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Customer service E-myth Employees Management Marketing Scouting Small Business systems The Slight Edge

Two simple keys to easy revenue and better service

Upsell and follow up.

Simple, right?  You already know this. But are you actually doing it?

Two of the easiest things to do to increase sales without spending even a dime to chase new customers, something you shouldn’t need to do if you are doing things right, are asking for the upsell and following up.

Before you change the channel, note that when I say upsell, I dont mean badger the crud out of your client with mindless “Do you want fries with that?” list of questions.

Instead, I mean ask smart questions that provoke your client to ask for more help, and do smart things that helps keep them out of trouble.

One local example is a nearby Chevy dealer’s Customer Appreciation Day, which just happens to include a bumper to bumper vehicle check.

On a nice 80 degree summer day, you don’t think much about being stranded. In the middle of a cold Montana winter, it’s on your radar anytime you’re out in the boonies.

In the middle of the coldest part of our Montana winters, which also happens to be their slowest time of the year, the dealer examines their clients’ vehicles for problems.

That vehicle check is done at no cost, plus you get breakfast or lunch and a bunch of chances to win door prizes.

They also have extra salespeople around in case clients have questions, but it isn’t a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sales event.

It’s a service/safety event that even includes a bunch of folks in the heated detail bays washing every car before the client takes it home.

The client goes home with a laundry list of stuff to keep get fixed or just keep an eye on, without any sales pressure. It truly is a courtesy check.

And of course, it’s a gold mine too.

Why? Because people see a bunch of stuff that they know might strand them on the side of a remote rural road at the worst possible time, so they either get it fixed at the dealer, or they take the list elsewhere (or home).

Even for those clients who don’t get a bunch of work done at the dealer, this serves a purpose: It gets that owner and their vehicle into the store once a year no matter what. It gets the service people an opportunity to check over the vehicle for potentially dangerous problems at least once a year. It gives the sales folks an opportunity to chat with former customers (there’s a reason why I call them that), offering them the chance to re-fire the connection with them.

While it would be a great idea for you if you are in any sort of service business, you don’t have to put on a big production like this every year.

You simply have to pay attention and take the opportunities presented.

When I bring my mower in for a new blade like I did earlier this week, you might take an extra 30 seconds to check the oil and see if it is low, or dirty.

You might check the air filter and see if it needs to be cleaned, or re-oiled. Even if those services only cost $5 to perform (plus the oil), that’s $10+ in incremental revenue, PLUS you make the point that you are trying to lengthen the life of my machines.

Trust me, if it burns gas, uses oil and I own it, it’s probably begging for help.

And I guarantee you, I’m not alone.

In many ways, your goal is their goal: Make sure that the client is as prepared to go into tomorrow, much less the rest of today, with as few detours as possible.

Yesterday, I had a pitman and idler arm replaced on my Suburban aka the Scoutmobile. I couldn’t pick them out of a box of parts but I do know they are part of the front end suspension and messed up ones like to ruin tires.

Meanwhile, another lady walked in to get a tire repaired. She was happy to find that the tire repair was free, but had to ask if someone would check her battery.

She shouldn’t have had to ask.

When her vehicle was taken in to fix the tire, it should have been part of their procedure to check the battery, tire pressures, fluid levels, wipers, brakes, shocks and tire tread.

Not just to upsell, but to make sure the client’s vehicle is safe to operate. And of course, to give yourself the opportunity to show the client that you are looking out for them and their vehicle.

But that didn’t happen, even though we were in a place that’s known for offering good service. You can tell they are trained, but they could be doing even more.

By the way, it turned out that the lady needed a new battery. The well-trained car guy offered her choices, let her make a decision and made the sale. But if she hadn’t asked…no sale.

Could you and your staff be doing more, all while being more helpful?

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Employees Leadership Management Personal development Productivity Small Business systems Time management

Life and business control starts with systems

Many business owners would love to have control of their lives, yet they never seem to take any serious steps toward achieving that state.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no poster boy in this department, but just like me, if you look around, you’ll find someone doing even worse than you at this.

It’s something I have to make a very determined effort to stay on top of.

For me, it all comes back to systems.

My system is fairly simple.

It consists of Outlook, lists and a Smartphone or similar that talks to Outlook and knows what’s on my todo list and calendar.

One thing that makes Outlook far more functional at this is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) add-in for Outlook.

If you haven’t read David’s book Getting Things Done, I suggest giving it a shot. I’ll warn you – You might not agree with his methods at first.

If you are one of those people with piles all over your desk and all over your office, constantly trying to figure out where things are or finding things late because they were in a pile, then David’s book is a definitely a worthwhile read for you.

Lets get back to the Outlook thing for a minute. GTD for Outlook adds a toolbar to the email viewer screen, and to the main Outlook screen.

One of the most important buttons on that bar is DEFER.

When you get an email that you dont need to deal with for 2 weeks, or it confirms an appointment (and the other user isnt using Outlook’s meeting confirmation/calendaring features), you can simply use the Defer button to quickly create an appointment on your calendar.

Best of all, that appointment has the original email attached to it, along with any files or what not that came along with it.

I’m not going to document the entire product, but that button not only saves me a lot of time (no manual entry of appointments) but it also helps me make sure I am where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be.

Give the book a read. I think you’ll get something out of it even if you don’t use Outlook. There are other programs (Including another add-in for Outlook) that were designed to work in the GTD system.

Control of everything is impossible, but effectively dealing with the disasters (or just random annoyances) is a lot easier when the controllable stuff is actually under control/management.

Remember, you set the tone for your business.

If you aren’t under control (or at least look it), then your staff won’t see much reason to be either. Or they’ll find an employer who is.

Same goes for clients.

Is your controllable stuff actually under control?

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Automation Community Competition Creativity ECommerce energy Management Marketing Positioning Productivity Small Business systems Technology

Fuel cost thoughts for small business owners

To the consternation of many, I’ve quietly noted for several years that the rise in fuel costs would also have some positive impacts on us and on our society – in addition to the obvious negative ones.

It’s not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s a pragmatic one.

Among other things, higher fuel costs will…

  • force us to become more self-sufficient, both as individuals and as communities.
  • force us to become better thinkers. The smartest business now has even more of an edge.
  • force us to become better planners.
  • force us to become far more responsible to ourselves, our neighbors and to our businesses.
  • force us to deliver even more services via the Internet
  • force us to use the Internet to fine tune the logistics of every aspect of our businesses
  • require our communities to become far more dependent on the individuals and businesses within, rather than on a largely-faceless community 600 or 6000 miles away.

That last one is where the business that has a personal relationship with its clients will shine.

What should fuel costs have the small business owner thinking about?

The obvious thing is the rising cost of shipping and transportation of goods.

While it is “really cool” to order a new computer on the internet at 2am and then be surprised to have the Airborne guy standing in my driveway with the computer box at 8am that day, the cost of making that happen is far more than the $5 extra I paid to make it so back in 1987.

The changes that rising fuel costs cause require some thought, no matter what you do or sell.

Some might not be so obvious, and those are the ones that can make the most difference.

Look for things that are below the radar of “most people”.

One example: the real estate business

Evidence is appearing that prospective home buyers are looking far more closely at the location of homes and the resulting commutes.

The higher price of homes close to town is offset by shorter commutes to work and shopping. How many people in California (much less Boise) would rather spend that extra 2-4 hours a day with their family rather than on gas, as they stare at the back of the car in front of them? Suddenly, even with California wages, those numbers become significant.

If you are a Realtor or a mortgage broker, you have to be watching for small changes in people’s behavior before they become large changes. You might start selling more homes in areas that are less congested (slower traffic, longer commutes), yet still close in and convenient.

You might have a new tool that takes MLS address info, ownership years, employer data and change real estate agent farming forever.

Maybe you “niche yourself” by offering a service for employers that helps their people find homes closer to the office, or a similar service for employers who are moving employees to the area.

You might focus your attention on selling those remote homes by touting their access to broadband internet and place your marketing attention on work-at-home business owners, telecommuters and the like – people who are far less concerned about commuting distances.

Distances to day cares from work and homes are now more important. This will affect your ability to find employees. Minimum wage work will be chosen more carefully, since commute costs will eat into a small wages quickly.

If you were having a hard time finding people a year ago, commute costs due to fuel prices might complicate that further.

You must put far more thought into those 3 little words: location, location, location.

The best Realtors are going to find smart ways to leverage today’s issues, as they always have, only the parameters have changed.

It isn’t just real estate though

If you do a lot of mail order/internet order/phone order business, how are you preparing your business to do more locally?

What if shipping costs tripled tomorrow? Would your mail order business survive? Where would you find “replacement” customers locally? How would you attract them? Would you focus on regional mail order clients vs national? What changes in your product line are necessary to succeed on that refocused client market?

These are things you should already be thinking about, no matter what you do.

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Competition Customer service ECommerce Employees Management Retail Sales Small Business Software Strategy systems Technology

Don’t make it hard for people to give you money

Emergencies of all forms seem to come at the worst possible times.

How your business manages day to day transactions quite often makes the emergency worse for your clients.

Bear with me, this story – and the lesson that goes with it – requires a bit of background discussion.

Last week was crazy for me. On Friday night, I drove my son to Plains for a swim meet. The next day, we had a baby shower to attend before taking off for a week of Scout camp early on Sunday morning.

The camp is located a few miles from Harvard Idaho, which isn’t what anyone would call a metropolis, and that’s a good thing. See, the more remote a Scout camp is, the better. If the internet doesnt work and cell phones get no signal, it makes for a better week of camp for everyone. And that’s one more reason why Inland Northwest Council’s Camp Grizzly shines.

However, this post isn’t about camp, it’s about an experience I had with Hy-Tek, Ltd., a (if not the) leading swim meet management software vendor, while I was at camp.

When I arrived in Plains for the swim meet, the guy in charge of the touchpad timing system for that team asked me to take a look at the system for them. Each of the teams in our league use a setup owned by the league, and each town has someone who gets to set it up and run it that weekend.

Out of 23 towns, there are 2 geeky people like me who are involved. Me and a guy about 400 miles east of here. Everyone else in the other 21 towns drew the short straw.

Here’s what happened: Recently, Hy-Tek required that we upgrade the meet management software due to a licensing conflict (another story for another time).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in that transaction, which might possibly have avoided this. Turns out that the sales-prevention-department at Hy-Tek didn’t do their research when selling $7000+ worth of meet software to the 23 teams (who buy as a group).

They neglected to look at prior purchases by the same organization and observe that the league purchased a version of the meet software that supported the scoring console that drives the digital scoreboard and collects athlete swim times from the touchpads at the end of the lane.

Bottom line, that means that when I got to Plains, they couldn’t get the meet software to talk to the timing console, the touchpads or the scoreboard. So I dig around a little and find that the licenses sold to each team did not include the ability to use the scoring console – something that should have been part of the sales script / checklist or whatever when any of this software is sold.

At 11pm on Friday night, this isn’t going to get fixed.

I call Hy-Tek on Saturday morning and get voice mail for someone’s cell phone.

Not long after leaving my message, a friendly guy named Bob calls back (Hy-Tek’s support Bob is universally appreciated from what I hear) and tells me that he cant fix it and I have to deal with sales because he isn’t allow to use the software that creates the license file that resolves the problem, much less take our money.

So we use manual timers for this meet, which isn’t the end of the world.

I tell my MotoQ to remind me on Monday morning (when I will be at camp, where there is no cell service) to call the swim league big cheese, explain the situation and then call Hy-Tek sales and get this resolved.

So Monday comes and I manage to drive 30 minutes to find about half a bar of cell service and reach the swim guy, who isn’t home and thus doesnt have the info for the sales call in front of him. We decide to talk on Tuesday so he can get the info from his home and then I can call Hy-Tek.

My call on Tuesday goes off as planned (after another 30 minute drive to get cell service) and shortly after gathering the necessary info, I reach someone in Hy-Tek sales.

I explain the situation and almost get the impression that I am interrupting someone’s day. But we move on, because I have to get this done and return to camp (thankfully, I have 2 other adults in camp to help the boys in my absence).

After explaining the situation to the salesperson, I am told that I should go online to order the upgrade. Isn’t that what a toll-free sales number is for?

Sales 101 – When a customer tries to hand you money for something they clearly want or need, do not tell them to go somewhere else.

I explain that I am in the middle of rural Idaho, have no internet access (not even with my phone, which is rapidly burning battery talk time due to the analog connection) and cannot do so. She tells me they are not setup to take phone orders.

Say what?

Anyhow, she says that she can take my order by entering it for me on their website (credit card merchants everywhere are cringing by now) as I read it over the phone. As I have no choice, we do that and the order is placed.

When delivery is discussed, I ask for email delivery of the license file (which is small enough to email) due to the urgency of getting this fix to the team hosting the meet next weekend, particularly given my limited ability to call/no ability to email this week.

I am told company policy forbids it because teams change computer people and coaches too often and they would have to re-email the software. Even downloading it from a secured area on the site is too much trouble, apparently.

Is it 1988 or 2008? Hmm.

IE: they wont allow email delivery of license files because they dont like issuing license files too often and more likely, because there is no process for doing so – since there are never emergencies in the swimming business, I suppose.

I begin to wonder to myself if they dont like taking money, but I know better than that:) I should note that I’ve been the swim team’s geek for 8 years and will be for at least 3 more. That is of no concern to the salesperson, because her hands are tied by company policy.

Clearly, there is no process in place to email this small file in an emergency.

If there isn’t a process, so be it, but blaming this on the *standard behavior of clients* is dumb.

Thankfully, the CD goes out as promised, gets picked up by the right person and installs without incident, all without me being around:) This is a good thing, since I arrived at the meet at 130am between days 1 and 2 of the meet.

So why this long, wordy bluster?

Simply to ask you to re-examine a few things:

  • Take a look at how you are setup to accelerate the delivery of your product in the event of a client emergency. Is your sales and support staff trained and enabled to make things work for the client, or simply hamstrung by policy and process issues, and thus forced to make your clients sit around and wait?
  • As you know, I’ll be the first to suggest automating what can be, but make sure that your processes allow for emergencies.
  • Take a look at how your sales and support team communicate company policies (smart ones and dumb ones) to your clients. It isn’t their fault your policies and processes are what they are, but they have to communicate and implement them, presumably without torquing your clients.
  • Check your sales process and make sure that your salespeople are not sending clients somewhere else to complete a sale. Obviously, creating work for clients when they are handing you money is not wise.
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Competition Customer service Management Marketing Montana Positioning Retail Small Business Strategy systems Word of mouth marketing

Do you know why you lost that client? I do.

Last week, a story in one of our local papers noted that a local business had lost a customer that they had served for thirty years.

Thirty years is a long time to have a customer. That’s really impressive.

This big, regular customer accounted for a major portion of this local business’ revenue.

When the owner of that business was interviewed about the loss of that big customer – one of the largest businesses of that kind in our area – the owner said he was “dismayed” that he wasn’t given the opportunity to re-bid, and offer lower prices or enhanced service.

The straw that broke the backs of 1000 camels? He followed that with “They went with <the other vendor> for reasons I don’t know, I was flabbergasted.”

I’ve been in that business several times in the last 9 years. The store looks like it hasn’t changed in 30 years. It sends a signal that the rest of the business is probably operated similarly.

If you were in the retail Catholic goods business, Ian would have a field day with you. It’d be like game 7 of the 2008 NBA Finals. You’d be down 30 points before you knew it and the Celtics would be putting in retired players from the 1960’s to mop up the floor with you.

But that isn’t why you lost that big customer.

I know exactly why you lost the business.

You don’t have a relationship with them.

Your comments prove it. I suspect that you kept that customer for a long time because “they’d always done it that way”, but that is just a guess.

I verified that lack of a relationship by following the trail of evidence, and asking a few questions. I was told that your old customer approached the new vendor for help, saying they were unsatisfied with you.

That too is obvious, just from your comments in the article.

When you’ve had a customer for thirty years, and they have become 20-25% of your revenue stream, what in the world kept you from offering them “enhanced service” well before this happened?

If you could lower prices (or offset that by adding value) in order to put an iron cage around this customer so you’d never lose them…why didn’t you?

How could you NOT know that they were unhappy with you? After 30 years, you should have keys to the place. You should have your own coffee mug in their break room.

Ok, maybe keys is a little overboard, but still – you should have a good first name basis, personal relationship with the owner and management of that business.

And you should have known the business part of the relationship was broken long before it hit the papers. Long before you made that customer so frustrated that they felt asking you for help was a lost cause, so they asked your competitor.

Yet you are “flabbergasted” at the reason for losing that customer. And you blame that other business for being ruthless.

Look in the mirror. That’s whose fault it is.

For everyone else reading this: Which customer are YOU taking for granted?

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Apple Competition Creativity Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Motivation Positioning Retail Small Business Strategy systems The Slight Edge Time management

The cause for being nimble

Dan Kennedy is often heard saying “Money loves speed”.

While that is likely true, it seems that money also despises a few other characters: the laggard, the do nothing and the shows up 5 years late.

One of the distinct advantages that small businesses have over the box stores and franchises is that it takes those two groups of businesses months, if not years to roll out a new program.

First they have a zillion meetings.

Then they prototype it, test it in-house and finally pilot it in a few locations, then they make adjustments and finally do what it takes to roll it out nationwide.

In their case, that’s often the way it has to be. When you have 4500 locations, you can’t easily make knee-jerk decisions. The changes in the logistics of delivery to your stores is enough to keep someone busy for a while, much less changes to their proprietary equipment, labeling, marketing, training programs and so on.

That’s a good thing – for you.

Why? Because you can move fast. You don’t have 4500 locations. You don’t have custom-built equipment in most cases, or if you do, it wont change because of a new product.

Moving faster than everyone else is a difference maker, often a big one.

The downsides of being first to market are few and far between.

You might get copied, in fact, you might get copied by someone with far more assets and ability to deliver than you have.

Your market might not understand what the heck your product is, much less why they need it. I’ve been there. Once successful in conquering that monster, once not.

You might just be years ahead of the market recognizing why your product is so revolutionary. If that happens, you have a marketing problem, but then again, would Steve Jobs have been able to sell the iPhone in 1972?

Maybe it would’ve been easy selling to Star Trek fans back then 🙂

Being nimble means being quick to market. One prominent example: Apple. They announce a product and it’s typically available 6 weeks later, if not immediately.

You, being the small business owner, can be even faster. Many of the things we talk about here can be implemented today – or at the least, the implementation can start today.

Sure, it’s tough adding one new product line a month, or adding a new product to an existing line each week, or implementing a new customer retention strategy every month.

It’s uphill all the way.

Be nimble and you’ll likely be the only one climbing that hill. Worst case, you’ll be climbing that hill faster than everyone else – particularly if you are using systems to streamline your operations.

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Blogging Competition Management Motivation Personal development Productivity Small Business systems Time management

We dont need no stinking batches

Apologies to fans of the movie The Treasure of Sierra Madre, but Darren set me up so well, I just couldn’t resist.

Note: The embedded YouTube viewer is annoying the often-annoying Internet Explorer, so you can see the video here instead.

You see, Darren Rowse of Problogger, and Digital Photography School would argue that you do need those “stinking batches”.

In today’s guest post, Darren describes how batching his work allows him to get more done.

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Competition Corporate America Customer service Management Marketing Positioning Pricing Small Business Southwest Strategy systems

Southwest: Something simple in the air

Yes, it’s a play on the now-untenable “Something special in the air” that American Airlines used to use – back when they really were special.

Southwest Airlines announced changes in their business model that are easy for any air traveler to understand.

Click the image below to see the entire graphic from Southwest.com:

Now I had to admit that flying Southwest used to make me nuts because there was so much difference between the cattle car experience and what everyone else did.

Since those days year ago, they’ve made boarding changes to make things far more normal, and given that everyone else has cut service to the bone, now the other guys are the cattle cars.

Rather than follow the industry – Southwest has always tended to take a page from Earl Nightingale, that is, watch what the mainstream airlines do, and do just the opposite.

That’s just where this is coming from.

Instead of making their business complicated, they’ve made it simpler.

That’s not exactly news. They’ve done simple all along – such as using the same model of airliner across the entire company.

They do simple for a reason: They understand that eliminating all this complexity makes it easier for their staff and their passengers, but that isn’t the real “secret” to all this simplicity.

The key to this latest simplification move isn’t just making the other airlines look like idiots (as if they need help), but that it allows Southwest to chip one more little piece away from their turnaround process (land, deplane/unload, clean, board/load, takeoff) without slowing things down to check for paid tags, or capture a credit card or make change, and so on.

Plus it’s a heckuva lot less annoying to the passenger.

Result: More on time departures, faster turnaround, more flights, less planes, happier customers who met all their connections, and far lower expenses for feeding/housing travelers stranded by their inability to manage their on-time arrival.

Southwest is the Apple Computer of the airline business – except perhaps in price.

Simple is better.

What can you do to simplify YOUR business?

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Automation ECommerce Management Marketing Small Business Strategy systems Technology

Insulating yourself from disaster

Late last week, a friend of mine’s website exploded.

More accurately, his webhost’s electrical room exploded and caught fire and took down NINE THOUSAND servers with it.

Because my friend knows these things happen, he was well prepared for it.

He had backups in place. He had an alternate server in place and in more or less the time it took to switch a “Go here” sign from server A (the exploding place) to server B, his site was back up for the most part.

Meanwhile, all 9000 servers are still not back in service after 4 days.

Some of this is their fault, and some is not.

The fire department wouldn’t let them run their backup generators, which is ultimately what forced 9000 servers (and no doubt hundreds of thousands of web sites) offline, but physical damage to the facility would have made that a moot point as they later found.

When the fire department had finished their work, the generators were started, but failed. More delays as a new generator had to be brought in and installed.

Now the generator is up but each of 9000 servers has to be started manually and then checked to make sure it is working. And some of those are going to be problematic because of destroyed cabling on a lower floor.

Imagine if you had your e-commerce online store on those servers. Maybe you’re Brad Fallon and your $750k a month wedding favors online store has been down for a week. A week to Brad is almost $200 grand, and remember, he has a pile of employees and warehouse space to pay for. Can you afford that kind of hit?

Redundancy is an expense AND an investment

The real issue here is a lack of redundancy on the part of The Planet. My understanding is that they have 5 different data centers, yet it appears that they are simply 5 standalone data centers that do not replicate each other.

Ironically, their blog talked about redundancy and recovery from catastrophic events just a few short (pardon the pun) weeks ago. Ironic?

While the expense of redundancy at that level (estimates are that they have 50,000 servers) is substantial, exactly how much do you think it will cost them because they didn’t have that redundancy in place?

It should be noted that they do offer a backup server service, where you get the main server and a backup server (presumably in another location). Wonder how many of those will get sold this month?

So how many customers will this cost them? 9000? 900?

I doubt we’ll ever know, but let’s put on the speculation hat and take a look at the math.

If it cost them 10% of their customer base at that location (900 lowest price dedicated server accounts), at the lowest service level, that’s a loss of $80,100 PER MONTH.

What about future customers who will find out about the explosion and the lack of redundancy and decide to go elsewhere? Pretty hard to measure that. After only 4 days (probably far sooner), there are Google AdWords ads on the net for the keywords “Houston webhost” (and probably others) that suggest “moving off of The Planet”. Their competition isn’t going to let this go away.

And what does this have to do with you?

Are you as well prepared as my friend was?

  • What happens if your web host provider explodes tonight?
  • Do you have backups?
  • Do you have a plan in place – or at least the knowledge – to move your site elsewhere and restore backups to that location in a timely manner?
  • Do you know what kind of redundancy your web host offers? Some have duplicate systems in other locations, some do not. Some do backups for you. Some do not. All serious web hosts have power protection in the form of battery backup systems and generators.

What doesn’t matter to you: The Planet’s problems. There are plenty of other good web hosts out there if you need one.

What does matter to you: How does an event like this affect your business when those problems occur? How many customers do you lose because your systems are unavailable? How many new customers give up after you’ve spent X dollars to get them to your site in a mindset that is ready to buy?

With that in mind, spend some time thinking about what makes sense regarding an investment in redundancy. Then take action.

What do I do for my sites and the ones I manage?

Weekly – I have automated server-level backups taken. They are downloaded to a server here in my office in Montana (the web server is in Michigan). They are then copied to a high end RAID-5 network addressable storage (NAS) drive in my office. All of this happens automatically.

Daily – SQL databases on my web sites (and my clients’ sites) are backed up to a different web server, and in the wee hours, they are downloaded to a server here in my Montana office. They are then copied to the NAS drive mentioned earlier. All of this happens automatically. In addition, all web programming and images here on my main development machines is copied to the NAS drive on a nightly basis. Automatically. Finally, those same items are copied to a laptop (yes, nightly and automatically) so that if my office and the server in Michigan decide to explode, I have the laptop as a last resort.

What’s next? I am in the process of establishing a second web hosting center account so that these automated backups can be pushed to that server so that I can quickly switch to the new site in the event of a disaster, without having hours of restore-from-backups time. Even though the backups are automated and kept current, the time to restore them can be critical for some accounts.

These are the kinds of processes and situations you need to be thinking about.

Don’t depend on someone else to protect your business assets. Let them, but make sure you are covered by things within your control.

These events would likely bury a lesser-prepared competitor. Handled properly, they will make you shine even brighter as the expert in your market – even if your market isn’t tech-related.

Related info: Lessons learned: Think like a fire marshal.

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Automation Competition Customer service Employees Management Marketing Positioning Productivity Small Business SMS systems Technology The Slight Edge Twitter

Operations and Details: Why you need a passion for crossing the T and dotting the I

One of the very few troubling things about living in a small town or a rural area is that sometimes, not all that often, but sometimes (yeah, I repeat myself), you find yourself “forced” to use a vendor that drives you crazy.

Because of what appears to be a lack of passion about operations and details.

Talk about timing. As I was writing this post, up on Twitter pops this tweet from @ChrisBrogan :

“Is anyone really *passionate* about operations and details?”
Chris Brogan

To be sure, when I say “passion”, I don’t mean that your hormone levels start rising when you are making sure your business’ detailed operations are just so – and have processes in place to keep them that way, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll bet you ARE passionate about the lifestyle that your business provides for you.

You know. Things like being able to make that Boy Scout meeting, that piano recital, that Wednesday afternoon golf “meeting” every other week, the choir practice, your kid’s soccer games or the bridge club.

Whatever it might be…the passion that you have for the lifestyle you lead has a direct relationship with the passion you have for crossing the T and dotting the I.

You probably think I’m nuts, so let’s talk about a few examples from my business life. I suppose this could be a reference to the pet peeves discussion of a few days ago, but this is really a bit different because the kinds of things I’m talking about here could be a part of any business.

In my case, it’s a local business whose services I use every month. Likewise, several of my clients use this service every month because they produce the production version of what I created for my clients (gee, is that vague enough?)

Why do I put up with the annoyance?

One reason and one reason only: There is no viable alternative business that provides this service within the community with the slate of features I need.

These are the kinds of things that any service business could be doing, and quite a few online or brick and mortar retail product stores could be as well. That way YOU can fix the ones you might be doing.

Number 1 – They deliver, but they can’t tell me for sure (in advance) when a produced job will be delivered.

When they do deliver, they don’t notify me that they’ve delivered the product. Because I happen to be one of those “Likes to know if the client got the stuff I ordered for them” kinds of guys, I have to call back (and remember to call back<g> and ask if the stuff was delivered. Today, I had to do this and they had to call me back because they had no idea.

Number 2 – They don’t notify me when the job is done/delivered unless I ask (and sometimes not even then). They clearly have no system to keep track of what needs to be delivered, what is on the truck, what has been delivered and what couldn’t be delivered. My guess is that they might have a clipboard nailed to a wall somewhere. Maybe.

Note that the big box store that competes with them (but doesnt offer enough services to make me switch), DOES have automated email notification that the job is done and I can pick it up.

Little things make a difference, especially when I can decide to give them my cell phone’s SMS email address, forcing their email to my phone.

Why is this apparent triviality even important?

Lessee…In the days of $4 gas, an emailed notification that goes to my phone could save me a 40 mile round trip drive (if I’m already in town for something else), PLUS 40+ minutes of their productive time if I have to turn around and come get that job because it is time-bound.

I don’t like doing business with companies that waste my time. Do you?

It might not just be my time. Maybe I have my virtual assistant (who lives here) pick them up. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to take the email and forward to her, or call her? Sure, they could email directly to her – but if they aren’t emailing, what difference does it make? So now we’re talking about contractor or employee time, depending on your situation.

Number 3 – Out of control accounting. OK, I admit it, I *hate* bookkeeping (yes, I do appreciate and take action on the reports).

This is important with them because I often pay by credit or debit card and then get invoiced for the same amount at a later time. This happens repeatedly. So much so, in fact, that I have to get statements and make sure I haven’t paid for something twice. Sometimes I pay in person. Sometimes I pay over the phone or even via email. It doesn’t seem to matter, because double payments or unlogged payments are a frequent issue.

In the case of the in-store payment, this occurs despite the fact that they appear to enter the payment on the computer when I’m in their store. In fact, most of the problems originated from in-store payments.

Call me confused.

By now, you’re probably still wondering where the “why cross and dot” in all this is.

Simple: It’s those lifestyle things that make owning a business worthwhile. If your business is out of control, you don’t have time for that every other Wednesday golf meeting with friends you treasure. You can’t make that Rotary meeting once a month, much less once a week.

You can’t go on that photo safari across Montana, much less across Africa. And you sure can’t leave at 10am or 2pm for that school play or soccer game out of town that you promised your kid you’d make, even though they know you’ll be on your cell phone the whole time.

Why? Because you can’t leave your business for a week for fear that it will collapse into chaos when you aren’t there.

Cross the T and dot the I, and put systems in place to make sure it happens even when you aren’t there.

Imagine if you don’t have these things in place. That ONE important delivery to your best client gets messed up, or forgotten and that client leaves forever taking 5 or 6 figures worth of business to a competitor.

Now you feel like you can’t ever leave to watch a kid’s recital, ball game or what not.

Is that really worth not putting some effort, some passion into systems that cross the T and dot the I?

Don’t you want your business to be the one that is known as the one that never drops the ball?