Monday, October 24, 2016

How Criticism Can Save Your Small Business

Mistakes are critical to business growth. We learn the most when we’re faced with trickier problems and customer complaints that force us to get creative. Whether you’re a booming tech leader like Facebook or a local mom-and-pop, your team should always have an ear to the ground, accepting and encouraging feedback from happy and unhappy customers alike.

Below, we share just how customer criticism can transform and save your business.

You hear your customers’ wants first-hand

Maybe you talk to your customers all the time or, as is often the case, just when they’re dissatisfied. While these “negative” conversations can be daunting, they’re far more valuable for than the pleasant ones. Unhappy customers put growth opportunity on a serving platter. They tell you about their issue and often hint (or state outright) the outcome they would have preferred, whether it’s a product improvement, a service offering, better communication or all of the above.

The more you hear this kind of feedback, the clearer your business’ holes become and the closer you are to plugging them. Just remember that many customers never complain. In fact, 96% of them don’t. The majority simply leave. So you have to ask for feedback and work toward building better customers who want to give it, otherwise you won’t hear the good, the bad and the ugly until it’s too late.

You see your business in a new light

You go to work every day and stare at a computer screen, run around helping customers or checking off an endless and ever-growing to-do list. You start to form a routine. After some time, it’s easy to grow so close to the work that you put distance between yourself and your customers. You must make mental edits to your approach, especially if you want to grow business with customer service.

Criticism forces you to take a hard look at outdated and ineffective practices that may be causing trouble in your customer relationships. It gives you a chance to revamp the go-to techniques you use on a daily basis. Maybe your business hours are problematic for customers with full-time jobs, or you’re not offering a service in high demand. Your customers’ feedback can help point out the obvious but overlooked problems that need to be rectified.

Just listening boosts customer retention

Criticism isn’t always fun to hear, but it just might help you save a customer from leaving. When someone raises a complaint, start by empathizing. Let them know that you understand where they’re coming from and you’ll take the initiative to help. Wait for them to finish, then try repeating back what they just said so they know you’re listening.That word is key: listen. Remind yourself that you need to listen, not just hear. Take notes if you want to, and attempt to come up with a solution right then and there or give them a clear, reasonable time that you’ll get back to them. If you offer a solution upfront, your customer is less likely to cut ties. And even if you can’t solve the problem right away, once your customer voices their issue they’ll be more invested in that future solution.

Feedback can ignite action

Criticism can give you that little push you need to make a change. When your employees are constantly hearing similar feedback, that’s when you know it’s time to take action. Meet with your team and determine where the majority of complaints or problems arise and come up with a strategy to fix the issue. Making these feedback sessions a top priority adds credibility in the eyes of your customers and your employees.

That employee bit is key. If you run a business with customer-facing employees, they need to be following your lead and soliciting feedback regularly. Instill an attitude of proactive customer service company-wide and you’ll see a much bigger impact. Your team will begin paying more attention to customers’ needs as well as what’s best for the company.


If companies like Apple and Microsoft disregarded their customers’ feedback, they never would have made it to the top echelons of tech. Their products and services have adapted to changing consumer preferences and needs thanks to constant analysis and action. Though their consumer studies budget probably dwarfs a mid-sized company’s annual revenue, smaller operations can take small measures to start listening that open up a realm of possibilities for growth. Don’t forget that you are where you are because of your loyal customers, so take their criticism as a thank you to your business.

Photo Credit: BizApp

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.
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Friday, October 21, 2016

5 Signs You Need to Update Your Reusable Email Template

There’s no doubt about it.

Creating a reusable email template saves you time.

But do you ever feel like your reusable template is starting to get stale?   

You want your emails to have a consistent look and feel, but worry your tried-and-true email design is starting to feel tired.

Don’t throw out your template just yet. Take a look at these five signs it’s time to give your email template a refresh:

1. It’s not mobile responsive

As the majority of people now read their email on a mobile device, a mobile responsive template is no longer a luxury — it’s essential.

A mobile responsive email adjusts itself automatically to the dimensions of the device it is being viewed on. This is different from a mobile-friendly template, in which your emails do not adjust based on the screen size.

If your emails are not yet optimized for mobile, it’s time to update your template.

2. There’s a major holiday coming up

Keep your audience engaged by offering timely content with a new look for the holiday season. This tells your audience that there is a person behind your emails, not a robot mindlessly pushing out generic content.

Need help coming up with holiday email ideas? We’ve compiled 30 creative ideas for you.

3. Your results have been plateauing or dipping

If you’ve noticed that metrics like your click-through rate have gone south, your template may need to be reinvigorated.

When your subject line is sensational, your content is engaging and you’ve positioned yourself to actually get noticed, but still aren’t getting the results you want, poor design may be the culprit.

Reengage your audience with a fresh new template. Use these seven essential elements of email design as your guide.

4. You realize you’ve been excluding one (or more) of your demographics

Perhaps you recently decided to start marketing your business to millennials. Maybe you realize that seventy-year-old sailors can’t get enough of you.

Either way, whenever you’re trying to engage a specific audience segment, it’s a good idea to create a reusable template directly tailored to this specific audience.

If you’re not carefully segmenting your email list, you’re missing the opportunity to connect with people in a targeted, meaningful way.

When creating a template for a specific group, keep your message focused and only include the information that’s relevant to them.

5. You’ve been using the same template for years

Even if there aren’t any major warning signs your template needs a refresh, it’s a good idea to keep your look and feel fresh.

Not sure where to start? Send an online survey to ask your customers what they’d like to see in your next email newsletter. Including them in the process will make them feel invested and eager to see your new look.

Ready for your refresh?

Now that you know all the warning signs, take a hard look at your template today and see if it could use a makeover.

If so, dust off Constant Contact’s guide for creating a reusable template, and get to work.

Photo Credit: Shuttershock

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.
Stay Connected with WNFP!
Join WNFP Communities!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

10 Small But Small Essential Ways to Boost Your Business

Giving your business a boost doesn’t have to be difficult or incredibly time consuming. In fact, there are some essential elements of building successful businesses that can sometimes get overlooked. These suggestions from members of our small business community include some small but important things you can do to boost your business right away.

Include These Essential Features of a Small Business Website

Your small business website serves as the online face of your business. And it can also provide any number of important functions. While each small business website should be different, there are some essential elements that can make them great, like the ones outlined in this post on Techlofy by Prince Kumar.

Entice Customers to Binge Watch Your Product Videos

Videos can really enhance your product pages with additional information, views and storytelling elements. But for them to really work, you need to get customers to actually watch them. This post on the Kissmetrics blog by Shayla Price includes some tips for getting people to binge watch your product videos.

Find a Fundable Startup Market Opportunity

There’s a lot that goes into finding a great startup opportunity. But one of the essential elements of any idea is its ability to get funded. Martin Zwilling of Startup Professionals Musings explains more in this post about finding fundable startup opportunities. And BizSugar members discuss the post further here.

Use a Digital Marketing Strategy to Increase Marketing Impact

A digital marketing strategy can help you keep all of your online and mobile marketing goals organized so that you’ll be better equipped to actually reach them. For that reason, Erik Newton of the BrightEdge blog suggests that using a digital marketing strategy can increase your marketing impact overall.

Achieve the Ideal State of Marketing

Marketing is an essential part of running any successful business. The actual activities that go into marketing can vary from business to business. But there are some elements you can include to find the ideal state of marketing for your business. Scott Rayden discusses the idea in this Marketing Land post.

Get Mind-Blowing Traffic From Pinterest

Pinterest has been steadily gaining popularity among consumers for a few years now. And that popularity means that it can be a great tool for businesses looking to attract online consumers. This Mostly Blogging post by Janice Wald includes some thoughts on the potential power of Pinterest. 

And the BizSugar community also weighs in here.

Learn How to Write Effective Web Content

Communicating with your customers online is becoming increasingly important. And content marketing can help you get those messages out effectively. But you need to understand how to write content that’s actually effective first. Jireh Gibson shares some tips in this Media Shower post.

Nurture Email Leads in Your Digital Marketing Funnel

Once you gather leads from your website or opt-in forms, you need to have a plan for actually converting those leads into customers. Nurturing leads is a huge part of that, as Mike Gingerich discusses in this post. He also offers tips for how to actually craft your emails.

Get Started With Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook has become such a huge part of how many businesses interact with their customers. So new or changing features like Facebook Instant Articles can have a big impact. In this post, Rebekah Radice explains Facebook Instant Articles and how they can help small businesses. You can also see discussion about the post over on BizSugar.

Take a Weekend Business Break

Hard work is an essential ingredient for any small business. But working hard constantly without ever taking any breaks can be draining and ultimately hurt your business in the long run. In this CorpNet post, Nellie Akalp challenges entrepreneurs to take a break over the long weekend, and explains why that is important.

Photo Credit: Shuttershock

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.
Stay Connected with WNFP!
Join WNFP Communities!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

3 Hidden Dangers of Cooperative Networking

In the 90's we had lunch and learn networking, always trying to be productive. The 2000's brought tightening budgets but a growth in personal crisis groups in the advent of 9/11. But this decade, cooperative networking has emerged as the must-have growth necessity of every entrepreneur. But has it really changed much over the past three decades or is it just the same message rebranded?

After a year and a half witnessing these groups at work from the inside as a speaker, mastermind leader and faculty member, as well as from the outside, I have seen a few dangerous patterns emerge. So, whether you are auditing a free local meet-up, joining a mastermind, or attending a full conference, you need to be cognizant of how these organizations work.

Be aware of these hidden dangers in cooperative networking before you get trapped in a wrong fit that drains instead of accelerates your business growth.

Danger in Like-Minded Groups

Oft repeated at many conferences - you are the net worth of the five people you associate with the most. Yet too often you flock to the group where you feel most at home: inventors with inventors or social good advocates with social good advocates. While support groups should be a part of your personal growth, confusing this type of group with being able to accelerate your business growth is dangerous.

You need a group that you aspire to be a part of to push you and show you the way forward. The overwhelming majority of accelerated business growth is modeling success - successful marketing, successful business structures, successful mindsets and successful behaviors. Think hard about whether the current group you belong to is too comfortable or full of others in exactly the same position as you. The same goes for groups that are focused solely on the power of associations - make sure they have the kind of members you want to be associated with and the kind that help even when you are not yet a member of their elite inner circle.

Danger in Over-Coaching

This is one I am seeing too much of lately perhaps because so many coaches and mentors have a funnel model with low-cost entry programs that get you into their organization with an up-sell later. The danger lies in trying too many different coaches or programs at once, getting not only mixed signals but possibly being steered down the wrong path entirely. Take on only one general coach or mentor at a time and discuss with them any program you might want to undertake. Give her or him your full attention and take action on their advice and direction. If you aren't seeing results, look elsewhere.

Danger in Being Naïve About the Sales Structure

Once you have found your way into an aspirational group, you have to be even more cautious of sales tactics and structures. Most cooperative networking groups fall into the following three types of organizations. Be aware - these groups are all about sales because all are geared to getting you to spend more money on training and personal development. But spending before you are ready can stunt your business growth.

1. Free with a heavy-handed push to the back of the room - characterized by keynote-style content and speakers with promotions for programs you just can't miss

2. Free with organization, affiliation, or alliance partner sales from the stage - again characterized but keynote speakers but with the programs usually tied to what is being presented and sold straight from the stage

3. Fee with soft-sell on pay-to-play programs, coaches, and mentors - in this model you pay the organization but the speakers and mentors are unpaid and may be leading you directly into needing more from them

No matter whether or not you pay a fee, cooperative networking groups or their faculty, mentors or partners rely heavily on program sales. It is an old model but surprisingly continues to work and has been picking up steam with local self-titled "expert gurus" using the model to sell one-to-many. You would think that in this age, the orchestrated structure with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) presenters and hard sell techniques would ring hollow, but it is quite the opposite. A whole generation of entrepreneurs never exposed to the originals like Tony Robbins, Bob Proctor and Brian Tracy are flocking to see them and their newly minted clones.

There are many valuable techniques to learn and mindsets to adopt but keep in mind that everything is likely available in a downloadable PDF, eBook, or with younger gurus, their podcast for free or for cheap. The best protection against the hard sell is to leave your checkbook and credit cards in the office. If you truly need what they have to sell, then waiting three days to see if it still resonates. Almost all of them will give you the discount price even after last call. If it is important to your business growth, then paying full price should still be a good return on investment.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.
Stay Connected with WNFP!
Join WNFP Communities!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

4 Email Tools That Genuinely Save Me an Hour Per Day

I'm sure you agree that time is the most precious commodity that none of us can afford to waste. In business, as in life, mastering time management is incredibly important.

Clogged and cluttered inboxes drain valuable time and distract you from focusing on what really matters: your work.

I've recently tried and tested a number of email tools and techniques in a bid to reclaim valuable time from my working day. As a result, I've genuinely been able to save an hour each day from tedious admin tasks and put that time to much better use.

If you save an hour a day for an entire working year, you could reclaim 261 hours of your time. That's over ten full days a year.

There are pros and cons to every email software, There are undoubtedly others options out there not listed here; however these four have made a dramatic difference in my efficiency, productivity and time management:

1. SaneBox
Sanebox is great for a number of reasons. First, it helps me filter out spam, junk, and even downgrades unimportant emails to be looked at later on. Not only that, but it automatically organizes emails into different folders which you can create and customize.

These specific features allow you to spend time where it counts, so you can tailor the software to suit your personal needs. I like it because I get reminders to chase sent emails and I can delay responses to lesser important emails. The more you use the software, the more it "understands" how you personally like to use email.

The only downside of the service? It does generate a few emails itself, which might feel counter-intuitive. You do have to pay, as well. However, for sanity, peace of mind and a clear, clutter-free inbox, I personally find the investment well worth it!

2. Calendly
Everyone can appreciate that organizing and scheduling calendar events is an extremely time-draining task. Calendly helps save you from those annoying back and forth email chains between clients and colleagues. The amount of time I've spent opening five calendars at once to look for a mutually suitable time for a meeting is mind-boggling!

Calendly is simple, yet effective. First, you sync your existing calendars directly into Calendly itself. This tool takes the pressure off your back by giving clients, colleagues and any recipients the ability to book convenient times directly into your diary. This doesn't mean anyone can see who you're meeting and when; rather, it keeps your schedule private by only showing available meeting times (which you can customize and edit). The settings are very flexible and intuitive to use.

I use this specifically for scheduling routine events such as podcast or editorial interviews and time for my internal team to book regular huddles or catch-ups but you can use this for anyone.

3. Boomerang
Boomerang (just for Gmail) is similar to SaneBox, in that it offers you the ability to delay sending emails. However, there's one feature in particular called 'Respondable' that really makes this tool stand out: an artificial intelligence assistant. Yes, you read that right! The AI software is super smart, and can be used to help you craft the perfect email by "grading" what you've written.

Why waste time writing emails that aren't getting a reply? With Boomerang, you're more likely to get responses from prospects, and you'll learn how to write better, more actionable emails in real time. The AI tool collates data from millions of messages, and works really well alongside Boomerang's traditional email productivity software.

4. is my personal favorite. It's a full artificial intelligence software called "Amy", and she acts as your personal assistant to take the hassle out of scheduling meetings - It's pretty cool. All you need to do is CC: into an email that you've received or want to send.

She then emails your client, colleague or prospect to find the best time and location, knowing your schedule and preferences. The best part? Once you CC Amy and ask her to take control, you can literally just sit back and wait for the meeting date to arrive in your inbox even if there's multiple people involved etc.

She does the same thing for meetings, calls, reminders and any other admin task that eats up your time. If you want to sign up today, there is a slight hitch - due to popular demand, there's a waiting list for the free version that can take a few weeks to process (you can pay to jump the queue if you're not the patient type!). In my humble opinion, this is a glimpse into the future.

So that's how I save an hour every day. What's your best time saving tip? I'd love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.
Stay Connected with WNFP!
Join WNFP Communities!