Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stay alert - there's a new scam, a new victim - don't let it be you...

“We live in an uncomfortable world,” observed my daughter last week.  An interesting observation which came up because I had my rewards account hacked and a substantial number of points stolen and used for a plane ticket.  My guess he was off on a world trip!

Then I had this red alert on my computer, saying my computer had been closed down because my credit card and bank accounts had been hacked, and for security purposes I had to phone this number so we could correct it.

I didn’t call.

Instead, I checked on the latest scams, and sure enough there it was.  But the noise and ferocity of the message were scary.  It was like one of those Amber Alerts when a child goes missing – loud and menacing. To get it to stop, I had to turn off my computer completely.

It all left me feeling somewhat unsettled, especially given that I’d had my rewards account hacked the day before. So I spent my afternoon, changing passwords and checking bank balances – all was safe.

However, it is a statement on our society today, and as my daughter suggested, it leaves you feeling uncomfortable, jaded.  Even with Google, you check something out, and next minute on Facebook there’s a related ad to what you’d been investigating.   Very Big Brother.

However, I have learned from this experience and I no longer store my passwords and account numbers on my computer … far too easy for someone to gain access. Unfortunately I have also learned to be suspicious of callers, email messages and the like.  I no longer take information at face value.  And that’s kind of sad.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pushy sales tactics can backfire

When you are shopping for clothes, how do you like to shop?  Have someone help you select what might work or potter around on your own?   Personally I prefer to wander around on my own and check stuff out.  

To me there is nothing worse than an assistant hovering at my every move, maybe throwing in a comment or two at an item I am showing some interest in.

I was reminded of this recently when shopping with a friend who was looking for something to wear for an upcoming wedding.  We had no luck at the first store but then moved on to another where there was a wider choice available.

Now my friend likes to be helped and there the assistant, Renata, was most attentive, selecting clothing she thought might work and really listening to my friend’s likes and dislikes.  Now we were there for some time, as my friend tried on numerous outfits, narrowing it down to a few choices.

However, then the manager came over and started to apply pressure – both on Renata and my friend, and started to argue with us about items already rejected.   I could see this was not going down well, but clearly the manager felt it was time to close the deal.  Wrong move.

That’s the challenge with sales – it is a fine line between being helpful and being pushy.  The manager was being pushy and her interference was not appreciated. Fortunately a phone call came in for her, and she left the scene.

Just as well, as if she’d kept up the barrage of comments meant to “force” my friend to make the purchase, we would likely have walked out the store empty-handed.

It actually reminded me of a time when, as a teenager, I worked in a shoe store.  Their rule was that if, after a certain amount of time, the person had not made a purchase, you were to call in the manager as back up to close the deal.  It was my first taste of the world of commerce.

The key I think is to respect the customer. Usually they know what they like and want, what they have at home and what their budget is around the purchase.  When you just see the customer as a sale, as money in your pocket then you’ve crossed that line.  It is the respect for the individual that matters, not your sales figures for the week.

My sense is when you do your job well, when you listen to your customer, no matter what you are selling, then you are more likely to make the sale. 

It’s like when we have speakers come to talk at a Company of Women meeting, we ask for no sales pitches.  Sadly not everyone remembers that, but my premise is that if you’ve impressed your audience, they will seek you out if they need your services, so the hard sell is not necessary, nor frankly professional. 

Pushy sales tactics can backfire on you as this manager might have found out, plus who would rush back for a repeat experience?

Renata on the other hand, earned her salary that day and we left the store mission accomplished. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Leap of faith

This summer while at a friend’s cottage, I witnessed her young son taking a bold, brave leap off the dock into the lake.  Now this was something he’d wanted to do for ages, but had never quite had the courage to do.

His face as he achieved this milestone, first with his life jacket on and then without it, was a picture of sheer joy and pride.

It made me think of the perseverance and determination we need as small business owners to achieve our goals and that sense of accomplishment we feel when we close our first big deal. It makes all the hard work to get there worthwhile.

The key, as our young diver showed, is you don’t give up.  You just go closer and closer to the edge until you feel you can make that leap of faith, that you will succeed.

Fired by his successes, he moved on to finessing and turning his jump into a dive, and with that successfully achieved, we had a hard time getting him out of the water!

Maybe this summer you stuck your toe in the entrepreneurial pool, gingerly lowering yourself into the water.  Know that there will come a time when you have to get wet, when you have to just go for it, and when you do, know that like my friend’s son, we are behind you, cheering you on because we believe in you and we know you can do it too.

Get ready to make your big splash. 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

11 Tips to finding your first customer

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart, and finding that first customer can give you the boost and confidence to feel you are on the right path.

When I started my consulting practice, I didn’t have to wait too long before I landed my first contract. In fact, it was my former employer.  I had also made a point of updating former colleagues on what I was doing, so that if potential work came up, I was top of mind.

But these days many people leap from what they did in the past to a totally different field or industry, perhaps pursuing a passion or a gap in service. This does make it more challenging to snag your first customer as you are new to the sector and starting out from scratch.

So how do you find that first customer? I’ve often written and talked about finding the perfect customer, but at this stage in your business, the cynic in me says any warm body will do as long as they pay their bills. You will quickly learn who you like to work with and later you can afford to be more discerning.

Here’s a few tips:

1.              Research your new industry. Track down the key players and introduce yourself to them. You can make it an informational interview. At the risk of sounding like your mother, remember to write and say thank you afterwards.

2.              Network, network, network. In order to get the word out, you need to go out. Attend as many network meetings as you can afford. Decide which ones will help and support you the most, and become a regular.

People do business with people they know and trust and while they may be not do business directly with you, they may refer you to someone who will.

3.              Volunteer.  When you donate your services/product or lend your expertise to a charity or local service club, you are not only doing good but getting yourself known and broadening your network within the community.

4.              Update your friends. Let them know what you are doing and how they can help. But don’t overdo the sales pitch or you will put them right off, or worse still, lose the friendship.

5.              Participate in online discussion groups such as on LinkedIn or Facebook. Ask questions, get feedback from more seasoned business owners. Build an online community that will support you.

6.              Build a database. Carry your business cards with you wherever you go and if you meet someone you want to connect with, ask for their card and check if they would be willing to receive more information from you. If they say ‘yes’ add them to your mailing list.

7.              Start an e-zine. Once you have a decent size database, consider sending out a one page newsletter.  Try to send it monthly so you stay top of mind and include information that is useful to your reader. It shouldn’t all be about you. You can use email marketing programs like Constant Contact which is inexpensive, easy to manage and track the results.

8.              Provide a start-up offer for a time limited period, so people can sample what you have to offer at a cheaper rate.

9.              Join the industry group for your new sector. People are usually more than happy to help a newbie and you will get connected to others who are working with your target audience.

10.          Find an accountability buddy. In your networking you are bound to meet someone else like you who has just started a business. Consider meeting up on a regular basis so that you can support each other and hold the other accountable to the goals set for the week.

11.          Partner up. Be willing to form an alliance or partner up with someone else who offers similar services.

In the initial stages of my consulting practice, I worked with another consultant as the “junior” consultant on his projects and I found it was an excellent way to learn the ropes while getting paid at the same time. Later I hired other consultants if I had a big project or needed someone with a specific skill set. So don’t rule out working with someone else.

So often new business owners have a “if you build it, they will come” attitude. And they will, but maybe not as quickly as you would like.

It is so easy at the beginning to get discouraged. You start to second-guess yourself, questioning your wisdom at taking this leap into the world of entrepreneurism. Hang in there.

In his book, The Dip, Seth Godin talks about how people give up too easily, when success is just around the corner. Believe it, your first customer is waiting in the wings.