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4 Sources of Inspiration

23rd June 2009

4 Sources of Inspiration

inspirationI would guess that almost every business owner, at one time or another, has suffered from a lack of inspiration.  Maybe the question to be answered was where the business would go next.  Perhaps it involved adding a new product or service.  Maybe the lack of inspiration was impacting the Marketing or Advertising plans.   Whatever the issue,  I would bet that almost everyone has faced this problem at some point or another.   If lack of inspiration is a current problem for you, here are some ways to jump start your problem solving engine.

1. Look at what others are doing – Notice I don’t say “copy” what others are doing.  Looking to others to see how they deal with problems or how they present their products is a great way to gather options for how your company should handle the same issues.  While you’re looking, however, remember that every solution should fit your business and have your flair.  Becoming a “me too” for another company in your industry won’t benefit you at all.

2. Ask your customers – If you have a company blog, or a company account on a social media site, ask your customers what they would do or for feedback on a proposed solution to a problem.  Customers can be an invaluable source of information, and can also help you determine if a solution is right or wrong before you implement it.  Listen to what your customers have to say.  After all, your business wouldn’t exist without them.

3. Ask the experts – If you’re facing a sales problem, you might want to visit Jeffrey Gitomer.  If you have questions about running an embroidery business, you might visit T-Shirt Forums or the Small Business Administration.  Many cities and towns also have Chambers of Commerce which offer help and advice as well as a way to make connections within your community.

4. Do a web search – The web is a repository for an amazing amount of information.   Type your question intothe search engine of your choice and see what comes up.   The solution for which you are searching may only be a few mouse clicks away.

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9th June 2009

How Do Your Customers Purchase?

online-shoppingOne of the main rules for those people who sell things is this:  you have to make it easy for people to buy.  That used to be pretty simple, since there really were only two ways that people could buy.  They could come to your store, or they could order through the mail.   If you had a retail space, you needed to display your items attractively and have knowledgeable sales staff.  If you sold via mail, you needed to have a catalog in which to display your products and some sort of mechanism in place to take and fill orders.  Most people who sold merchandise could predict their customers shopping habits and behavior fairly easily.

In today’s world, it isn’t so easy to predict how, or even when, your customers will want to shop.  Take me for instance.  I’m a dedicated Internet shopper.  I could live quite happily without ever having to go into a brick and mortar store.  Shopping on the Internet allows me to compare prices and to shop when I want, even if when I want to shop is 3 a.m.  I don’t generally feel a need to hold something or to see it (beyond a picture) before I buy so, for me, the Internet is the ideal shopping experience.

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that there are some people who don’t want to shop the way I do.   Some people feel the need to handle the merchandise before they buy it.  Other people need to talk to an expert.  There are those who don’t like making purchases over the Internet, and will use it for research, but not for buying.  The best way to make sales and a profit is to be able to accommodate as many buying styles as possible.   The more people you can contact and engage, the more likely it is that you will have sales.

Let’s use EnMart as an example.   Obviously, our primary mode of sales is our online store.   That is not, however, the only way you can shop with us.  We do take orders by phone or by fax.  If you need to handle the merchandise before you buy, we’d be happy to send you a small sample of whatever it is you’re interested in purchasing.   We’ll also allow for in store (or in our case office building) pick-up for those customers who live near one of our distribution centers.  Whatever your preferred shopping method, EnMart will do its best to accommodate you.

If you are planning on selling something, you need to make it your business to know how people will want to buy.  Once you know that, you can figure out how best to meet the needs of your customers.   The more needs you can meet, the more customers you can please and, ultimately, the more sales you can make.

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30th April 2009

Keep Your Customers Coming Back

There are a lot of things I like about my job, but one of the best things is getting an order and seeing that it’s from a customer who’s purchased from us before.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all orders, what person who sells things wouldn’t, but there’s something special about seeing a company name I recognize.  As Sally Fields would say, seeing a repeat order means “they like us, they really like us” and that makes me feel good.  We work hard to give our customers the best product and service possible, and repeat orders are a great confirmation that we’re doing the right things in the right way.

If you’re looking to beef up your customer satisfaction scores, or if you just want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to make your customers happy, here are three things we always do that help us keep our customers coming back.

Respond promptly –  I’m always amazed when someone expresses surprise when we respond within minutes to a phone call or an e-mail.  Apparently a quick response isn’t the norm anymore.   We always respond as quickly as we can to all inquiries we receive.  Our customers deserve the respect of a prompt answer and nothing we do is more important than getting them the information they need.

Always get better –  If you look at the front page of our store right now, you’ll see a little note headed “Please Excuse our Dust”.  That is just a notice so people will be aware we’re in the process of revamping our website.  We constantly tinker with our product offerings and our presentation of those offerings.  We want to offer the best products on the best website, and we’re willing to spend the time and effort necessary to make that happen.  Good enough is never good enough for us.  EnMart is always a work in progress.

Say thank you (and mean it) –  “Thank you for your business” or “we appreciate your business” have become such cliche sayings that they almost don’t mean anything anymore.   A real thank you has to be something more than a phrase written on the bottom of an invoice, or uttered by rote by a bored employee.  Last year we called every customer who placed an order with us to thank them for their business.  We also call everyone who visits us at a trade show.  We want to let people know that we appreciate not just their business, but their interest in EnMart and our products.

Good customer service doesn’t have to be difficult to do or require a lot of flashy gimmicks.  Mostly, good customer service just needs to be sincere and it needs to be of service to the customer.  If you can find out what your customer wants and needs and provide that to them, you’ll be offering the best customer service there available, and your sales will reflect that.

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10th April 2009

Why “Serving” the Customer Matters

Last night I stopped at the local gas station on the way home.  When I went to pay the clerk was outside the door having a cigarette.  I had to walk right past him to go inside to pay.  As I walked past him, he said something along the lines of “I’ll be right with you”.   I went inside, he continued to stay outside and smoke.  Finally, after I stood at the counter and waited for a bit, he came in, rang up my sale, and I was on my way.  As I left I saw that he was back outside,  and other customers were walking past him to go inside to make purchases.   It was a perfect example of bad customer service in action.  It also was enough, since this sort of service has happened at this location before, to make me think next time I’ll drive a little further and go somewhere that values my business and takes care of me promptly.   That clerk’s lack of attentiveness to the company’s customers cost them at least one customer and maybe more.

I understand that clerks and salespeople and customer service representatives need breaks, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them those breaks.  I also understand that it can be tough to cover everything when you’re the only one working a shift.  Most customers would understand that, and would make allowances when necessary.   Where the wheels fall off the wagon is when the customer service reps simply don’t care.  We’ve all experienced it, and it used to be a lot of us would put up with it, but that attitude is starting to change.

With the economy in its current state, the customers are back in charge and a lot of them are starting to revolt against poor service.  Dollars are precious, and customers want and expect to be treated well if they choose to spend some of their dollars with a particular business.  While it still is about lowest price, it’s also about how customers get treated.  Let’s face it, almost everyone is touting their lowest prices now.  What sets a company apart is what they have to offer besides price.

At EnMart we believe not just in good customer service, but in giving the best possible service we can give.  That’s why we answer phone calls on the first or second ring.  That’s why we reply to e-mail inquiries as quickly as possible.  Our commitment to customer service is why our inventory expands due to requests from our customers.  We know if we don’t delight you, someone else will, so our goal is to get you what you need when you need it, each time, every time.

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8th April 2009

Selling Individuality

When I was a kid I owned several items that my grandmother had embroidered for me.  Before I got to that awkward teenage stage where wearing anything homemade was pretty much the most embarrassing thing ever,  I used to love wearing things that either had my name on them, or had a design that was created based on something I liked.  It made the clothes seem more personal and more special.   It also made what I was wearing unique.

Personalization can be as simple as a monogram or can be much more elaborate, incorporating a design that has some significance to the person who will be wearing the clothes.  Not all personalization jobs are one offs either.  A lot of teams look for names to be embroidered on team shirts, which allows for a sense of individuality and a dose of team spirit all at the same time.   With the exception of the few teenage years when wearing the “right” clothes and fitting in is the all important goal, most people like to stand out a little and to express what makes them unique.  Embroidered garments that express an individual’s personality are a great way to do that.

The next time someone comes into your shop, focus on selling them individuality, not just embroidery.  Skill is necessary, quality control is vital, and good customer service is a must, but what will set your shop apart is focusing on what makes this customer unique and special and allowing that to shine.

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25th March 2009

Helping Your Business Survive a Recession

Some people won’t even say the “R” word.  Some people won’t stop saying it, particularly if they’re in the news media.  Whether you believe our country is in a full blown recession or not,  the fact is that things are tough out there for a lot of businesses right now.   The businesses that survive are the ones that can adapt their strategy to suit the times,  and those that can find creative ways to help their business grow.  If you’ve been looking for a few ideas on ways your business can grow, even in a down economy,  EnMart has a few suggestions.

Diversify –  Offer something your competitors can’t, or won’t, offer.  Maybe it’s embroidery with a new type of thread.  Maybe you start offering screenprint transfers.  It doesn’t have to be a big expensive item, it just has to be something new that your potential customers can’t get anywhere else.  Diversity is one of the keys to business success.  The more products and services you offer, the more potential streams of revenue you have.

Help Your Fellow Business Owners – Some business owners have had success with group advertisements or hosting a theme shopping day.  Other groups might band together for referrals.  Always be ready and willing to promote another business in your area.  Hopefully, they will be equally willing to promote you, and you’ll gain access to their pool of customers as well as your own.

Keep Advertising –  Studies have shown that businesses that advertise during a recession end up with more business than ever when the economy picks up.  Many businesses stop advertising when things get tight, so those who do advertise face much less interference with their messages.  Do everything you can to get and keep your name out there, and don’t forget low cost methods like press releases, forums and social media sites, and word of mouth.

Let Your Customers Know You Appreciate Them –  Most people will tell you that it often seems like good customer service is a thing of the past.  Customers are also feeling the pinch, and they need to know that your business appreciates the money they spend with you.  Make sure your customer service is responsive and genuine and let your customers know often that you appreciate their business.  Customers who feel appreciated are customers who are likely to spend again.

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24th March 2009

3 Tips for Making Your Company “Green”

Being environmentally friendly and promoting conservation and the wise use of resources has become a big trend among businesses lately.  Although a study done in 2008 showed that only 27% of Americans actively cared if a company had ecologically sound practices, the same study showed that consumers won’t cut much slack or give much business to companies that are conspicuously polluting of being ecologically unfriendly.  Clearly your corporate actions do matter.

If you’re interested in adding some eco-friendly improvements to your business, here are some things you can do quickly and easily.  Any or all of them can make a difference in your company’s environmental impact.

  1. Examine your packaging – Recycle boxes.  Ask your customers if they would mind receiving their order in a recycled box.  EnMart is currently contemplating adding this option to our web site.  It cuts down on waste and can save your company money.   Things like cornstarch peanuts instead of styrofoam peanuts can help too.  Cornstarch is biodegradable and non-toxic.  Cornstarch packing peanuts can be purchased for just a few cents more than regular packing peanuts.
  2.  Recycle - We go through a lot of paper hear at EnMart.  We’ve done a couple of things to try and reduce our paper consumption.  One thing we do is try to scan, fax or e-mail everything we can.  The majority of our invoices go out via e-mail.  We are also working to put company literature, like catalogs and price sheets, on CD, so they don’t need to be printed.  EnMart also reuses waste paper.  Anything that will stay within the company, such as an order that will be filed, is printed on waste paper which would otherwise have been thrown away.  Every office saves waste paper precisely for this use.
  3. Work with other “green” companies – One of the reasons, among many, that EnMart chose to work with Hilos Iris was their environmentally friendly practices.  If companies that are working to protect the environment also work to support each other, the green movement will become more profitable and more companies will take up the cause.

Being green doesn’t require huge changes or a huge budget.  It just requires being aware, and looking for environmentally friendly ways of doing things.

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10th February 2009

Your Content Belongs to You

I write a lot of things for this company.  I write web site content, brochures, instructional manuals, scripts for videos and, of course, this blog.  Naturally I do a lot of research for some of the things I write, I also pick the brains of my co-workers and draw on the over 30 years of embroidery knowledge that exists here at EnMart and Ensign Emblem.  Everything that we put out is original content or, if it is not original to us, it is clearly labeled so that everyone knows from where the article came.  We don’t steal content, and we don’t attribute content to ourselves that we didn’t create.

I can only wish that everyone else would be so scrupulous.

Yesterday I was doing some research for a piece I’m writing when I came across an article section on another web site.  There, word for word, was some content that I wrote several months back and which was originally posted on this very blog.  The content was not attributed to us in any way, nor was there any link back to our web site.  Sadly, this happens all too often.

If you have a web site or a blog or if you create original designs, you must be vigilant if you want to ensure that no one is using your creations without your permission.  That may be particularly difficult when it comes to online content, as the line between acceptable and unacceptable use can often be quite narrow.  For what it’s worth, here’s what we at EnMart consider to be acceptable use:

  • Original source of content is clearly identified
  • A link back to the original source is provided
  • Permission to use the information is requested and received

If you do find out that someone is using your content without your permission or knowledge, you do have a recourse.  Most hosting providers have a code of conduct and will shut down blogs that are stealing content.   The first thing to do is write to the offending party and let them know you did not give permission for your content to be used and you would like it to be removed.  If that doesn’t work, contact the hosting company and let them know one of their clients is violating the host’s code of conduct.  That will usually be enough to get the blog closed down.

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5th February 2009

Why Contact Information is So Important

One of the things I always preach when I’m reviewing other people’s web sites is the necessity of having multiple forms on contact information and making that information easy to find.   There’s a reason why I give this advice.  Perhaps a little story will explain it best.

I’m currently trying to make a purchase from a site that sells a particular bag I want for samples for our next trade show.  The price on the bag is good and the bag fits our requirements exactly.  I’m ready and willing to give this company my money.  The only problem is that the online checkout doesn’t work, and the company only offers one form of contact information, e-mail.

Yesterday I tried to place an order twice and was stopped both times by major glitches in the checkout process.  When it failed for the second time, I tried to find contact information so I could let the company know that (1) I wanted to place an order and (2) their web site wasn’t working properly.  All I found was an e-mail address.  So I e-mailed them.  That was yesterday morning.  As of this morning, I’ve had no reply.

There’s no telephone number listed on the site so I can’t call them.  I can’t place the order so I can’t cross the task off my to do list and move on.  I’m getting more and more frustrated and it is likely that even if the company contacted me now, I’d still place my order elsewhere.

If you run a business, always make sure you give your customers multiple ways to contact you if there is a problem or if they have a question.  The best contact information is a street address for snail mail, a telephone number for phone calls and an e-mail address for e-mail inquiries.  You should also make sure that someone responds promptly to any requests or inquiries.  Making people wait for information can often result in a lost sale.

If you’re wondering where you can find EnMart contact information, it is clearly labeled on the Contact Us page of our website and is also listed on the About Us page of the online store.  We respond promptly to phone calls and e-mails and are always happy to assist you in any way we can.

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28th January 2009

Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition

Every once in a while I like to throw out a little Marketing jargon just to prove that I can speak the lingo if I have to do so.  Today the piece of jargon I want to throw out is this:  USP or unique selling proposition.

Basically your USP is the thing or things that makes your company and your services different from other businesses in your market.   Finding your USP and making sure your customers know about it can be very beneficial for your business.  After all, your unique selling proposition may be what causes a customer to decide to work with you over another embroidery business.

Every business has a USP, the trick is finding it.  To determine what the USP is for your business, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is unique about my business?  What do I do that no one else does?
  2. What of the items listed as answers to question 1 are most important to my customers?
  3. How will the unique qualities of my business benefit my customers?
  4. How can I communicate my USP in a meaningful and easy to understand way?

Keep in mind that a USP has to be concrete and connected to solving a customer’s problems or relieving their pain.  “The Best Embroidery Shop in the World” might sound like a great claim to make, but it isn’t necessarily believable or a slogan with which customers can connect.  When you’re letting customers know about your USP, it has to be something in which they can believe and something that is easy to remember.  Fancy slogans don’t necessarily do the job.  Keep it simple, concise and to the point.

Finally, the main thing to remember is that your USP must be about what you can do for your customers, not about how long you’ve been in business or how many machines you have.  The goal of a Unique Selling Proposition is to make your business stand out in the minds of your customers.  To do that, your USP has to focus on what your business can do for your customer, not the other way around.

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