Presence

It’s not because his brand is better…

Your brand is your favorite. After all, it’s yours…. Of course we should buy from you. You’re better!
—Seth Godin, Brand Exceptionalism

I was about halfway through reading this post on brand “exceptionalism”* ** when I said out loud, with a laugh (to the empty room), “I can hear you saying it. Ha. I can hear you saying it.”

It was when I read, “The problem with brand exceptionalism…” that I could (almost literally) hear him, as if I’d seen him give a talk with that point in it. I heard his voice go up on the word “problem,” heard him stretch out the word “exceptionalism” for a bit of speakerly effect as Mr. Godin is known to do.

I went back and read the post again and wondered if it’s a draft for a new speech, because it turns out I could “hear” him all through it, though it was only at that laugh-and-talk-to-the-office-wall moment that I’d become aware of it.

The clarity of Seth’s voice jumping off my screen is something you can aim for in your writing as well.

For your prospect, that laugh of recognition could be key to a connection that leads to a sale.

For your customer, “hearing” you come through in your words, even when you’re not physically present, is a quick reminder of what they like about doing business with you (and builds loyalty).

When you’re composing blog posts, brochures, ads, emails, and website copy, you want to engage and persuade your readers, not get an A+ for good form. So don’t write a paper for your high-school English teacher. In fact, don’t think of it like “writing” at all.

Think of it like capturing your speaking. Take a little time, and speak your words out loud before you write them down. If you want to take it even further, you can record yourself talking to customers, and play the recording back to find ways you phrase things that are uniquely yours.

It’s not nearly as goofy as hearing me blurt out, “I can hear you saying it” this afternoon—and wouldn’t getting your authentic voice across to your customers be worth it anyway?

I’ll bet you’ve at least tried to “write like you speak” for customers. Have you ever tried really talking out loud, to make what you’re writing as natural and authentic as possible?

What makes it easy (or hard) for you to give customers that “I can hear you saying it” moment with your writing?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*“Exceptionalism” is thinking you’re so awesome you forget to care if anyone else thinks you are, and you don’t think the regular rules should apply to you… sometimes heard in reference to parents who overly place on a pedestal/dote on their kids, sometimes in reference to countries, etc. Seth’s post is on the corporate version of this.

**Seth’s post on brand exceptionalism, referenced above, is an absorbing one. Yesterday’s post on the future of the library is even better. It’s off-topic for us, not very business-related (unless that’s your business, or unless you really try to stretch his point) but it’s a great thought-piece. If you’re about to click away to read Seth’s Blog, don’t miss The Future of the Library. I’ve said it before—sometimes he’s just fine for quite a while, then he has a genius week (like we all try to!). Looks like this is one of those genius weeks for Mr. Godin.

Whatever You Do, DON’T Do These Ten Things—

And DON’T miss the special announcement at the end of the post!

Aw, you know all the things you’re supposed to do. There are a hundred posts on the things you should do when you decide to take that old website of yours and revamp it for the new era of much more web-savvy customers.

That’s no fun! But just how many Experience Designers will let you in on every ugly bit of what *not* to do, gleaned from client work, from clients’ deepest fears and most troublesome phobias, and—shining brightly in our very recent memory—from the occasional lesson learned the hard way in our own tip-to-toe company website overhaul?

Without further ado, what NOT to do:

1. Jump in at the construction stage. Why do you think architects make plans before they build buildings? So they can make sure they know how traffic will flow. How you’ll get in and out. Whether there’s enough space for the intended purpose, and whether they’ve left room for growing. Where they’ll put the bathrooms.

You probably don’t need the bathrooms, but you need a plan for your site’s todays and tomorrows that takes all the rest of that into consideration. Just as with architecture: if you’re picking out the pretty curtains and deciding what kind of theatre system you want before you know how many rooms there’ll be, you’re doing it wrong. Know your goals. Plan the structure that suits the goals. Build long-term flexibility into the plan.

2. Hand over too much control. Yes, pestering your design and writing teams too much will make you look bad, but you need to make sure you’re in the loop. If they’re not keeping you informed on their progress, make that your job.

3. Go for all the gadgets. If it’s been a long time since you did any major renovations at your website, you may have amassed quite a list of features that you’ve seen on all the hottest sites. Don’t be tempted to trick the site out with all of them. Follow the guidance of your designers and show some restraint—most sites will be as fancy as your customers need and as fresh as they want, with the addition of just a couple of bells and whistles.

4. Forget about the Ideal Customer in your enthusiasm—their Internet speed, their screen size, their top questions before they buy, their interest in or annoyance with those wonderful bells and whistles. Who is your Ideal Customer? Do fancy tweaks get in your customer’s way? Or does your customer need you to signal your hipness to them to tempt them to buy? (In other words, do they care if you’re hip, or is it only what you want?)

5. Get distracted from the object of a revamp.

Which is?

To get you to Yes quicker.

Only you know whether it’s the Yes of a new reader or subscriber, the Yes of a call or request for information, or the Yes of a direct sale that you’re looking for. If you’re putting time, heart, and money into a site overhaul, getting that Yes quicker has got to be the object. Any part of the plan that doesn’t help you achieve that, might be discouraging it, and *is* distracting you. Be very careful with distractions on such a crucial journey.

6. Think like the owner.

What? I can’t think like the big boss that I am?

Nope. Because when you’re thinking like the boss, you’re thinking of whether your logo shows enough on the home page and whether they mentioned your stint at Boeing in glowing terms or whether you’re protecting your reputation enough or…

You get the point. Instead, think like the customer. What did I come for? What was the problem that led me here? What would I want to do or see next? What would move me to action? What action would I like to take?

Not what action would the owner like me to take. What action would I, the customer, like to take.

More time is wasted in website redesigns, trying to be gentle with owners’ egos or get customers to take the actions the owners would like them to take, than in any other timewasters. Find out what they’d like to do and help them do it.

7. Skip taking notes. Oh, maybe you don’t need the three-inch file we accumulated on our latest project, but you need notes detailing the steps you’re taking. That way, if you forget Why? you go back and read the thought process; if you discover a problem, you can back up to the day when it was caused; and Heaven forbid, if you have to repeat steps, the more detailed your notes, the quicker your recovery. Which brings me to…

8. Dump your nearly finished database.

Twice.

(Otherwise known as… If your host asks you, “Do you really want to do this,” there’s probably a reason for that warning message. In my defense, they’d changed the look of the interface and I misunderstood what I was looking at… but now, I think I maybe should have handed over a little more control. *sheepish grin*)

And if you do dump all your almost-finished work, please please please, I hope you’ve been backing up your project daily. Then you won’t add weeks to your project needlessly. Egg on my face was a little easier to take when it was a 5-minute process to restore everything.

9. Avoid user testing. No matter how much testing you do, glitches will still be discovered, even after your newly renovated site goes live (thanks, friends who took the time to email about a few). But the more testing you can do before the site is up, the fewer hairs you’ll be pulling out while the world watches. The idea of letting users test their site seems to scare some folks, but once the site’s up and running, users are testing it every day at your expense! The great thing about “formal” testing, is you get to hear what they’re saying. So banish that fear.

When should you start the testing? Way back in the planning stage.

What are you testing? Different structures for the site, how your copy reads, what selling points or offers work best, different computers, browsers, users of different ages and interests and different Internet abilities… and of course, you’re looking for those glitches. Believe me, they’re hiding in the strangest places.

10. Wait too long. I did, and we all do, so pardon my whistling in the wind for a moment. Back to those architects—the time to do the reno is before the roof is sagging and the three teens just can’t fit in your one bathroom anymore. When you wait until the need for the overhaul is too great, you end up with a task list that’s too long (yep), a timetable that’s too short (yep), and a lot of late nights if you want to make your tight deadline (*yawn*).

Which we didn’t… make the self-imposed deadline, that is. Um, twice. (Client deadlines are always going to take priority!) But that’s no reason not to crow…

I promised an announcement:

The hotly anticipated revamp is here—Please take a cruise through the new VisionPoints. As always, VisionPoints is here to make great (Maximum!) Customer Experience part of your plan to grow your business. In this redesign we’ve aimed to make Experience Design a little sexier, a lot less of a mystery, and a critical tool for you to deliver delight to your customers and drive real, measurable results.

Your raves, your comments, and your suggestions are most welcome—just send an email to kellye (at) visionpoints (dot) net and let me know what you think.

 

Need one more “don’t”? Don’t miss the Welcome and Welcome Back post on the new site, which has a great overview of the site and also makes special mention of a Grand Opening discount… just in case you don’t want to wait to get your project started!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS (it’s free), and please tell a friend! Give it a Tweet, a link, a Stumble, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below. (And of course, get on over to VisionPoints’ newly relaunched site to see how we did in following our own advice on what NOT to do.)

Where is the passion when you need it the most?

"Lunch" boxes at my fave bagel shop

I’m a creature of habit. (Go on, confess. You are too.) For a very long time, when my schedule permitted, I ate lunch at the same place several times a week. My routine’s changed and it’s not as convenient, so it’s probably been a couple of months, but I still get a hankering for my favorite bagels that must be obeyed now and then.

Today was one of those days. I’d had a bit of a drive before I got there, so I decided to… freshen up… before ordering and settling in to do some client work on lunch.

The restroom wall opposite the door as I walked in had peeling paint on it. Odd, I thought. I always loved their funky restroom. Hm. They’ve let it go a bit.

Then I noticed another wall also had peeling paint. Yuck.

The bathroom ceiling has those awful super-cheap acoustic ceiling tiles, I noticed while washing my hands. And a couple of them are stained orange from some leak from above. Not near the paint, either, in case you’re wondering (as I was) if the two things were related.

Of course, I’d never even noticed that they have those cheesy ceiling tiles before. With the peeling paint, my eyes started wandering, and then the stain caught my eye.

Standing in line (a line of 1, just me) seemed to take forever today. I wasn’t greeted as guests usually are there. Even if staff are jumping between making orders and taking them, they usually make eye contact and let you know they’ll be right with you.

I had plenty of time to notice some floor tiles were cracked, and the whole floor had a film of grease on it. Geez.

After I ordered I went to the self-serve area for my usual massive diet Coke to caffeinate my afternoon. The soda machine’s large, inviting logo was cracked and the lettering had worn or peeled off on about a third of it.

It’s only been a couple of months since I’ve been in the place. What the heck?

I didn’t stay long. I usually spread out some work on a table, but only the bar was available (nobody’s fault), where it’s hard to put out paperwork because it’s shallow. Their funky blend of music usually makes a great white noise barrier between me and folks who came to socialize, but the music wasn’t on and the place was too noisy to concentrate anyway. I ate and packed up to leave.

On the way out to my car I passed a smoking employee, leaning on a wall (on the outdoor terrace where patrons can also eat), and stopped to unlock my door while staring at the mess you see above.

Yes, right next to the outdoor dining area, in full view of guests. It had been there when I went in but I didn’t register it until I was on the way out.

Did you notice that many of these flaws must have been there back when I was eating there regularly? The cracked floor tiles, the worn/torn soda logo. Certainly the hideous ceiling tiles were there, and maybe even that dried old stain on the bathroom ceiling. Yet I never noticed them before.

Moral of the story?

A couple of them.

One: Get fresh eyes to look at your business periodically. Eyes that see the same things every day (even sharp professional ones like mine) may not see everything… may not even see anything.

Two, and most important:

The harsh truth if you want to make happy customers into raving fans… You can’t have that one, first thing go wrong.

I’m sure I’ve had imperfect service there before. No doubt the floor’s not always spotless, since I often get there shortly after their huge lunch rush. Some days, yeah, they forget to turn on the Muzak.

If the peeling paint on the wall of the loo hadn’t caught my eye, I probably wouldn’t have seen any of the rest.

When you have a bad day, loyal, regular customers may not notice—but the new customers you need to grow and thrive (and the old customers who’ve fallen away and would love to be romanced by you again)—they’ll notice.

Your buyers will start noticing everything

once they notice one thing.

Ouch!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Not too much…

1.

You’re at a networking mixer. In the half-hour for cocktails before tonight’s speaker, six or seven people introduce themselves to you. How much of what they said did you hear?

2.

A postcard arrives in he mail from the new restaurant down the street. How long did you take to read it?

3.

You’ve got to have the cool new striped tires that your friend next door’s got for his tractor before lawnmowing season begins in earnest and you’re considered hopelessly out-of-it by all the cool neighbors, so you noodle around on the web for a while to see if you can find them without having to be so uncool as to ask.

When you land on one of the twenty sites that carry the new Beach Bum Tractor Tires, how long do you spend scrolling around the home page before you decide to buy there or keep looking?

In each case:

Unless you’re a very patient person, the answer is less than 15 seconds.

You heard the first bit of what the people who introduced themselves to you said, and decided right then whether you’d keep the card they handed you or discreetly throw it later.

You read the postcard’s headline and the offer. Probably not in that order. Then you looked at the logo, remembered “Oh, yeah, that’s the new place down the way” (meaning the message was relevant to you), decided whether the offer was interesting, and held onto or tossed the card—all while poised over the trash can with the rest of the mail ready to follow it.

You did not see the name of the site or their nice intro copy. You caught the picture of the owner out of the corner of your eye (faces catch us first), you read some bolds and headlines, not necessarily in the order they were intended to be read, some words or images caught you or they didn’t. You got a trustworthy vibe or you didn’t. And it all happened in about fifteen seconds.

You know how you behaved when meeting new people—at a mixer you chose to attend, when holding your “junk” mail—with a nearby restaurant’s grand opening in the pile, and when surfing the www—for tires you just have to have to keep getting invited to the Homeowner’s Summer B-B-Q.

So why do we persist in thinking that when people meet us, see the direct mailers we send out, or click through to our website, they’ll listen longer, absorb more, do things in the order we want and read or listen from start to finish?

You’re not alone. I have to remind myself over and over again, even though I watch the results of this completely natural impatience and not-necessarily-logical order all the time.

This week I’ve seen a few too many examples in website user testing, clearly destroying the owners’ chances to get their message across, so I thought maybe I’d help you become part of our very select club here at Maximum Customer Experience: the 15-second club.

Got something to say? Get it said in 15 seconds. The first 15 seconds.

Everything else is fluff. Nice fluff, I’m sure, but for all but a patient few, it’s fluff.

Are you with me, 15-seconders? Go forth and communicate!

But not too much.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Hot? Hotter? Or not so very hot…

“From our discussions, I thought you loved this work,” I say to Top Banana, after interviews and emails and a look around at the company.

“Of course! And I never stop thinking about making it better for the customer. That’s why you’re here,” my new client retorts. There’s pain in the voice, and in the short run I’m not going to fix that.

“So why don’t you talk to your customers the way you talk to me?”

Top Banana winces.

We come back to the topic of passion here at Maximum Customer Experience pretty frequently. I’m a passionate person: about Customer Experience, about your business’ growth, and about a heck of a lot of other topics. (Music, chocolate, wine, perfume, old movies, great writing, chocolate…) My passions all find their way in here eventually, because I’ll use any starter to tie in to ideas about delivering delight to your customers and growing your business. Hopefully, looking at MCE like an open box of chocolate (mmm…) once in a while, makes relating it to your own business more fun for you.

As I talk to my clients there is one thing that always comes across in conversation: their devotion—their passion—for what they do for a living. Whether it’s bistro food or web design or running a tailor’s shop or a thousand things in between, they can talk my ear off so happily that I’m carried away, too. I “get” them. I’m amazed at their uniqueness. I’m having fun, and I’m in love with what they do.

Then I visit their website. I watch them at the store with customers. I read their promotional materials, or heaven forbid, read their standardized forms. You know what happens next…

Mind-numbing sameness. Dull faces, hurried staff, “help,” online and and off, that can’t really be called helpful. Even “self-serving” is a stretch, because nobody’s being served at all by repeating the same inoffensive blather as everyone else in the field.

I mention this to you, dear reader, because I know you’re passionate like me. From your comments here at the blog, from your emails, I know you’ve got a twinkle in your eye when you’re describing what you do and what a great help you’ve been to your customers.

I challenge you, today, to have a conversation with a supportive, cheerleader-friend in which you get totally jazzed about your work. Get into the conversation. Answer questions, tell stories, and do it all without needing to promote yourself, without a case of nerves, and most importantly, without a script.

Record it.

Walk away from it until Sunday. Come back with fresh ears. Then listen to the recording: pick out the words and phrases where you were explaining the company in terms no competition can use; pick out the things that made your friend laugh or nod or aha! Listen to your voice, your mood, and even (dare I point it out?) how much younger you sound when you’re so passionately involved.

Take notes as you’re listening. You’ve got the skeleton, now, for rewriting a web page, a brochure, a menu, or a 1/4-page ad that hasn’t been pulling.

Heck, if you really dig into that passion, you may have the voice and the words for completely revamping your Presence.

Trade secret: That passion is exactly where I look for the essence of Maximum Customer Experience for your firm. It takes work to see it, and more work to put it to use, but rocking your customers’ experience has got to start with discovering what gives you joy.

Start talking to your customers the way you’d talk to me.

No official gobbledegook allowed, now: What part of your business are you passionate about?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Would You Repeat That, Slowly?

“Hold on, I have to use summary on Dialga.
“I gave Dialga 3 PP Ups on Roar of Time.
“Right now he has 3 out of 8 PP on Roar of Time, but he has 8 PP total, so I’m going to give him an Ether, to make him have 8 PP total, because Ether restores 10 PP, but he only has 8 PP (Power Points, Mama), so it won’t restore 10 PP, so it’ll just restore 5 PP.
“And I’ve got 18 Revives, and 11 Max Potions.”

I stop typing, and look over my reading glasses at The Kid.

“Good?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes at her clueless mother, and sighs The Sigh of the Preteen. “Good. Yes. Good, Mama.”

If you thought I was trying to lose you—or ferret out which of you know a GBA from a DS, bonus points if you know what game The Kid was rattling on about—No.

There is, in fact, a point.

Tweet
Quidditch
These are not the droids you want
Be Whacky
Men Are From Mars…
Sharpen the Saw
kthxbai

Can you invent a language? It isn’t just for geeks, though admittedly it’s easier to think of geek-jargon in regular use.

It flies in the face of Never Alienate the Customer and Never Make the Customer Work Hard to Understand You. Words and phrases that are insider-only are going to make some people feel like outsiders.

An invented language can help your fiercest fans band together, and make (some) outsiders desperately want to get in. It’s a bold strategy.

If you want your fans to become loyal Propheteers, give them the words to talk to each other, and stand back. They’ll spread the word(s) on their own.

Which insider languages do you speak?

What do you get from sharing a language with other fans?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

I Can’t Wake Up Without You…

Or I can’t go to sleep without you. Or I can’t eat lunch, take a break, do work, exercise, drive, without you… whatever. I can’t do without you! You get the point.

This is a totally unfair post, because I’m not giving you the magic method.

You’ve got to be as essential as morning coffee to someone, to survive—whether you own your own business, or you’re an employee in a shaky industry, or maybe you’re a blog author.   🙂

We all answer to someone: the buyer, the boss and coworkers, our readers, (even our spouse and kids!). And if you want to survive and thrive, you’ve got to be essential to someone.

Start today. Build your value so that you become essential to one new customer, new reader, or a coworker. Someone just has to have you, your product, or your service, as part of their day, because you __________ .

They’ll tell someone else, and you’ll have a chance to become as essential as morning coffee to a new contact.

Keep it going.

Are you as essential as morning coffee?

Who or what’s as essential as morning coffee to you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Dear Kelly,

I liked your post about holiday cards and envelopes.
Should I be writing holiday cards? Isn’t everybody drowning in meaningless well-wishes from everyone they do business with right about now?
—via email

Every once in a while I like to dig into my mail bag, and with my reader’s permission (thank you!), this seemed like an excellent question to turn into a post.

My thoughts:

1. Those were my personal cards, but yes, I think businesses should be writing holiday cards.

Emphasis on the word writing.

2. Everybody is drowning, but in my experience, a little less every year. That’s a shame because I think there’s something charming about drowning in well-wishes during the coldest, darkest time of the year (well, for northern hemisphere folks… forgive me if you’re reading from elsewhere in the world).

Maybe “everyone” assumes what my reader did when she wrote to me, and that might be why there seem to be fewer cards, gifts, and the proverbial “calendar with the name of my insurance agent on it.” “Everyone” thinks one less greeting won’t be noticed!

3. Don’t let the wishes be meaningless!

SELECT a group of clients and contacts rather than trying to mass-mail 16,000 folks who don’t know you;

THINK about the recipient as more than a revenue stream for a few minutes a year;

WRITE something in every card.

4. If you can’t bring yourself to do a Happy Holidays mailer (and even if you can)—find a holiday at another time of year and surprise your clients and contacts with well-wishes when they’ll really be noticed.

Why not knock ‘em dead with cards for their receptionist on Administrative Professionals’ Day, the Wednesday of the last full week of April? A gift to their favorite charity on Sweetest Day, the third Saturday in October?

I wouldn’t skip the tradition of sending a card at this time of the year, but for Maximum Customer Experience, make well-wishes a fun part of thinking of your best customers and business contacts more than once a year. Create a schedule for keeping in touch, keep your list small, and let your firm’s Vision shine through in your approach. Then your holiday greetings will be eagerly anticipated, even when we’re drowning in tasteful Currier and Ives calendars.

How’s your mailbox these days, at home or at work?

Have meaningful well-wishes become so unusual that you’d sit up and notice a personal greeting from a business contact? Or are holiday cards OUT as a way to send you our best regards?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Talk to Me

Before, during, and after the sale. Beyond your own voice, and your staff’s. Beyond live Customer Service.

What speaks for you when you’re not around?

20 Must-Have Tools

1. Business cards: Come on, small business owners. What are you waiting for???

2. Letterhead. And thank-you notes. Get ‘em. Then use them. You will stand out.

3. Your voicemail message: In my humble opinion, none of us must answer the phone 24/7. But you’d sure better have a pleasant voicemail message. Why not use it to say more than Hello, and give a little tease? At the very least, direct customers to your website, where they may find the answer to their question, or become interested in another solution you have for them.

4. Bio: Printed, for use when speaking, doing press releases, sending promotional kits; on your website, so people who are looking for you online can get to know “the real you” a little better.

5. Capabilities brochures, sells sheets, mini-portfolio: The humble brochure is not dead, but so many folks who create them, apparently, are. Get fresh with the design of yours. Include tips, quips, something to make it a giveaway that’s tough to throw away.

6. Order forms, invoices: Nothing says “we don’t care” like ugly and hard to understand forms. DO something about it.

7. Packaging: For service businesses—maybe not so obvious, but this can include binders or presentation folders for proposals… these days even office-store supplies can be minimally customized for your company. For products—ready for the cliché? Think outside the box. Seriously.

8. Hang tags: For products—some people keep these as if they’re business cards. Make sure yours has plenty to say.

9. Website: Think I shouldn’t have this on the list? Check it out—Over 45% of small business owners still don’t have a website. Jump now!

10. FAQs: A subset of your website, but too crucial not to get its own mention. Answer your customers’ questions, not the things you wish they’d ask.

11. Email: This is duh! to many of you, but I’ll say it anyway. A professional email address uses your business’ domain name. Like kellye@visionpoints.net —no gmail, yahoo, or hotmail for your business purposes, please? (What you use after dark is your own affair.)

12. Blog: The ultimate communications tool for small business. If you can write interestingly, and can develop a consistent pace, you should do it. Even if it’s only once or twice a week.

13. Press releases: Go modern and e-release for free with prlog.

14. Get interviewed: A fast-growing site to help you become a resource for reporters is Peter Shankman’s If I Can Help a Reporter Out. If you’re the expert in your field, and you want others to know it, mix this in with traditional methods, building relationships with local reporters.

15. Traditional advertising: Why is everyone more excited to get customers from around the globe than from around the bend? (In case you missed it, click here to visit our talk about this earlier in the week.)

16. Coupons: Next to “free,” nothing grabs attention like “% Off.” Use it, sparingly. You don’t want to be the low-price leader, but if you can grab attention with a coupon and hold it with your amazing product or service, there are times when you take the attention.

17. Traditional articles, in traditional newspapers and magazines: If you’ve got a blog already, you know you can do this! If you haven’t, try having a friend interview you to loosen you up. Then ask what he or she found was nugget in that interview that’s going to get others interested, and write—as if you’re simply continuing the talk. Focus on providing information the reader can put to use right away. Start with your small local rags and specialty/ industry magazines that your customer is likely to read—not your industry, theirs!, and work your way up.

18. Great photography: Of yourself, your place of business, your products, your results. Photography gets a separate mention as a communications tool because you’ll need it in so many of the other tools. A picture really does say a thousand words, and a crummy picture never shuts up. Do yours make customers say wow?

19. Public speaking: If there is a better way to communicate with prospects than to, umm, communicate with prospects, I don’t know what it is. I didn’t say 20 easy tools! Try to find a luncheon to speak at, a workshop to teach, a panel to be a part of… get out there and talk about the problems your potential clients face every day.

20. Referrals: A tool? Yes, referrals are your clients or other partners doing the communicating for you. You need this tool most of all! You have less control, but there are infinitely more benefits to word-of-mouth. Make actively encouraging referrals part of your everyday client discussions… as a P.S. on your letters, as part of your email signature, and even with small rewards. Don’t forget to write a thank-you for their referral!

+ 5 Takeaways

To make sure your tools are communicating effectively:

Be engaging! Be witty if that works for you, be thought-provoking, tug emotions. Be yourself.

Stay sharply focused on the customer’s needs and wants.

Get on the web. Most of your clients are, and many of your competitors still aren’t. BUT, don’t forget to reinforce your offline marketing communications. A lot of people still aren’t online, and web surfers themselves are notoriously blind to marketing messages.

Go with traditional, tried-and-true methods: Zig when everybody else wants to zag. Twitter’s great, but I buy my pizza with a coupon. Think about what works for you.

Make it remark-able.

Got a business communications tool to add to this list? What do you think every business owner should have, or have done better, to speak for them when they’re not around?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

A Monday Series

“What have you been doing with your summer?” your competitor across town asks you oh, so innocently at the Chamber of Commerce brunch.

“Nothing much,” you say. “I took some time to—

Clear Out the Cobwebs

Smile for the Birdie

Have a New Logo Designed

Get My Kids Involved

and Read at the Beach all about how to knock my competition flat.

“How about you?”

If you’re burnt-out, antsy, and need to revitalize your attitude as much as your business, this is the series for you. Experience Design for beach-dreaming business owners comes to your summer Mondays.

Summer Is a Great Time to Walk the Grounds

Overheard at a local office:

Client: Have you stopped paying the bill for your landscaping service? It’s nothing… hardly anything. The lawn’s a jungle and there are weeds in every planter outside…”

Professional: [nervous laughter] Gosh I never noticed. Heh heh. That’s my job—what do you think I do on weekends? … I’d better call the building people, huh?”

Client: It’s pretty ugly. I’m surprised you’re here every day and you never see it.”

It’s when you’re there every day that you don’t see things. Our brains are designed to filter out sameness and only pick up on change—significant change. Growing weeds doesn’t count as significant, so we have to purposely train those powers of observation.

Noticing the outside of your building is an easier task in the summer, for your clients and for you. They’re not running to get in out of the weather, and they’re hoping for a bit of cheer in your landscape (especially if you have planters like the hapless fellow above).

You may run just the same, since it’s your business, but this week, get off the treadmill, get out in the warm weather, and walk those grounds to see what your customers are seeing.

Exterior inspection checklist for your small business

Look for:

Cigarette butts

Gum on sidewalks

Neglected landscaping

Burnt-out lighting

Peeling/ fading/ filthy paint on signage or building

Cracked sidewalks

Parking lot with cracks, stains, or potholes

Clogged gutters and drainspouts

This isn’t exhaustive, but these are some of the biggies that your customers will notice in a hurry. (I added the last one after I was deluged with water coming off a roof during a fairly light rain last week, and realized that the store’s gutters were overflowing with leaves and debris. My suit was stuck to me for an hour.)

What would you add to this list?

Be honest—do you notice exterior maintenance issues a lot more when you are a customer, than when you’re running in to your own business in the morning? What will walking a mile in your customer’s shoes out-of-doors show you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson