Category Archives: tips

Customer Feedback: Four Easy Ways to Get It

Every small business owner knows that success can’t happen without satisfied customers. Yet, many entrepreneurs get so busy paying attention to the multitude of tasks they need to accomplish day to day that they neglect to ask customers for meaningful feedback.

Advantages of Asking for Customer Feedback

Some ways that customer feedback can help your small business include:

  • Allows you to identify how to improve your products and services. Feedback can shed light on your company’s offerings’ strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this knowledge, you can determine what improvements or changes will better serve your target market and keep customers happy.
  • Attracts new customers. For example, in the case of online reviews, positive feedback can help your company gain trust and influence prospective customers’ buying decisions.
  • Improves customer loyalty. By asking for feedback, you show customers that you value what they think. Customers who feel appreciated are more likely to stay loyal to your brand.

Four Ways to Get Customer Feedback

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to find out what customers think about your company and your products and services.

1. Online Reviews and Social Media

Often, customers will do this on their own without prompting, so stay alert to what they’re saying about your business online. Several sites to watch include:

Even if you haven’t claimed your profile on a review website or social media platform, don’t assume customers aren’t talking about your company there. To make sure you don’t miss out on potentially valuable feedback, consider setting up Google Alerts to detect when someone mentions your company in reviews and on the web.

Be sure to read review websites’ terms of use carefully, some strictly prohibit businesses from asking customers to leave reviews.

2. Email Surveys

Email surveys give customers a convenient and fast way to respond to your questions about their experience with your company. Several platforms have a free option with basic features, a limited number of questions, and a limited number of emails per month. They also offer subscription plans that provide more capabilities and the ability to send a larger volume of emails. A perk of most email survey platforms is that you get analytics to summarize how respondents collectively feel about your company, products, and services.

Several email survey sites you may want to explore include:

3. Survey Cards

Asking customers to complete a short survey card at the point of sale enables you to get instant feedback. If you believe that requesting feedback on the spot will cause inconvenience for people who may be short on time, consider sending cards by snail mail instead if you have customers’ mailing addresses in your records.

4. Phone Follow-up

Especially for professional services businesses who don’t have massive amounts of clients, phone calls can be a viable way to touch base about customer satisfaction. A one-on-one conversation can deliver more in-depth insight and strengthen the business relationship.

How to Make it Matter

When asking for feedback, it’s critical to ask questions that will return the information you need to understand what your business is doing well and what it needs to improve. Below are several articles that provide helpful food for thought about crafting questions to gather customer feedback:

Also, consider talking with a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers have the expertise and experience to help guide you in all aspects of running a business—including improving and maintaining customer satisfaction.

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9 Cybersecurity Tips to Protect Your Business

Hackers don’t only set their sights on mega-corporations with massive amounts of data. In fact, approximately half of all cybersecurity attacks target small businesses. Why? Small businesses are less likely to have sophisticated digital security measures in place. Also, criminals focus efforts on cracking into small companies to make it easier to hack into the networks of the large businesses that small businesses are connected with.

Data breaches have the potential to impair or destroy your business. According to the National Cyber Security Institute’s findings, 60 percent of small and mid-sized companies go out of business within six months after getting hacked. With the survival of your business at stake, it’s critical to take measures to protect your information. Fortunately, by taking some simple steps, you can decrease your company’s risks of falling prey to hackers and unauthorized users who want to steal to your data.

9 Tips for Protecting Your Small Business from Cybersecurity Threats

  1. Keep computers and other devices out of reach of anyone who is not authorized to use them. Set up a lock-screen so others cannot access your computer when you step away from your desk.
  2. Update computers and other devices with the latest security software. Utilize up-to-date browsers and operating systems for optimal security, as well.
  3. Secure your Wi-Fi connection: create a unique password for your router, change your wireless network’s name (SSID), enable network encryption, and upgrade your router’s firmware.
  4. Have a firewall in place to protect your Internet connection. Set up a firewall at your office, as well as home offices, if you and any employees work remotely.
  5. Educate employees about best practices regarding creating and storing passwords for various accounts. Keep passwords strong and use two-factor authentication when possible, as recommended by Security Today.
  6. Show employees how to recognize phishing and scams. According to Symantec’s February 2019 Internet Security Threat Report, employees of small organizations were more likely than those in large organizations to be hit by email threats—such as spam, phishing, and email malware—in 2018. Employees need to be on alert for emails with zip files and attachments (such as invoices or receipts) with malicious code that will download malware to the user’s device when the attachment is opened. In addition, it is important to avoid clicking links that look suspicious.
  7. Protect mobile devices and set up passwords to unlock devicesencrypt data on mobile devices, install security apps to prevent unauthorized access to data when a device is on, and install anti-virus and anti-malware software on devices.
  8. Choose your bank and credit card companies carefully—look for those with the best anti-fraud protections.
  9. Be selective about who you allow to access your data and the degree of access you give to individuals. In other words, only grant access if it’s absolutely needed.

If you want to learn more about how to protect your business, consider visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s CyberSecurity for Small Business online education and resource guide. It covers a full range of topics to help you put a plan in place. Also, reach out to your SCORE mentor for input and feedback as you take action to safeguard your business.

How to Write A Stellar Mission Statement

Marketers and branding gurus throw around term “mission statement” so much that it has almost turned into yet another bit of jargon. However, a mission statement, when created with intention and careful thought, serves a valuable purpose for all small business owners.

What is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a short sentence or a short paragraph that summarizes what a company does, what its business philosophy is, who it serves, and what value it offers.

In short; it captures the essence of why the business exists. Sometimes, a mission statement also includes what the organization aspires to be upon achieving its mission, or that might appear in another statement (vision statement).

Some businesses publish their mission statements for all the world to see, while others keep within their companies as a tool for their leadership team and employees.

Why Should Your Small Business Create a Mission Statement?

Mission statements aren’t only for big corporations. They are useful tools for small business owners as well.

A mission statement serves as a way to differentiate your business from your competitors. It also serves as a guidepost for your business. Before you make decisions that will impact your business, evaluating your options to determine if they line up with your mission statement can help you determine the best course of action. If something doesn’t align with your mission, it’s likely it will confuse customers, derail other initiatives, or overtax your resources.

4 Tips for Writing a Mission Statement

Getting started can be the most challenging and exciting part of the process as you take a blank slate and craft what will be at the foundation of everything your business does. Keep the following tips in mind as you sit down to write your business’s mission statement.

1. Keep it real.

Authenticity is essential for a mission statement. If you write something that you don’t believe or intend to strive for, you’ll create a piece of fiction rather than a meaningful mission statement. Be true to what your company stands for and what you envision for it.

2. Make sure it can’t be just anyone’s mission statement.

Think through what’s unique about your business and how you can bring that into your mission statement. Perhaps it’s your backstory, your approach to providing your products and services, the atmosphere you offer, or something else that makes you stand out. Your mission statement should be a perfect fit for your company and not one that could reflect what any of your competitors stand for.

A few examples of unique mission statements in competitive industries include:

  • Arby’s – The Arby’s brand purpose is Inspiring Smiles Through Delicious Experiences®. Arby’s delivers on its purpose by celebrating the art of Meatcraft® with a variety of high-quality proteins and innovative, crave-able sides, such as Curly Fries and Jamocha shakes. Arby’s Fast Crafted® restaurant services feature a unique blend of quick-serve speed combined with the quality and made-for-you care of fast casual.
  • Bass Pro Shops – To be the leading merchant of outdoor recreational products inspiring people to love, enjoy, and conserve the great outdoors.
  • Ford Motor Company – Our belief: Freedom of movement drives human progress. Our aspiration: To become the world’s most trusted company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world.

3. Keep it simple.

A lengthy and elaborately written mission statement might sound impressive, but the simpler and more straightforward the language you use, the easier it will be for your employees and customers to understand it.

For example, Nike’s mission statement, Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, says a lot in only a few words. The same is true with IKEA’s mission statement, To create a better everyday life for many people. And TED, says it all in just two words, “Spread ideas.

You might find it difficult to sum up your mission in such short order, and that’s OK. But strive to keep your mission statement as concise and clear as possible.

4. Ask for Feedback from a SCORE Mentor.

Creating a mission statement can be a frustrating process for business owners. It requires taking a step back from everyday minutia and tasks and looking at the big picture. Consider asking a SCORE mentor for guidance as you craft your mission statement. With experience and expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business, SCORE mentors can offer valuable input and feedback to help you develop a mission statement that captures your purpose and inspires you and your team.

Thinking of Joining a Networking Group?

For many startup entrepreneurs and business owners, time and money are in limited supply, so it is essential to spend both wisely when trying to advance your business.

While industry associations, chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other professional groups offer opportunities to make new connections and gain knowledge, not all will give you the same bang for your buck.

What to Consider Before Investing Time and Money into a Networking Group

1. Will it cost you more than just the membership fee?

Organizations typically offer free registration to various events if you’re a member. Then, there are usually some activities that require a fee to attend. The balance of “free” and “paid” events varies from group to group. Before joining, do some math to get a sense for what your actual costs will be.

2. Is the caliber of seminars and presentations at a level that will be beneficial?

Review the group’s calendar of events and speak to members to find out if the quality of programs is at a level that will provide value. Do they cover topics that you’re interested in and that are relevant to you? Are the presenters respected, reputable subject matter experts?

3. Does the membership have a healthy mix of industry peers and prospective clients?

A group with both can open doors for your business in two ways. You’ll have opportunities to learn from and exchange ideas with other professionals facing the same challenges you face. Also, you’ll encounter potential customers with whom you can begin to build mutually beneficial business relationships.

4. Are events held at convenient locations and on dates and times of the day that cooperate with your schedule?

What good is membership if schedule conflicts prevent you from attending the group’s activities? Being present regularly is the key to making connections, so review the organization’s calendar to make sure the events you’re interested in are held when you’re available to participate

5. Do you feel welcome?

Attending a group’s event before joining is a good way to gain a sense of how members interact with one another and newbies. While it’s always somewhat awkward to walk into a crowded room and know no one, being a first-timer at an event shouldn’t leave you feeling like an outcast.  Give the group a “test drive,” to find out if existing members are welcoming and open to forming new relationships.

Final Thoughts on Small Business Networking

Despite all of the online networking entrepreneurs can do through social media, there will always be a place for networking face to face. The key to optimizing in-person opportunities is to find and join groups that offer the programs and membership diversity that will fit your needs, schedule, and budget. If you need help figuring out which groups might best align with your objectives, ask a SCORE mentor for guidance. With vast connections within your business community, SCORE can offer insight about organizations that might be the right fit.

How to get five stars on managing your online reviews

In today’s market, consumers read online reviews before buying products and services whether they’re buying an item on Amazon or scoping out a local small business. You can’t afford to miss out on what people might be saying about your business online.

Online Reviews Wield Word-of-Mouth Power

According to BrightLocal, “Nearly every consumer now conducts regular local searches, placing expectations on businesses to be visible online. Some businesses can struggle to differentiate from their competitors, so a positive online reputation is useful to help customers make a choice.”

BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey – 2017 found that 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

Online Reviews Help SEO

Online reviews may also help a business get found in online searches. According to the Moz 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors study, review signals are among the top 8 ranking factors used by Google.

The number of reviews, diversity of reviews, and review velocity (the rate at which a product garners new reviews) all have an impact on where on the search engine results pages a business will appear.

Which Review Sites Carry the Most Weight?

The 2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey: Statistics and Trends found that Google has become the preferred review site for consumers. “63.6 percent of consumers say they are likely to check online reviews on Google before visiting a business — more than any other review site.”

Facebook is the most popular online space for leaving reviews. Although growth has slowed for sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and CitySearch, many people are still using them, and they continue to have an impact on companies’ reputations and ranking in online searches.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

1. If you haven’t established or claimed your business on Google My Business and other review sites, consider doing so.

On some sites, such as Yelp, customers might be leaving reviews even if a business hasn’t established an account there. Realize that people can and will talk about your business online, so it’s in your best interest to know where that’s happening.

2. Be careful about soliciting reviews from customers.

While Google allows businesses to encourage customers to leave online reviews, some other review sites prohibit it. Some review sites prohibit asking customers to leave reviews. Always check the website’s terms of service to make sure you follow their rules.

3. Make sure that your business information is consistent across review sites.

Use the same company name, address, and phone number (NAP) information across all of them. Many SEO experts say that search engines view consistency in NAP information as a sign that a business is legitimate. If your NAP info differs from one site to the next, people might see incorrect information about your business in search results—or your business might not turn up on the search engine results page at all.

4. Pay attention to when someone leaves reviews.

Stay tuned into notifications when someone leaves a review of your business so you can respond—particularly if it’s a negative review. According to the ReviewTrackers survey, 53.3 percent of people expect a business to respond to a negative review within 7 days. By acknowledging customers’ dissatisfaction and taking action to remedy it, you’ll demonstrate integrity…and those people might be inclined to remove their negative review and write a more favorable one.

If you do get a few negative reviews, don’t fret. It’s likely it won’t permanently damage your reputation. In fact, several critical reviews may even help your business. Reviews, whether positive or negative, increase the overall number of reviews and they may enhance your credibility. Some people might suspect that a company with all glowing reviews is “too good to be true.”

5. Watch out for fake reviews.

Positive and negative fake reviews can do damage to your business’s credibility online. On many sites, anyone (whether a customer or not) can write a review. Some have automated mechanisms in place to detect and remove fake reviews, but their methods aren’t always 100 percent effective. If you find that someone has left a fraudulent review about your business, follow the review site’s process to launch an investigation.

 

6. Monitor your online reputation so you can detect when people are talking about your business.

Besides checking activity directly on the review sites, also consider setting up a Google Alert on your business name to notify you whenever someone has mentioned your business online. The more you know about what people are saying about your business, the better able you’ll be able to understand what you’re doing well and what you might improve. Online reviews and conversations can provide valuable feedback to help your business serve your customers better.

If you have questions or need guidance about managing aspects of your business online (and off), contact SCORE to talk with a mentor.