3. if it’s well done, people will share the story so the business gets lots of publicity. How many Facebook and Twitter mentions did you see of company April Fools jokes this week?
  4. it can be fun for the staff and thus build morale and staff retention

Of course, these benefits need to be weighed against the cost of running such a joke. It may not cost a lot of money to Photoshop an image or put a message on a website, but there is a cost in time to plan a joke so it works and goes live at the right time.

Speaking of timing, remember that April Fools jokes should only be run before midday on 1 April. That can get tricky with a global audience such as on social media.

So what do you think – do you enjoy such jokes?

How does it impact on your view of the business behind the joke?

Selling with Valentines Day

dollar sign inside a love heart

Love & money can go together

I know – Christmas has just gone, Australia Day hasn’t even arrived yet and I’m suggesting you think about Valentines Day!

For many businesses, Valentines Day is a huge sales period and they probably plan and prepare for it months in advance.

But have you thought about it for your business?

Maybe you think it is only for those selling flowers, chocolates and cards, having no relevance to other businesses. While there is some truth to that, you can get more out of Valentines Day if you want to.

Adding a Valentine flavour to your business 

Yes, Valentines Day is commercial and it would be great if we showed our love and care for others every day, but it is celebrated every February whether you like it or not. And if you run a business, you can keep it topical through using some Valentines romance.

There are a number of suggestions in my Valentines Day and business article, but here are a few more:

red paper flower made by a child

Paper flowers last longer and, if hand made, are very personal

  • post a Valentine message in your blog. It can be a simple “Happy Valentines Day” or maybe you can find a creative message to show you appreciate your blog readers or customers
  • use pink envelopes or paper on the day or the surrounding week or month
  • pop a chocolate or treat in every package you send out in February – of course, if it’s hot try something less likely to melt! Maybe a paper flower in each order is a better idea!
  • give an eBook or tip sheet with romantic ideas relating to your business
  • put some pink candles in your shop or display
  • run a competition with some romantic prizes
  • add a poem about mum or dad when you send out things for young children
  • send a rose to your key clients – an unexpected gift builds a lot of goodwill
  • Groups and clubs can send paid or active members a Valentines card. It needn’t include messages of love, but it may just be the only card your client gets so it will be appreciated
  • Web masters – think of adding some subtle graphics on your site – just a quick image and the words Happy Valentines Day is enough to convey your wishes without going too far or reducing your professional image
  •  Offer reduced fees for couples booking in at the same time in February. This could apply to a masseur, accountant, hairdresser, dentist, mechanic, coach, gyms, fitness trainers, life insurance sales people and many more.

Business value from work experience

Work experience for teenage school students is a long established practice, and my daughter is getting excited about the prospect of working for a week next year.

FIling and flicking pages

Work experience should be more than just filing and sorting pages

As a parent and (previously!) student, I can see a lot of value in the program.

Kids get to try out potential careers to make more informed decisions and they get to see what ‘the real world’ is like. It also teaches them some responsibility and independence and gives them new experiences and contacts.

My daughter is already starting to see the meaning of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’.

Mostly its value is that they are learning by doing, not just listening to someone else’s knowledge.

Work experience good for business?

The other side of the story is how work experience impacts on the businesses hosting the students.

Overall, it must be good or the program probably would have died out many years ago. Or at least it can’t be too bad or costly!

How about in small and micro businesses, though?

A couple of years ago, my daughter’s school asked for business contacts in the writing and printing industries so I offered to take a work experience student. It fell through but it did get me thinking about the concept.

Some of the issues I considered were:

  •  at $5 a day, it isn’t an expensive activity! You won’t hire anyone else that cheaply…
  • the student has to be supervised – legally, they are children so you are responsible for them and can’t leave them alone for extended periods of time (I won’t go into my work experience though as my boss broke this rule!)
  • whoever is directly supervising the student must have appropriate checks (a working with children card in Victoria but equivalent checks apply in each state). This isn’t onerous to obtain but it has to be done in advance and requires the person’s agreement – not so hard if it’s yourself! As I already have one as a cub leader, this isn’t an issue for me but could be for others.
  • what can they do all day? We all laugh that work experience students do the filing and photocopying but I feel they should do more than that – and I don’t think they could fill a week with my filing anyway! Seriously, you may have an overload of things to do, but how many can you expect an inexperienced teenager to help you with?
  • do you have time to teach them? Any new person in your team will need to be told what you want done, but a student will need more explanation and instruction than most other employees
  • where will you physically put the student? Do you have an extra desk and computer for them to use?
  • are you prepared to fill in reports on the student (I don’t think there’s a lot of paperwork, but there will be some!) and have staff visits during the week?
  • can you cope with a difficult student? Some students on work experience will be a breeze to manage and earn trust so can be an asset for the week; other students will require more help and some will test your patience. You need to allow for the worst when planning, while hoping for the best of course!

I think there is a community benefit to work experience that should be factored into the decision, but the whole process is a big undertaking which is probably beyond many small and micro businesses to manage.

For students, being in a small business may offer fewer people to learn from but it could teach them a lot about running a business.

So if you own a small or micro business, have you ever taken on a work experience student? How did it go?

Have I missed any issues worth considering?

 

* Image courtesy of 123rf

Do you tweet for business or pleasure?

I like Twitter and have made it part of my business. Tash & Word Constructions on Twitter

Having to be concise means that the information presented via Twitter is quick to read (although it can take a fair bit of time to read all the associated links!). I only follow people who are providing business information so I don’t get a lot of personal things coming through which is the complaint I most often hear from people who don’t like twitter.

Study of Twitter users

Recently, results of ‘an exhaustive study of Twitter users around the world’ were released.

And apparently my use and perception of Twitter is not shown by the results.

Here are some of the statistics…

36 million twitter profiles exist – 25% of which have never actually tweeted anything
I’m in the 75% as I’ve tweeted many times!

70% of tweeters don’t have anything in their profile
That is an incredible number to me – although if the 25% who never tweet is included it makes more sense. Certainly for any business using Twitter for marketing, you have to add a bio to get the maximum benefits.

53% of users are female
Yes, I am in that 53% and without actually counting them, I would think the people I follow and am followed by do fall into roughly 50% male/female.

74% of users are between 15 and  25
This time I am in the minority apparently. Interesting though as everyone I have met via Twitter is certainly out of their teens, and most would be over 30 – and my teen daughter and her friends don’t Tweet (they use other social media platforms obsessively but don’t like Twitter. My daughter has sent one tweet – actually a retweet of something I wrote as I was testing something!)

4.09% of users are in Australia – 50.99% the USA and 17.09% in the UK
I contribute to Australia being the third most prolific country for twitter use – I wonder how we’d rank if the statistics were done per capita rather than just number of users…

81.1% of users have less than 50 followers
I actually fit into the 9.2% with 101 – 500 followers but I found this statistic interesting.With so many people appearing to be keen on having many followers, I am surprised so many have less than 50 although if the 25% of non active users were included in the results it completely skews the meaning. If over 80% of active users have so few followers I am pleased – social media should be about relationships, not numbers, even in a business setting (50 followers who engage with me, retweet me and potentially buy from or help me is much better than 500 who don’t read my tweets at all).

22% of female twitter users have a purple background
I don’t have a purple background (I want blue to match my logo and brand) and generally find this sort of statistic somewhat superficial but I find it interesting because there has been an increase lately in purple as ‘the girl’s colour’ including the introduction of ‘women’s pens’ which are purple (although I appreciate this for the hilarious reviews made of this pen!)

Females are generally younger
By age group, females to number males while under 25, while the genders are pretty even for 26 – 35 year olds and males outnumber females after age 35. Men outnumber women by approximately a third in the management category and by about 50% in the entrepreneur category.

22.7% of tweets are sent by third party apps, not directly from Twitter
I also fit into this category as I use tweetdeck most of the time – it gives me access to multiple accounts and platforms at the same time (although not as well as it used to unfortunately since Twitter took it over).

On average, the more followers you have, the more often you tweet.

 

So obviously a lot more people do use Twitter for ‘social chats’ than I thought. However, the fact I don’t see that stuff shows you can select your Twitter experience by choosing who you follow – Twitter is definitely a business tool for me but I also make connections and have friendly conversations with people – it’s not all business.

So how does Twitter feature in your business and life?

Do the above statistics put you in the average or doing your own thing?

Ways to simplify your business

Simplicity is great – cutting back on the clutter and staying calm.

Tools to make life simpleIf that sounds good but unobtainable in your business (and life) then keep reading as you might just find something to help.

Last Friday, Susan Oakes posted about simplicity in marketing in which she listed a number of ways to judge if you are overwhelmed and need to simplify a bit. Go ahead and read the list then come back to read my post – it’s ok, I’ll wait for you!

How many things on that list resonated with you? You’re not alone as many of us are overwhelmed, on a short or long term basis.

Simplifying step by step

Like many people, I find that a big list of things to do or pile of papers is overwhelming to the point that you can’t see how to fix it.

The truth is you probably can’t fix it as a whole – but if you attack bits of the pile you will see it disappear. Like I replied to Susan, I found it overwhelming to think of employing someone or outsourcing a lot of things so I just found one thing to outsource (bookkeeping as it happens) and then another and another. Each task clears a little of my load and helps me see past the pile of stuff.

I strongly believe that approaching things step by step is the best option in most cases.

Examples of simplifying

By no means have I fully simplified my life and stopped any sense of overwhelm.

However, I thought I’d share a few ideas that have helped me simplify and gain some time and control back. Hopefully the list will not only help you but inspire you to share more ideas as a comment…

  1.  I use leenk.me (a WordPress plugin) to automate announcements of new blog posts to my social media profiles – it saves me logging into multiple places and matches the announcement timing to any scheduling of posts, too
  2. I use Tweetdeck to organise my Twitter accounts (I manage client accounts as well as my TashWord account so I really don’t want to log into each separately). It also lets me see my Facebook feed but not interact with it (it used to and I miss that ability – I may have to reasearch other platforms like HootSuite now).
  3. storing passwords in Roboform Pro – it is so much easier than remembering not only passwords but which username goes with which account (again, having client and my children’s logins as well as my own, there is a lot to remember!)
  4. using ‘delay send’ in my email program. You’d be amazed at how much I use this 🙂 Examples of when I use it includes saving emails until someone is back from holidays, preparing information when it suits me but sending it at a premium time (or just during business hours!), setting up reminders leading up to a deadline and sending timely messages when I’m away from my desk
  5. Get rid of scraps of paper and put ‘stuff’ into OneNote. This is a recent find for me and I am finding so many uses for it (maybe that’s another blog spot in itself!) but it is handy for key information (like my ABN and email list for cubs) and  jotting down ideas and links to data/inspiration for blog posts and eBooks.
  6. I’ve found Dropbox great for sharing images with designers – it saves me the time of emailing potential images to them as they can just refer to the relevant folder and select what works in that case. It’s also an easier way to transfer large files between us compared to emailing or using a paid for service. (I think dropbox is still invitation only but I’m happy to invite you if you ask nicely 🙂 )

Breadwinner review

As 2012 is the national year of reading, I am going to share some of my reading this year through a series of book reviews. Here is the first one…

Breadwinner: a fresh approach to business success

by Tom O’Toole with Lowell Tarling
BAS Publishing, Seaford 2009

Some time ago, an IT trainer told me about a video by Tom O’Toole from the Beechworth  Bakery. The trainer (and others at his training company) were using it in a business course to cover customer service. I then heard of Tom O’Toole in passing a few times.

Driving through Albury last year we happened across a Beechworth Bakery outlet and stopped for lunch. Whilst there, I bought a copy of  Breadwinner by Tom O’Toole.

I admit I didn’t start reading it until January but was very impressed with it once I started. So much so we detoured to Beechworth on our way back from Canberra a few days later.

Personally, I generally don’t find biographies or autobiographies satisfying as a business book (as interesting as they may be to read for pleasure) but this book was a great blend of the two. Tom starts with a chapter on his philosophies from business and finishes with a chapter on his personal philosophies and lessons. In between was his autobiography from childhood to business success.

There are a number of thoughts in the book that I have come across before (if it’s to be, it’s up to me;  it’s the little things that make a difference; goals are just dreams with a date) but they had an impact because they fit in Tom’s story – he shows how they helped him rather than lecturing readers with clichés.

Tom was a poor kid growing up on the banks of the Murray – and his childhood and family certainly gave him stories to entertain with in his book! Imagine kangaroos and frogs living in the house, brothers sharing a bed and living with your front door open and you’re heading towards young Tom’s world.

While Tom discusses his poverty and hardships, it is neither a pity party nor a ‘look how good I am for rising out of this stuff’. It is his story so he tells it, tells it honestly and lets us see how things influenced and taught him.

It’s a good read which will have you laughing and thinking.

From a business perspective, Tom does give ideas and examples of customer service and how to build yourself and your team for success.

In Tom’s words “this book is about making dough, the paper kind. It will hopefully get you out of your comfort zone, it certainly got me out of mine.” And me out of mine.

I recommend grabbing a copy and investing your time in it. Once you’ve read it, come back and let me know how it motivated you or changed your business.

Building a happy new year

Clock and calendar with a notepad for planning aheadAs it is the first of January, Happy New Year! I hope your year is better than you expect and dream of, and that it is successful in many ways.

As well as wishing you well for the year ahead, I want to share some ideas for starting 2012 in a way that will establish a great business year. No matter what has come before, you can set some good foundations for your business (and life!) now and make your life a bit easier.

1. simplify and streamline

What can you get rid of – maybe there are time wasters you can stop or activities that would be better outsourced, or perhaps you offer a product or service that costs more than it brings in.
What can you simplify? A complex pricing structure may be unnecessary or perhaps there is no real need for some steps in your packing or ordering process.
Now is a great time to review last year and think about simplifying and streamlining your business

2. standardise and record

Having procedures in place saves you money and time, allows you to get more help and writing them often shows up improvements to your method. Consistency is important for many aspects of business, and procedures are the easiest way to ensure things are done consistently (as long as your team uses them anyway!)
Taking time to also standardise document codes and updating, repeated communications (think of those emails and letters you write over and over) and having clear terms and conditions will also save you time throughout the year, and probably give you a better result as well.

3. review your prices

The financial success of your business obviously closely relates to how much profit you make from each sale so pricing is a critical balance between being acceptable to clients and generating enough profit.
When reviewing your prices, take into account new or increased costs (including flood levy, higher Victorian electricity rates and potential carbon tax impacts), competitor prices (don’t just copy them but take note of what others are doing), changes you have made (e.g. if you give greater value or have reduced costs maybe your prices need to reflect that), use of newer technology (including social media expectations and possibly updating your website for mobile access) and reasonable profit margins.
A price review can take time and it may be better introduced later (such as after the carbon tax comes into effect) but a new year is often a good time to assess things and make the necessary decisions.

4. simplify non-essentials, too

Remember to look at the support activities around your business as part of your streamlining. These tasks don’t directly bring in any income so reducing the time you spend on them gives you more time to generate income, and if you outsource them they will usually be cheaper services than things like design or IT work.
Hire a cleaner once a fortnight, get a junior in once a month for filing, get bulk stationery delivered, pay someone to run errands (deposit cheques, grab stationery, buy stamps, stock up supplies, etc) once a month, and so on.

Of course, if this time of year is quiet for your business, now is also a good time to think, get creative and plan for the next 12 months. Taking a week or two now to make adjustments and plan ahead is a good investment – don’t feel you have to be outwardly productive to be a good business week.

Enjoy looking at your business in a new way, have a fantastic 2012 and use your words wisely!

Business volunteering

Ever thought about why a business should give to their local community?

There are many ways to give, and it can be a regular thing or just when it suits, but volunteering in some way can help your business:

  1. your business gets increased exposure just through your presence or by acknowledgments in their brochures, website, noticeboard or similar. And it may well cost less than similar exposure through an ad or other marketing campaign
  2. your business earns respect, trust and goodwill from the people involved in that community – and people are likely to try your business first if they appreciate your efforts in something they are passionate about
  3. you get to learn more about your local community, and potential customers, so you can adjust your products, services and marketing to suit
  4. if you allow employees to volunteer in your time, you will also build morale and team spirit – this helps your business in many ways, including attracting and maintaining quality staff
  5. allowing employees to volunteer will teach them more skills that can further help them perform for your business. In particular, staff helping a charity will need to be resourceful when working with tight budgets and limited resources – and being resourceful and using initiative can be great for any business
  6. you can mention your community work, too. If you do pro bona work within your community, it will also give you valuable case studies and testimonials to showcase your abilities – this can be really useful for a new business or a business offering a new service.

Has your business ever been involved in comment projects, either through employee time or other donations? Or maybe your community has been helped by a business in the past?

What advantages have you seen come from businesses contributing to the local community?