Never underestimate the “little nobodies”

Today’s guest post comes from Amber Karnes, who did a great job of analyzing the rise and fall of Urban Outfitters most recent product thievery and how social media played a role in the fall.

One of the messages small businesses should get from this is buried deep within this quote from Amber:

When I worked as the webmaster (and often-shouted-down social media champion) at Fortune 500 railroad Norfolk Southern, I had a hard time explaining this concept. Their PR heads would say, â??Why should a big corporation worry about cultivating a relationship with some railfan who only has 600 followers? Shouldnâ??t we go after the big ones? These little nobodies canâ??t do us any damage.â? Well, today proved the opposite.

Take care of your fans and they will take care of you.

Need evidence? There is now a 3 or 4 week backlog at the Etsy store of the business that UO ripped off.

PS: Thanks for the heads up, AG.

Follow up: “Nobodies as Influencers”

Good business is personal

smart fortwo passion mhd coupe & cabrio * Play
Creative Commons License photo credit: jiazi

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to rethink a lot of things.

It struck me that I’ve spent a lot more time discussing the dumb things that businesses do rather than the smart things they do.

While I turn the story of those dumb things into a lesson for the smart business, and have made note of the reasons to expect me to focus on “bugs” on my About page; I’ve decided that we need to spend more time here focusing on the smart businesses and what they do.

Angie and Friends

It hit me while motoring from Memphis to Mom’s place after hearing yet another ad for Angie’s List.

It struck me that we “need” things like Angie’s List, Consumerist, the Better Business Bureau (which has little to do with better business IMO) and to a lesser extent, the US Consumer Protection Agency partly because we are lazy consumers.

Consumer laziness provokes us to return to a business even though they were treated poorly the last time we went there. Consumers are going to do what they’re going to do, collectively. Individually, of course, each of us can do something about it via word of mouth.

Responsibility

On the other hand, businesses have a lot of responsibility here as well, and it’s not just the ones treating consumers poorly.

Why do businesses that routinely treat their customers poorly manage to stay open?

I blame your business. And myself.

It doesn’t matter what economic level, what market position, or what part of the world your business is in. This isn’t about businesses focused on serving value-seeking customers vs. those focused on serving affluent customers.

It’s about customers on every rung of the economic ladder, how you take care of them and how you educate them.

The responsibility of a good business doesn’t stop there. Not even close.

Obligation

A good business is obligated to communicate why they are either the only logical solution (or on the “short list” of logical solutions).

“We’ll beat any price.” doesn’t do that. In fact, it usually takes everything else off the table, saying “We believe nothing is more important than price.” That might be true in a few situations, but in reality, people make one or two cent buying decisions every day.

Do you know what drives them?

A good business is obligated to find a way, even in commodity markets, to get their clientele to cross the street in their direction and pay 2 cents more. Most importantly, these customers are glad they did so and will happy to again.

Likewise, a good business is obligated to do whatever is necessary to make it as easy as possible for their clients to tell others about the insanely good (or maybe just consistently good) experience they have with that business.

Talk is cheap, until they talk about you

Why does Angie’s List have to exist in order to get someone’s testimonial for your business online?

To expand that beyond AL (I’m not picking on them – I happen to like their service), why do people have to search the internet to find out word-of-mouth info about you? It’s great that the info is there, but you should be leading the charge (strategically, not smarmily – yes, I made up that word) to let people know who thinks you hung the moon.

It’s your responsibility to first do good business and then make sure others find out what your clientele experienced. Doesn’t matter whether they find out via Twitter, Facebook, at the grocery store, after church or at a kid’s ballgame.

What haven’t you done to get that information on your site? In your store?

What haven’t you done to personalize your business to the point that people can’t help but tell their friends about you?

If you can identify those things, why haven’t you done them?

Why is that?

Are you really willing to sit there and let people cross the street to the other guy to save a penny or two, knowing full well the experience they will have?

The treatment they get from a competitor reflects on you because you’re in the same business. Do you take that personally?

You should. I wonder what you’ll do about it.

Throw The Fastball

I get a fairly steady flow of referrals and hope you’ve done at least some of what I’ve suggested so you can get them too.

Sometimes folks looking for pretty specific gigs are referred to me as well.

I appreciate these referrals as much as the “Hey, this business needs your help” kind.

Who are you?

When I send someone to help a business owner, it has to be a good fit. On rare occasions, people are sent to me that I don’t know. In those cases, it’s tough to refer them unless I can find them online and learn about them and their work. Remember, my reputation is on the line with the referral as much as anyone’s.

Imagine these possible scenarios…

  • I get an email asking for a referral as a writer, yet the email is terribly written.
  • I get a voice mail touting their skills in sales, yet the voice mail struggles to sell me on calling them back.
  • I get an email asking for website building work, yet they include a link to a website that looks like it was built in 1998.
  • I can’t find them on Google.
  • I’ve never heard of them or their work.

Those situations are extremely rare, but as you probably figured…there’s a point to all this.

Picking at it

Point being – It’s not much different than what you face when talking with a prospect.

Without a referral, they don’t know you from Adam (or Eve).

Until you pick up the phone, email them, send a mail piece or (horrors!) stand face to face with them, all you can depend on is your word-of-mouth reputation and what search engines tell them is all they have.

Let’s go back over that list again from that viewpoint:

  • They get an email from you, yet your email is terribly written.
  • They get a voice mail from you that struggles to address their question/need.
  • They can’t find what they need on your website, which looks like it was built in 1998.
  • They can’t find you on Google.
  • They’re not familiar with your work and their friends/co-workers don’t know you.

Is that the first impression you make? And have you Google’d yourself lately?

Chin music

Think about the baseball players in the picture. How does the pitcher make a first impression?

Quite often with a hard inside fastball, close to the batter’s chin.

What makes your first impression? What are you repeatedly doing to build a reputation BEFORE they need you?

By the way, if I sent you the guy in the photo’s front row, third from the left, and you owned a baseball team…you’d be a happy owner. His name is Walter Johnson.

Camouflage lipstick? Not even.

Almost every business is looking for new customers these days. It’s particularly the case in markets that serve people’s hobby, pastime or even luxury items.

Hunting and camping gear is one that comes to mind, but there are plenty of others. If you sell the various types of gear used when hunting and camping, your business probably targets men.

Every year, new hunters and campers are “created” when kids reach the age where they can hunt (usually 11-12 after taking a hunter safety course), or where their parents feel comfortable taking them camping – or allowing them to go with someone else.

That might add a fair number of new clients to your pool of prospective customers, but it doesnt add a group who are ready to spend a pile of money at your place of business. Sure, their parents might buy them some items or might “hand me down” a few items, but the serious financial impact from these new hunters and campers won’t be felt until they are employed and have some fun money.

Maybe when they reach high school age, maybe 10-15 years later, depending on the person.

There is a place where a male-oriented business can easily find a group of prospective customers who can have an immediate financial impact. The problem is that your man-oriented business may not be doing enough to attract them or may be using the wrong lingo to attract them.

It’s not really a place. They’re all around you.

With all the election season commentary about VP candidate Sarah Palin fishing, hunting, “field dressing a moose” and such, it should have become obvious in recent months.

I’m talking about adult women.

Bottom line: There are plenty of ladies out there who like to fish, hunt and camp – and that’s just a start. Don’t forget archery, target shooting and fly fishing (and there are more). Even so, that doesn’t mean that they wear camo jeans to the office, when going out with friends or when working in the yard.

Here’s one example of a business that figured out that women want gear just for them.

They’ve found or created outdoor and hunting clothing tailored for the shape of a woman. Pay careful attention to the models, the words used and the way that the site is designed. It clearly isn’t aimed at attracting male buyers. The fit is clearly for a women, not a man.

If you’re a guy, ask any woman about the differences between their clothes and yours – besides the obvious torso shape differences – and they’ll be able to reel off a list of differences that are major to them. They’ll also likely tell you that the lack of choice in some types of clothing annoys them, and that your outdoor clothes are uncomfortable, unflattering and possibly a little bit painful in some cases.

Likewise, if you look closely at the gear available for motorcyclists – particularly Harley-Davidson branded gear – you’ll find that they too have figured out that gear for women must be designed, tailored and described in ways that are going to attract a woman’s attention – and her money.

If your business is largely oriented toward men, you probably already do some business with women, but it might be simply because there isn’t a place in your market that is targeting them.

If your business – or a part of it – is carefully designed, with products, marketing, merchandising and staffing focused solely on attracting female customers, you might just be able to open up a whole new market within your existing business.

Best Seat in the House shows why you should be blogging

It may not be clear from the things I talk about here, but I enjoy photography. I shoot some scenic stuff, like the photo at the top of this page and I shoot a lot of sports and community stuff.

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When it comes to sports, I’ll shoot baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, football, etc – and I don’t really mind how young or old the participants are. I’ve been on the field to shoot major college football and basketball, and I’ve been on the field to shoot the Columbia Falls 6th grade football team.

As a result of the photography thing, one of my favorite blogs is Best Seat in the House by Seattle Times sports (mostly) photographer Rod Mar.

This post about golf, Caddyshack and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle was typical of Mar’s fun and informative (to photographers) posts. I suspect that if you asked Rod, he’d say that he isn’t a writer – and that’s my point.

In order to blog, you don’t have to be an expert writer with 12 books under your belt (that’d be uncomfortable, much less unsightly).

Instead, you just have to have a conversation with your readers.

When you educate, annoy, incite and entertain your readers, you develop a personal relationship with them (more accurately, they develop one with you).

Isn’t that what you want your customers to have with your business and your staff?