Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting It Right Step By Step. Ready, Aim, Fire.

Some people say that you need to have it right before you start. Those same people say that you must 'count the cost.' They say that you have to be ready--that you cannot start until you are ready and have all your systems in place. They say that people who don't do these things are like the "Fire, Ready, Aim" folks, when they should be "Ready, Aim, Fire."

I get it. No one really wants to be foolish, do they? But, here's the deal. If I follow this advice, I will never get started. How many of you knowing the realities of retirement, started saving money every month when you were 18 and never touched it and always put more in when you could and always sought out the best advice to grow it? Let me guess. . . none? Why not? It's great advice. It's smart.

When it comes to your business opportunity, I will follow my own intuition. I am happy to listen to advice and learn from others experiences, but ultimately, I will follow my own intuition. I will give it my best shot. But, I still call that "ready, aim, fire." It's just that it is in increments. Today you get started and you are constantly improving every day in every way that you can. That is not "fire, ready, aim." You are being as ready as you can at the moment. You are being the best that you can be at the moment. You are aiming as good as you can at the moment. And, you are executing or firing as good as you can at the moment. Frankly, that is all that can be expected.

Insurance is a good thing. But, if I were 'fully insured' I could not buy anything except insurance. There's life insurance, health insurance, dismemberment insurance, business insurance, liability insurance, auto insurance, identity theft insurance just to name a very few. A case could be presented where I need all of those, but I would not be able to make a house payment. Silliness. I choose what I feel is absolutely needed and go with it and the rest get ignored. Treat your advisers that way. It's okay to listen, weigh the facts, sort the emotions, keep what you want and discard the rest. You have to. It's your business, not theirs.

So feel confident that you are doing the best you can do in pursuit of better. Ignore the naysayers. If people ask you how business is, answer "I'm getting it right step by step!"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Logos Are Important

Logos are important. They help brand your company. They have a good shelf life, yet they will need to be updated at some point. Ford Motor Company has changed their logo a number of times in the last hundred years, but the differences were small. They didn't change the basic concept, it was just freshened up and brought more current. Think how important the Ford logo is to Ford. The same applies with GM, Dodge, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, The Home Depot, and thousands of other companies who use logos effectively. You can see our logo at the top left of the blog. If you are thinking about growing your business beyond a job, a logo can be of real value to you.

Although you can pay many thousands for a logo, you can get a good one very reasonably. Ours cost $299 though a very good company called We so highly recommend Logoworks because of their very smooth and speedy process and if you let them, they will come up with some great ideas. They have some higher priced packages which essentially sell more time of going back and forth with concepts and adaptations. We have had a number of logos done through Logoworks including The Nor Cal Ford Truck Club,, Commercial Truck Success, North Bay Truck Body and Upward Trend Management Services. All were done with the same smooth speed and success.

What we see in contacting businesses is people trying to get logos done for almost nothing and having their brother-in-law's friend do it for them, or some even try doing logos themselves. We have seen that generally the results of that are not at all good. Hire some professionals--people who do this for a living. There are a lot of companies that do logos, but one that we know does a great job every time (so far!) is They provide the logo in various formats that you can use in advertising, emails, websites and print. Try them and I'm sure you will agree.

Next, use that nice new logo everywhere. Get it out there as a brand for your company. You want people to know who you are when they just see the logo and nothing else. That is how it is with all the big companies I mentioned above and they use that logo on everything.

Logos are important and they are very inexpensive when you consider how many ways it will be used over a long period of time. If you already have a logo, take a real good look at it and see if it needs to be updated. The current Upward Trend logo is an updated version of a logo I had done in 1982. What an improvement! If you do not now have a logo, I recommend that you get one right away and within a week you can be making great use of it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pay Attention To Your Resistance

You might be doing well, things going just fine, or not. Either way, it is a great idea to pay attention to your resistance--your resistance to change, to ideas, to other ways of doing a thing. I'm sure that you are smart and have learned and retained a great deal of knowledge. This world is rapidly changing and sometimes change is a really good thing.

One thing is for sure--things will not stay the same even though you may want them to. So, being open to new ideas, new ways, new thoughts can be very beneficial. Certainly, with even a slightly open mind, you will take on new information and since you are always in control, you can take it, use it or reject it. That's fine. The only point I am wanting to make is to be open to learning more, hearing different ideas especially as it relates to what you are doing in your business. Pay attention to your level of resistance and that will help you see whether you are open or closed.

This might just be a 'guy' thing, but most guys I know sure do like their routines. The more something is routine, the better. It is so easy to develop a routine and even easier to stay in one, but sometimes there is something that will just change your methods dramatically. This is a simple example: with my eBay business, I was so used to printing my shipping labels through eBay and PayPal that I just didn't want to change. I did it this way for about 2 years. Yet, it was very slow and the more I shipped daily, the more that problem glared at me. Finally, I decided to open up to a new and better way and I sought advice. I actually found it through the Post Office and they connected me with a private vendor called Now instead of two hours, it takes 15 minutes. That is a huge positive change! I was resistant, but then was motivated to let go of the resistance and break through to a better place. I'm very happy with this move, but I am open to better ways as they might come to me.

What is your resistance level about methods in your business? Are you planted in concrete? I think working your plan and remaining flexible to change is an ideal place to be. I would not want anyone to be wishy-washy about what they are doing and where they are going. Focus is good, but so is flexibility. Think like this: a large tree could not get large if it was not flexible, yet it continues to grow because it is flexible.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Best Advice I Have Found

Want the best advice I have ever found? Advice that will change your business for the better, your life for the better? It will change your attitude for the better and it will serve you the rest of your life and your life will continually improve. Are you ready? Here it is in two little words: Be Thankful.

Purposely develop an attitude of gratitude about everything--and I mean everything. I mean every thing that is said, everything that you see and everything that happens around you. Don't leave anything out. Be thankful for it all. Having an attitude of gratitude is something you need to develop, it doesn't just come by itself. It is a decision. Once you decide that you want things to change, and decide to develop the attitude of gratitude, you will become more and more grateful as time passes.

If you're not already there, this idea will have to settle in a bit. I suggest you begin, by trying it on the things that are easy to be grateful for. As you get used to that, start adding in other things that you're maybe not sure you're grateful for and you will start seeing those things in a different light. You might ask, how can I be grateful for this? That will help you get moving toward gratitude for it. In time, and with practice, you can become grateful all day, every day for every thing, event and person.

How will this change your business for the better? When you are grateful, you are open and ready to receive. You will find that you have a whole different attitude about customers, problems, business climates, the news, etc. You will begin seeing--no, you will begin focusing on the possibilities instead of the problems, the light instead of the dark, the way instead of no way, opportunities instead of despair, and abundance rather than lack. You will no longer be controlled by circumstance, but by choice. I tell you that there is nothing more powerful than that. You have the choice. Matter of fact, you have always had the choice and you have always chosen, but now the choice to be grateful is in the forefront of your mind and you realize that you have chosen other responses before. Maybe it was anger, depression, frustration, anxiety. Those need not control you. If they control you, they control your business. Choose gratitude.

This is not a lecture. I am sharing the best advice I have ever found. It is something that I found many years ago, and I continue to read and listen to more about today. And I get better everyday about being more and more grateful. It is a deliberate process. One of my mentors, Jim Rohn said that there is a day that turns your life around. That day for me, was reading a book called Power In Praise by Merlin R Carothers. It is a very short, but very powerful book. Today, I am reading a little each night over and over in John DeMartini's book, The Gratitude Effect. It is also a powerful book and very easy to read. It is great at my bedside because it has a lot of short stories so you can read one every night and it only takes a few minutes. All of John DeMartini's books are focused on gratitude and love. There are many others as well, but these two are very powerful recommendations. Perhaps for you, it will be something different.

How can you be grateful for negative events? Practice. The only thing I can say for sure here is that your reaction to any event, regardless of what it is or how positive or how negative is a choice. The event does not choose for you. Once you get that, and realize that you are in control of what you think about anything. . . well, that is a peace that did not exist before. Try it. You'll get better at it if you don't quit and go back. You will have so much more joy. Start being thankful today for one thing. Then make it two. Then three, and pretty soon, you will realize that you are thankful all day long! It is without a doubt, the best advice I have ever received. Now, I pay that forward to you! Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Customer & Prospect Database, Part 2

Today, I will be continuing the expansion on the topic of the customer database and its importance. I will offer some examples of how you could use the customer database.

Your database will be as valuable as the quality and quantity of information in it. Here's an example. Let's say you are a salesperson at an auto dealership or a manager directing salespeople. Very few (the number is extremely small) auto salespeople follow up more than once with a new owner and if that call is made, it is made within a few days of the sale. You will most likely not get any direct mail pieces from them either. I have a great deal of experience at auto dealerships and buying from them, so I know this to be true. Part of the reason is that people don't usually buy cars but every few years, so there is a good deal of space between opportunities, hence the focus is generally on new prospects rather than past customers.

So, now let's bring in a smart follow up campaign with great database collection. The credit application has a wealth of information to go in your database. You should also try to find out how many children the customer might have and their approximate ages. Now, you will follow up with the customer after a few days and then you will stay in contact with this customer for life about once a month. The least expensive and still effective way to do this is through a nice HTML format email newsletter that is packed with information that would be of value to many different kinds of customers.

In addition, we want to start contacting them in a different way when any of their children are approaching the age of 15 to 16. Depending on the financial condition of the family, they will most likely be helping their children get their first car. After you sell the children, you follow them for life. Contact them by phone periodically to touch base and see how things are going with their car and ask for any referrals they may have for you.

Let's say you're a plumber. You go out and unclog a drain at a customers location. You are observant and you gather some basic information along with the typical name, address, phone numbers, etc. You might even invite them to be on your email list and that you have a great monthly newsletter that has a wealth of plumbing tips for every kind of homeowner. I can tell you this: if you own a home, if you need a plumber once, you will need a plumber twice, three, four times. There may be some space in between, but the need will come up, more so in an older home. I have called a number of different plumbers over the years and have lived in one place for over 23 years, yet not one of those plumbers ever felt the need or desire to communicate with me after the sale. Not one. I think that is amazing. Why not?

How about a music store. There is one in town here and I have purchased many thousands of dollars worth of things over the years including a piano, piano rental, 2 guitars, PA speakers and much more. Not once has there been a follow up attempt. Not once. Don't you think that is amazing? You have a customer who spends thousands and not one phone call, mail piece, nothing. The follow up possibilities are huge here. A monthly email newsletter would be an extremely powerful tool for this business to use. Just think of all the new product announcements, old product closeouts, new shipments arriving, gifts for others, holiday sales can be communicated. But, same old thing: they run a 5"x7" ad in the local paper periodically advertising the same things and at Christmas, they put a picture of Santa or something. Boring. Lame. What about they people who have already been a customer. Missing it. Dollars down the drain. I have also bought many thousands of dollars of musical equipment from other companies! Matter of fact, I rarely visit this store anymore or any store in the area. I go online mostly now. There are many companies who follow up there and the most diligent has been Musicians Friend. I get their emails regularly.

Think about what you sell and how you can create follow up communications with your past customers so you can reap the huge dollar volume of sales that most businesses are missing. Gather as much information about each client as you can and keep it is a good database. You don't need a fancy custom computer, a simple, easy to use off the shelf program will do fine. I recommend ACT which is the most popular customer database program on the market. I have also enjoyed using Maximizer, which I still use today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Customer & Prospect Database

Gathering a database of customers and prospects is one of the most important things that you can do for your business health. If a customer buys anything from you regardless of how small, they are worth following up. A prospect who took a look at your store or services but didn't buy today is worth following up. People like to feel important and for you to follow up with people demonstrates that you care. Of course, we need to be reasonable about the number of contacts in a certain period so that we don't turn our customers and prospects off.

If you have services or products that are purchased several times a year, all the more reason to have a great follow up system in place. The more often someone needs an item or service, the better the communication will be for them. For example, let's say you sell ink cartridges. You would be good to find out how often your customer needs their cartridges replaced on average. Might it be every month, every three months, six months? Whatever it is, the time for you to send an email reminder to them, maybe with a discount coupon, would be a little before the need.

Perhaps you sell clothing. You would be good to send sale emails, or new product arrival emails and such. You could send a thank you for being our customer email with a $10 off your next purchase or something like that. Be creative. There is much you can do.

Many companies are totally focused on marketing to new customers that they want to come in. They do yellow pages advertising, signs, marketing materials, banners, newspaper advertising, radio or TV advertising, etc. They are looking for new customers. Great. That is just one focus of marketing though. Include marketing to your own customers as a high priority, and also market to those who did not buy that you took the time to gather information from. Never forget that even though someone has not purchased from you, that does not stop them from sending friends or associates your way. You might even find after a period of time, that your customer base and prospect base marketing will be the most productive of all.

We encourage businesses to develop their customer database and to begin sending a monthly newsletter at minimum. Sending something every two weeks might be more productive. Use this to announce events, announce sales, announce changes, give valuable information and to thank them again for their business. This is a powerful tool when used consistently. Plan out an approach and sketch out the kinds of announcements and information you might send. Once you finalize the approach, you can begin the process of sending them.

More on the database tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Old Radio Shack Idea Still Works

I remember from my first visits to Radio Shack in the 70s, and they had a system at the cash register of getting your name and address every time. Then they would set you up for a regular mailing of their sale catalogs. It was a great system except for one thing: every time you went in, they wanted you to fill out another form.

Safeway supermarkets took that a step further and in the 80s came out with the Safeway Club Card. You fill out the form once, then you get a card and if you forget your card, they enter your phone number and there it is and you're in. The enticement is the discounts that only come from the club membership. They scan your card first so the cash register knows you get the club price. It was a bold experiment for a grocery store chain back then, but it is still in operation today and doing very well. In addition, other grocery companies have copied it along with many, many other companies.

Basically we are creating massive follow up opportunities to continue to market to our own customers! What a novel idea! It is just amazing how many businesses do not do this. It sure seems beneficial to every business I can think of. The real bonus in today's market is the email address and being able to market to your customers and follow up with your customers with the click of the mouse and have the cost be next to zero dollars. Direct mail is not cost effective anymore. Matter of fact, in comparison, it is downright expensive.

I took that Radio Shack idea and used it in my first business in 1979 and it was very helpful. This was long before email became a reality, but we sent direct mail flyers and had great success.

Build a database of your clients and prospects that come into your store. Get at least the name and email and more if you can get it smoothly. This will benefit your business in many ways.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 5

It was only a few days ago that I talked about a shopping experience at Staples and Office Max and I mentioned that Staples just opened a brand new store in Fairfield. I talked about how nice it was (of course, it is only a couple weeks new). I also mentioned that Office Max was the only game in town until Staples arrived a few weeks ago and that now things have changed.

The value of competition to the customer is choice. You can be assured they are making one. It is their experiences that will determine their choices. People are emotional creatures, so it isn't going to be logic or even reason that will help them to choose. It will be how they feel about you. That makes it more complicated, but you do have power to help them decide on you.

A few days ago, I was praising my first experience at the new Staples store. Yesterday, I had the opportunity based on some discount cards that I had from each store, to go to each store and make a purchase. The cards expired yesterday, so I had to use them or lose them. It made sense to use them.

I went into Office Max and had a pleasant enough experience. I got what I wanted and looked around a bit and left. All went smoothly. Then I go to Staples. I am trying their copy & printing center for the first time. There is a large guy behind the counter sitting at a computer intensely watching the screen. I walk up to the counter and it was close to 5 minutes before he even looked at me and I was standing in front of him. Then when I told him what I wanted, he gave me a folder and told me to fill it out and that they could have them ready by tomorrow. No problem, I wasn't in need today anyway, it's just that the discount card expired. All the time I'm with him being ignored and then speaking with me, there was no smile. I look up and there are these huge pictures all around the wall in the copy department showing people smiling being helped by Staples people who are smiling. The pictures were silly because of the comparison between them and the real experience. Nonetheless, the employee decides to go ahead and do the job while I wait (although he never stated that, but I could see it by what he was doing). Job is done, he fills out a form and sends me to the cash register up front.

I go up to the main checkout registers and step right up to a smiling young man and present my purchase. He is trying to get it done and the computer is giving him some kind of grief. After several tries, a woman supervisor comes by and the clerk asks her for help. She looks for a second and says that copy purchases can only go through this other register and he would have to move over there. No smile from her, no other comments or help either. I go to the other register and get a new guy. He is working on it but is having trouble also. Finally, he calls the copy guy who guides him through the process. Finally done. I'm out of there.

What is right or wrong with this scenario? The store is beautiful and new, but it is not the store that serves me, it is the people in it. Was I served? Sure, but that isn't what matters. How was I served is what matters. Remember, it is not the logic or reason, it is the emotions. So what would your emotions be like in this scenario? I can tell you that I am having a dramatically different experience than I had just a few days ago. I also interacted with more employees and even a supervisor this time. What do you suppose my emotions are about that? I'm thinking that the employees need some training--not just training in what to do, but in how to do it. What is a much easier task than how. They need to know that each time they are helping to create my experience and my experience will help determine whether and how long they stay in business. They do have competition and that gives me choices. I already stated previously that the Office Max experience was generally going downhill, but yesterday, they shined in comparison. Also, I now habitually go to Office Max and have to think about going to Staples. Where do you think my next purchase will be?

The shopping experience is so important. If you could be invisible and watch the experience of your customers in your store with your employees (or you), how do you think they are feeling? You are probably not the only game in town and that gives customers choices. Where do you think they will choose to go next?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 4

The shopping experience continues after the sale is done. How you handle things that may come up later like questions about the product or service or if there is a problem with the purchase in some way can strengthen the shopping experience or it can damage it severely.

You must want all of your customers to be happy customers and to enjoy their purchase and their experience. You also might think that a customer having a problem would be a negative thing. I think it is a very positive thing. Not that I want to create these situations, but when the customer has a problem, now you have an opportunity to really shine. You can move up the point ladder very quickly if you handle a problem well. Matter of fact, I believe that a customer wants to know how you will handle a problem and by not having one, they cannot know. Once they do and you handle it well, they now develop a certain trust factor they could get no other way. Of course, if it is handled poorly, the trust factor is dramatically lower and possibly nonexistent.

I'll give you some examples. I sell books on eBay and Most are used books in very good condition. I briefly look over the books prior to listing them to make sure that there is no underlining, notes, torn pages, etc. There isn't time to turn every page, you cannot take that kind of time. I try to describe it accurately. In every book package, I have a note to contact me immediately if there is the slightest problem. My guarantee states: "every sale guaranteed to please--every sale, every time, no exceptions." Once in a while a customer will send me a note that there was underlining or some similar problem. In this case, I immediately refund their money in full prior to answering their email. Then, I look for a replacement in better condition than the one I sold. If that book is still available new, I will check for availability. I order the most appropriate book, pay for expedited shipping, put in the customers shipping information and get it ordered. Then, I contact the customer, apologize for the problem, state that I have refunded their money in full and a replacement book in better (or new) condition is coming to them directly from an associate supplier and I have paid for expedited service. I state that I appreciate their business and trust and hope this solution will be satisfactory. So, how would you feel if you bought this book and had this problem. I move so far up the trust scale when these problems come up, that I create very loyal customers. Yes, I lose money on the transaction, but some of those customers have gone on to buy many hundreds of dollars worth of books from me. It comes back in spades as the saying goes.

Sometimes what you do for a customer may not come back to you through that customer, but through another customer. I really believe that is true. Here's a story about that. I was a sales manager at a Chevrolet, Cadillac dealership. We had a prominent, long time resident and business owner who bought Cadillacs at our store. They were on a trip and had a breakdown in the Monterey area about 130 miles away from home. The wife called me up and explained the problem. She was none too happy about it. I sympathized with their situation. The vehicle had been towed to the local dealer down there, so I hired two drivers, took a late model used Cadillac for them to drive while their car was in the shop. I sent the drivers down to Monterey with a chase car, dropped off the loaner so they could continue their trip. I followed up with the Cadillac dealer down there and when their car was finished, I sent two drivers down again to retrieve their car, brought it back up here and delivered it to the customers, picking up our loaner car.

If you know anything about the car business, you would know that this scenario is so unusual. It just would not happen at most stores. It was really exceptional service to the extreme. There was not even so much as a thank you for all the expense and effort. This lady is just an unhappy person and lets everyone around her know it full well. Nonetheless, the service was given with a good heart. I am confident that it came back to us in many different ways through other people. You just cannot give service like this, whether it is the books or an expensive car and have it come back void. Getting something back should not be the reason you give the service, but I tell you that I believe firmly that it will come back and it will come back in greater quantity and quality than it was given. That is powerful.

Go the extra mile with your customers and it will pay you large dividends. If there is a problem, go out of your way to make it right. Don't think about your costs. They are really insignificant to the value of a happy client--especially one who had a problem and was made happier by having it be handled well. If you think about yourself and your costs, you are not being of service and that attitude will come back to you fully.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 3

The customer is inside the store and has been looking around a bit and now has questions. Will it be easy for them to get someone to answer them?

As they look around at your product displays, will they find things easily? Will they find dust on the products or will they be cleaned daily? Will there be good organization or clutter?

If they needed to use the restroom, would it be clean and presentable? You know, your store could be very nicely displayed and products clean, neat and well organized. You can have an attentive staff that is well trained and knowledgeable. You can be a 10 out of 10. But, when they go to the restroom, will it still be a 10 when they come back out? There is one thing that we have seen time and again, that many businesses just do not think about their bathrooms. The worst are some restaurants. If anything they should be better in restaurants for cleanliness, but frankly, I think they are the worst except for gas stations which are pathetic and actually scary sometimes. The clean bathroom, with soap and with towels in place is a very important thing. Spend some time to make sure it is and you will reap the rewards of this.

Is your staff well trained? Do they know the products that you sell? They should be able to answer almost any question a customer might ask about them. The second thing that we notice at a great number of businesses is poorly trained personnel or people with poor attitudes which is also poor training. Make sure that you know how your employees are doing. Watch them, get feedback on them. Train them well.

How is your store laid out? Is it merchandised well? Do you have a lot of sales tags? Too many is a problem. Do you have the products in sufficient quantity of what you have advertised? Do your displays make sense with the rest of your stores layout? If you are promoting certain things, are they displayed in a way that will get peoples attention? There is a lot of things that people can do with merchandising in their stores. Mix it up a bit for fun and interest. Change is good.

If you have a store where people need more time to look at things make sure and have some seating available. This is especially important for clothing. Make it comfortable for the shopper and their companion. The longer they are in your store, the better for you, so make them as comfortable as you can.

Hopefully your customer is getting to see things that interest them and hopefully find things that they need and some things that they didn't know they needed until they came in because of how you have your displays so nicely done. They are getting all their questions answered fully and they are enjoying the experience of shopping in your store.

Don't forget that check out needs to be a pleasant experience too. In many stores, everything might be good until it comes to the check out process. Ensure that your store bucks that trend and make your check out efficient, speedy and a pleasant experience.

Congratulations! From start to finish, you saw your store from the eyes of the customer and you have designed everything to be attractive, inviting and comfortable. You have pleasant music playing, you've thought about the decor, colors, your displays and your merchandising. You've trained your staff to be effective with every customer and you've ensured the check out process matches all the rest. Awesome job. Your sales are going to reflect your efforts!

The next post in the shopping experience will be after the sale.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 2

Continuing with our mind of the shopper shopping experience, the prospect now enters the store. What will they see when they first enter? How do you think they might feel when they first enter? What thoughts might you think could run through their mind? Will they like the atmosphere? Will they feel comfortable? Will the products be attractively displayed? Will they feel as if they could find things? Is there pleasant music playing? Do the employees have a smile?

I think most customers like to feel comfortable when they come in then they would like to browse a bit (as little as 30 seconds and maybe a few minutes). They are experiencing the store. Let them browse for a short time, but watch them gently and you will know when it is time to approach them and talk with them.

Many will say, "can I help you find something? or, Are you looking for something?" I recommend starting with a thank you instead. "Thank you for coming in to ________ today! Do you have any questions?" or, "We appreciate your visit today, are you looking for something in particular?" This would apply to first time customers and equally well to repeat customers.

The first few minutes will in large part set the stage for how the customer feels about your store. In the first few seconds they are making decisions and are much more observant than you might think.

Since I can't tell you what others feel, let me give you some examples of how I feel going into some common stores. I do a lot of grocery shopping and my favorite grocery store is Raley's. There are three of them, each about 2 miles from my house in different directions. I go to the one in Suisun City the most and I feel very comfortable there. I pretty much know where things are and that adds to the comfort. I've come to know many of the checkers for a number of years and that helps me feel comfortable. The music is pleasant and not too loud and overall it is a good experience. I rarely go to the Raley's on Travis Blvd., because I don't feel comfortable in there. It is the same store, but not the same store. It feels foreign. I go there once in a while because I am over there. The last one is the newest and is on North Texas Street. That one has been recently remodeled and I have to say that they did an awesome job. I do love going into this one, if for no other reason than to browse their fresh fruit and vegetable section. It is the best. They have new 24x24 ceramic tile floors and it is just a great store.

So, then I go into Safeway. They are okay. I have a Safeway Club Card, but I don't go there much. I don't feel comfortable there. The isles are stacked higher and it feels like the isles are narrower and the carts are larger and it is just not pleasant. The music is louder and not as pleasant. They have great deals sometimes, but I would rather pay more and feel comfortable. I have felt that way in every Safeway store I have been in. It is a good store, but not a good one for me.

I like office stores. There is an Office Max here in Fairfield that I have shopped at since it opened. They are the only game in town. It is an okay experience much of the time, and other times it is a horrible experience, but as I said, they are the only game in town. I could have gone 8 miles up the road and visited the Staples store, and I have been in there when I was in Vacaville, but the entrance to the store always looks filthy to me and I don't feel comfortable in the store. I have only been in there probably about 2 or 3 times and have no desire to go there ever again. But, here's how different the same brand stores can be: Staples just opened a store in Fairfield (you have to ask why? But we'll not right now) and they sent out a tube mailer with a gift card for free $25 purchase from their store. Well, that's just like someone handing you $25, so I always have need of office supplies, etc., so I go in there and I am pleasantly surprised. This store is nice and it feels comfortable. They even have carpet on the floor! I feel comfortable enough that I want to browse around and just look at things. What a different experience.

Now, if this Staples store maintains that image and good employees that have a good attitude, I have no doubt at all that the Office Max store will close. The Office Max store is hanging by a thread as far as I'm concerned. When they first opened, they were great, but they have steadily gone downhill in service and product since. The Copy Max section of the store is the worst experience I think I have ever had. There is no way that the Copy Max section could survive a week on their own. Very poorly run. Total mismanagement because the Office Max could be a better store than Staples in my opinion and the Copy Max could do huge volume. I anticipate them closing and that is a sad feeling. They have killed themselves.

Based on what I have said, how long do you think it will be before I do not ever go into the Office Max anymore and go to Staples instead? How are people feeling about walking into your store for the first time? Are they coming back? You have repeat customers, so how do you think they feel? Are they coming in because you're the only game in town?

After you think about all of this relative to your store, you might think of an informal survey with your customers. You could do that on paper, or online. Some stores do this regularly and offer a trinket free for doing the survey. It is important, so find out how people feel about your store. What is their shopping experience with you and your store?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 1

Today will be the start of a new series called The Shopping Experience. In this series, I want to discuss various topics about a shopping experience from a customers point of view and relate that to what the business can do to make that experience more positive and more productive.

First and most up front is the storefront. Customers will respond favorably to an attractive, clean storefront that is in effect inviting the customer to come in and see more. If you are in a downtown area, go across the street and look at your building. How inviting is it? I know one store where the paint is peeling off the front wall in big chunks, but it is above the awning so they must think people can't see it, but it glares at me. And I wonder, what are they thinking about that? Do they notice? Do they care? Don't they know it makes a difference? Another thing is the concrete or pavement out in front of your store. There is no reason why it cannot be clean even if it does belong to the city.

What about your windows and the displays in them. It would be best if there were attractive displays that would encourage people to come inside and see more. They should also be updated often so that regulars that go by will see a change. I would say at least once a week it should change, maybe even twice a week. Merchandising is great fun when you get into it and your displays are all merchandising. Also, is the glass clean?

Color. Are the colors inviting? How do the colors blend with the environment? With other buildings around my store? Is there more that I can do with color that will make a difference in the way my store looks and appeals to my customers?

I see some stores with weeds growing out front, trash in the parking lot. These are all turn offs for customers. I see that and have zero desire to go inside. I'm not alone in this thinking. Clean up the outside of your store and you will see a difference. People will be more likely to stop in and your sales will rise. It really does matter.

Signage. How's your sign(s)? Are they in good repair, professionally done and well placed? As you look at your store critically, notice anything that is not inviting and deal with it now. Think like a customer and ask yourself, would I go into that store?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It Isn't Slow At The Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento!

My partner and I had a meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento this morning and decided to stop in the Arden Fair mall across the street. I heard they had a Franklin Covey store in there and have always wanted to see one, so we went over to check it out. We had a hard time finding a parking place and had to drive around back to park! Business is booming at the Arden Fair mall it seems. It was a Monday at about 12:15pm--not a Saturday, but a Monday!

There were people everywhere looking and buying. People carrying bags of merchandise. The Apple store was very busy. We were there for just a short time, but there was a good deal of activity. It is a beautiful mall and I can see that once you find a parking place why people want to go there. A lot of great stores, very pleasant atmosphere with the massive skylight system they have.

We hear people complain about slow business, but here is a place that appears to be doing well in the face of it. Bravo! High five to Arden Fair!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Help Your Competitor? Why Not?

Here's a bold idea: Help your competitor! And, they in turn can help you. I've tried this many times and it works very well. I'll explain.

Find one or two competitors just outside of your main area. This really makes them not so much a competitor, but someone who is selling the same things you are, or at least, some of the same things.

It's been my experience that with certain distributors or manufacturers, you can get a better discount or terms with a certain amount of volume. Of course, I always tried to reach the next level because it made a difference in my profits and how flexible I could be with my customers on price. So, I used to work with a dealer selling the same things. We developed a relationship and we discussed this arrangement and since it worked to both of our advantages, we decided to test it. It worked extremely well.

We might place an order this month through his store with both of us ordering a quantity that gets us the discounts we want, next month we might do it through our store so that we keep a strong relationship with the vendor. We get the deal and the product gets split between us in whatever ratio we decided on to begin with.

I used to do this with musical instruments, vitamin products, and I've done it very well with cars and trucks. I did it with trucks mainly in this way: I want some non-standard colors to do some promotions with and it requires an order of 10 to get the paint at a reasonable cost. I would work with my friends in the business and split an order. I used to buy "franchise" guitars from other dealers in this way. They needed to hit a certain volume based on their franchise agreement and I would buy some to help them hit that level. It helped me to have some other products to sell. Distributors always have some kind of deal going on and this is a way to take full advantage of the offering. Sometimes there is a bogey to hit in order to qualify and then the deals start happening. How nice to be able to make that happen so much more easily.

You may think this sounds foolish to be helping my competitor, but the more you think about your "competitor" as a friend, the more they will be a friend. Of course, we are seeking an advantage for ourselves, but in the process, we must give the same advantage to the competitor. Working against a competitor will only work against you. Try it and I think you will find that it works very well. It will change your thinking about competitors.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How Are Your Employees Dressed?

We live in an ever more casually dressed world and this is something that I love. It is also something to be concerned about as a business. How are the people coming into your store feeling about the way your employees are dressed?

I've seen managers of stores that look like they just rolled out of bed while sleeping in their clothes. The unkempt hair look is in, but the wrinkled, slept in look is not in. Getting shirts laundered and pressed is very inexpensive. Matter of fact, where shirts are concerned, I doubt that you can do them for less at home after you consider the water, detergent, electricity, and ironing time and effort. Wash and wear right out of the dryer is a possibility, but rarely works they way it is planned.

As the business owner or manager, you have the opportunity to direct how you want your employees to dress. All you need do is decide how you want them to look and then lead them to do that. Expecting that shirts be pressed is not a large expectation. How your employees look is a reflection on your business. Start a dress code that makes good sense. Guide them and it will pay dividends.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You Want More Business, But. . .

You want more business coming though the door, but it will require you to change your thinking, your procedures, or your training. That really is the worst of it: But, it will require you to change your thinking, your procedures, or your training. Otherwise it is the old definition of insanity: doing the same things and expecting a different result. Don't we all want that to work!

We put together a email newsletter marketing campaign from start to finish for a company and the owner won't train the staff to get the forms filled out at the cash register. They fill some out some of the time, and they did more in the first week or so, but there is no consistency and very little progress. The fewer the names, the lesser the response. If we want more people to come in and we are putting on events, we need more people to invite to make it more of a success to create more business. Yes. It's not magic, it is step by step efforts toward the goal. The goal is more business.

We would love to come in and just take over for a period and get it all turned around, teach and train the staff ourselves, then turn it back over to them and let it grow. So, the most difficult challenge we face is not having that power or control and trying to get the same results. Partial insanity I suppose. Yet, it would serve the company we are working with and our own company to be able to work together on this kind of project in the way that would produce the desired results. The only way that will happen effectively is to have the full attention of whomever is in charge of the operation. They must see the picture clearly, listen to what needs to be done and allow us to get in there and help them get it done. Makes sense, doesn't it? We know how to bring more business through the door, but we cannot get it done effectively without the best participation of the business.

Think about what you want in your business. Do you want more business? If so, are you willing to allow others to help you get that done? Are you willing to make the changes in thinking, procedures and training? If not, be satisfied with where you are and let it go. If you really do want more business, let's make the changes and get on with the future!

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Rave Week Is Done. It's Your Turn!

This week has been my raving fan week. I've written in the past five days about the United States Post Office, eBay,, Romano's Macaroni Grill and I can rave about a few more, not many, but I shared some of my favorites this week and why. It was an interesting exercise for me. I talk to others about a company or restaurant but I don't generally get to go into much detail. Since my focus is business success, I am curious what it is that sets one business apart from another even in a highly competitive environment. So, I got to rave about five companies and it felt good. I appreciate them and it made me think even more clearly about that. But, I've raved enough for one week. Now, it's your turn.

What companies do you rave about and why? Take a few minutes and write out what you appreciate about each company and why you are a raving fan. You might even share that with some of those companies as I did this week. Hey, everyone loves to hear compliments and raving fans give good compliments.

The real key to me is why. What do those companies do that is so different or so special in relation to other companies? Why does that make you feel good? Much of it is about great service, so how is that service provided in a way that makes you feel good? I hope you take the time and do a few of them and relate these questions, so that you can take a fresh look at your own business and how you can create raving fans of your own. I have to believe that it will be enlightening and certainly worthy of the time invested. Go rave!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of

Shipping can be complicated, or it can be easy. In my eBay book business, it used to be complicated. I used to create shipping labels through eBay which then connects you to PayPal, which opens up some other windows and. . . it used to take a long time. Opening all those windows, moving from one program to the next on every label is just silly. To ship 20 items, it used to take close to 1.5 hours. I did this for too long and needed to find a better way. So, I asked at the Post Office and they had someone contact me and discuss my shipping needs. They sent me some information which included some third party vendors. I checked out their offers and decided to go with

What a monumental decision that was! I could not believe how much time it saved me. I now created labels in about 15 minutes instead of 1.5 hours! Multiply that time savings time 340 days a year. Huge. has a great offer where you get $25 free postage, an electronic scale and more (see the link on the left of our blog page, or you can go to The offer is for real. It's an $80 value. The scale is good up to 5 lbs. I need a bigger scale than this though. Mine goes to 75 lbs. I have the pro service and pay $15.95 a month for the service and if I buy their insurance, they bill me monthly for the insurance fees. For someone who does a good deal of shipping, that is an incredible bargain.

The big companies have automated software and complete shipping departments, so makes no sense to them, but for the rest of us, the benefits are great.

  • I print all my own shipping labels with a receipt of the transaction.
  • I use inexpensive labels, so I need no tape.
  • I can print my own postage stamps if I like, including ones with photos of my choice.
  • Their software program is a piece of cake to use. It loads in seconds and I'm in and out in just a few minutes!
  • I buy postage in lumps as I need it.
  • I can save addresses in an address book for those that I ship to often.
  • The labels make me look very professional. (I bought my labels on eBay for a very small amount of money. Be aware that the price varies dramatically!)
  • Anything I can ship through the Post Office, I can print labels in my office. I can even print Express mail postage labels and Priority labels for overseas shipments!
  • Service is excellent when there was a rare occasion to find out.

If you do shipping through the Post Office, consider You can print the labels and have the Post Office pick up your packages no charge, or just drop them on the counter at the Post Office and you're done. Wonderfully easy, quick and cost effective. Try it and see for yourself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of Romano's Macaroni Grill

I'm in a raving fan mood this week! I have a number of favorite places to eat, but at the top of the list is Romano's Macaroni Grill.

It seems that it is impossible to get anything off the mark there. I have tried so many things off the menu just trying new things, returning to old favorites (grilled salmon, twice baked lasagna). The one in Roseville, CA is the one I've frequented the most, but I have tried them in other locations with the same perfect results. I mean, you would think they would miss the mark somewhere in about 35 trips, but they have not even skipped a beat. Sheer perfection in every case. Absolutely delicious, great presentation, good timing, good service, nice atmosphere, comfortable seating. It is just all good. I have referred tons of people to the Macaroni Grill and I haven't heard anything but the same kind of experiences.

The bread they serve at the beginning is out of this world good. We never fail to finish the loaf and sometimes even get more. Dip that in the olive oil and my goodness, you could make that your meal. Then you have to save room for one of the best deserts on the planet: Smothered Chocolate Cake. I have even gone just for the Chocolate Cake. It is just scrumptious! Of course their pasta dishes are well known, but their pizza is great too. I love the BBQ Chicken pizza.

So what is this experience all about? I think it is a well stocked menu. Everything I have tried is just wonderful. It is an inviting front portion with the bread and the comfort. It is the atmosphere, pleasant, not dark, but soft lighting. It is seeing the kitchen cooking things one at a time right in front of your eyes. It is the well trained servers that take very good care of you. It is the consistency of the experience. Thirty-Five times for me and I tell you that it is as consistent as it can be to me. I haven't even mentioned price. Price is another great aspect. The pricing is what I would call extremely reasonable. When I leave, I am happy to have paid the bill. Many other places, I don't feel so good about that. My one complaint (which is not really a complaint at all) is that there are not enough of them around. I have to drive a piece to get to one, but I have no problem doing that as you might imagine.

How can we give our customers that kind of experience over and over again? How can we develop some raving fans who would write a piece like this--or even, just tell anyone who might listen? Is it possible to have a plan this good?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of Ebay!

Ebay is such an awesome company. I have been registered since 2001, but didn't even use it until April 2004, and then after using it for a few weeks, decided to open an eBay business. Amazing.

Open a business on eBay. It's easy to do and costs very little to get going. If you've thought about having your own business, here is a great way to test it out. Open an eBay store for $15.95 per month and then put things in there, develop a marketing style and plan and then expand as you see fit. What's powerful about starting an eBay business is that you can--anyone can. What an awesome opportunity this is. To have the world at your door. Incredible.

Of course, a business is one aspect of eBay. I buy so many things there it is amazing. I buy shipping supplies, books, audiobooks, music, movies, electric woks, hair coloring, collectibles, and much more. My business partner bought a pool table on eBay! Ebay has everything it seems. Being able to find items, and find excellent pricing is part of the eBay experience. Sometimes things are an incredible bargain, other times, they are just at the bottom end of the market, but it is almost always good. I rarely need to search elsewhere.

I love the feedback scoring thing. I've given over 13,300 feedbacks to other people and have received over 10,600 feedbacks myself. I've never needed to give a negative feedback. As a seller I have received about 4 negative feedbacks, but they were not reasonable people. Ebay has now made some changes so that it is a bit harder to leave a negative feedback. If it is deserved, that is a great a powerful tool for a consumer. With my guarantee, it is impossible for someone to leave a legitimate negative feedback because I absolutely guarantee their satisfaction including free replacement. Nonetheless, the feedback system is overall a very positive thing to me. I would love to have the feedback score and comments listed on every business everywhere I go. If I am buying on eBay and see a number of negative feedbacks, I go elsewhere and rightly so. People are saying these guys are not good business people, so avoid them. What a powerful tool.

Ebay has made a lot of changes in the last few years and that has upset a lot of people who have been long time sellers. Business is always changing. It is still a great opportunity. Matter of fact, I promote eBay wherever I go. I try to encourage businesses that we build a website for to try selling some things on eBay. It is really easy. We coach people on building an eBay income stream and help them make it effective quickly. eBay is a great place to move some of that old inventory you might be sitting on.

At our eBay store, we get the best prices for our merchandise. We have tried other avenues, but eBay so far is the best overall. Of course, for the best prices, we give the ultimate in service. I have no interest in being the lowest price out there because I cannot afford to provide any service at those prices. My prices are fair, but I get a better overall return on eBay--even after eBay's fees. What that means to you, is that you should get the best prices on your items as well. It is a competitive market; however, you do not have to work the low end to be successful. Selling books for a dollar is a waste of energy to me, but there are a lot of sellers who do this. My average on eBay for used books is over $10, so that works for me. We also use eBay's Our shop, doesn't get the same return that eBay does (one reason is that at, sales are to the US market only), but there are no up front fees, so that keeps the operating costs a bit lower. Ebay works better, but I use them both.

Ebay stores have set pricing and you can have a set price plus a best offer feature so that if someone likes your item, but feels the price is high, they can make an offer and you can choose to accept it, decline it or submit a counter-offer. I just sold a book for $50 where they offered me $20 and I had it listed for $95. They made two offers, and I made two counter offers and finally decided that $50 would work for me in today's market. That is a great feature for me. It was a very rare book and I knew they could not beat the price, but it was fair to both of us. In another market environment I might get $75 or even my asking price of $95. The price that the customer and the seller are happy with is the best price.

Then to add more, you can have sales on items or groups of items and use a percentage discount or a dollar amount. These are some good marketing tools that didn't exist a couple years ago on eBay. In addition, because eBay started with auctions, you can put some things on auction, then into your store if they don't sell and then take some out of your store and put them on auction and so on. You can even automate some of that process. There are a lot of ways to move things around to try different things to sell it. It is a very flexible environment.

When you are selling more, you can add features that allow you to do bulk email notices, bulk feedback and a lot of other features that really save you time and effort. They also have a wealth of various reports you can view and download to help you make decisions about your business. You can also customize your stores look and features. They now have up to 300 categories where a couple of years ago it was only 20. They are constantly improving things and adding features. Any negatives to me are offset by their constant improvements.

From buying almost any thing new or used, to opening your own business online out of your bedroom or garage and be able to sell to the entire world, to the researching of your interests, eBay has a world of things to love. Then, they also have their other companies that they have acquired over time such as PayPal,, ProStores,, Kijiji, MicroPlace,, Skype, StubHub, StumbleUpon. What's not to like? Great company, great services, great service.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of The U.S. Postal Service

In yesterday's post I talked about why I was a huge fan of Today I want to share why I am a raving fan of the United States Postal Service.

Before 2004, I used to make comments along with many others around me about the US Postal Service. They weren't complimentary. We used to call their service the Snail Mail. We made fun of postal employees, talked about the terrible service, standing in long lines at the Post Office and just generally put them down. The truth is that I didn't do very much with the Post Office and didn't have a lot of experience with them, except that they brought my mail every day--that is, until I went into business selling books, video and music on eBay--then I really found out what the Post Office was like.

Since April of 2004, I have become a raving fan of the US Postal Service. I spent over $15,000 in postage in 2007. Most of that was through Media Mail which is the one people make the most fun about. In reality, Media Mail is a bit misunderstood. Media Mail doesn't necessarily mean slow. Matter of fact, it could arrive at the same speed as Priority Mail under good conditions. It's just that it doesn't have to. It just doesn't have the priority; however, the Post Office does an awesome job of keeping it all moving effectively.

I have raving fans about the speed of my service and since most of my mailings go via Media Mail, that speaks very highly of the Postal Service! I do try to ship daily and that helps, but once the Post Office receives it, the rest is on them. They rarely miss in my experience now of shipping thousands of packages.

I also sell some guitars. You might think I would ship via UPS, but you would be wrong. I ship most of them via US Postal Service Priority Mail. On overseas shipments, I ship guitars exclusively with the US Postal Service and either use Priority International or Express Mail International. Since 2004, I have not had one problem with a shipment overseas. The only problem I had anywhere in the world was one shipment of a book to Mexico. That's amazing service considering all the logistics involved.

Damage is always a concern. I package my items so well that I don't think there could be an issue. Since 2004, I have had two damaged items. That makes the percentage so small that it is insignificant.

Lost shipments? None. Long delays. A handful. Just imagine the volume of mail and packages the US Postal Service deals with on a daily basis. It is mind boggling. To deal with that volume and the logistics of every address in the United States along with worldly shipments to other postal services is an incredible task. My hat is off to the Post Office and all their dedicated employees at making this happen every day including Sunday. They may only deliver Monday through Saturday, but the mail is moving 24/7. Speaking of Monday through Saturday. How about Saturday. You won't find that with UPS or FedEx unless you pay a fee.

I tell you this that media type sellers should be standing and cheering every day for the US Postal Service. The low cost Media Mail is what keeps books moving. Take that away and there will be problems in bookdom.

Counter employees. I have seen a lot of counter employees. Some are so tired of their jobs, they should be moved elsewhere in the company, but generally, I find the counter people to be incredibly patient and kind and efficient. There is a lot to know and do and there are a lot of unhappy people to deal with at the counter. Of course, if they knew what I now have learned, they would have a different attitude.

How are customers perceiving you and your service. Are they making fun or raving about your service? Make sure the occasional customers have as high an experience as your long term friends. And, one last thing: Lighten up!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of

It always interests me how someone becomes a huge fan of a company. I know that interests me about my company, and I hope yours as well. So, today, I want to tell you why I love Maybe there will be some insights in this that you can use in your company.

You might find this strange, but I have over 15,000 books in stock and have a book business on two different online sites and yet I buy a huge number of books from It doesn't seem like that would make a good deal of sense, but it does. And, I'll tell you why is one of my best 'silent' partners in my book business.

1. First and foremost is that has almost any book you could want in new condition and through their independent sellers (like me), they have a similar selection in used books. I am registered to sell on but haven't gotten around to actually doing it. I sell on eBay and (owned by eBay).

2. My guarantee on my book sites is this: I guarantee that you are pleased--every sale, every time, no exceptions. Pretty simple guarantee and I take it to the maximum meaning. I buy a lot of new and used books. When I am buying a used book and then a day or two later, they send me an email that the book was sold and refund my money, I think that is terrible. It's as if I just wasted two days. Giving me a refund is not sufficient to me. So, in my business, if I cannot find a book (sometimes they hide, although it is almost always temporary), I will many times go to and buy them a brand new copy and have it sent directly to them along with a personal email from me about what I am doing and why. In the case where a new one is not available or out of print, I will find a better quality condition book from another seller and pay for it along with expedited shipping and then a personal note. In any case, I find a book in better condition than the one they bought and I go way out of my way in cost and time to get it to them as a replacement for mine. In the event that I have somehow misdescribed the book; that it is not in the condition I stated it to be in, I will refund their money in full AND send the replacement. I have paid as much as $55 out of pocket to purchase a book that is an effective replacement. That means I lose money on that sale, but gain a customer perhaps for life! Think about it. If someone took care of you like that, how would it make you feel?

3. When I buy a new replacement through, it goes via 2-day expedited shipping. Fast always impresses my customers. With I am able to put a personal note in the package and also to see that an invoice is not included. The really cool thing about this is that has this program called "Prime." Prime membership costs around $100 a year, but you get 2-day shipping free on almost all your new purchases. I can assure you that with my volume of purchases at, they are losing money on me on the shipping, but they are way ahead with me as a large customer! The Prime membership makes me a hero for a nominal cost. Great feature.

4. The pricing at is always good. I have an account at Barnes & and buy some things there, but I have grown accustomed to the service and they also have a much larger used book source than others. Buying used on is not nearly the good experience as buying directly from Amazon, but it is acceptable. I remember sending a music CD to Italy and when it arrived, it was not the exact one they wanted. I found a new one on and had it drop shipped directly to Italy with no hassle whatsoever. Since I ship all over the world, that is an important thing to know.'s charges for the shipping overseas was reasonable whereas many companies I have looked at were way out there. All these things build trust and confidence.

5. There is information about each item that sells directly. Many even have independent reviews or comments. I don't use this a lot, but sometimes it helps me make sure I am getting the book I think I want.

6. The check out process is easy and the follow up emails are clear. It is a rare occassion that does not hit their initial target delivery time. When that happens, they let me know via email and keep me posted until it is done.

7. I have now purchased many other items from because of the experience I have in buying books, music, video and audiobooks. As a small example, I had a salad spinner that we loved and worked great. One day it stopped working. I went to Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and could not find it anywhere. I went on and there it was. I'm a happy camper again. You would be amazed what is on now. I still buy a huge amount on eBay, but is the second place I look.

What's the bottom line? Building trust and confidence through the shopping and buying experience. How are your customers perceiving you? I'm a raving fan of Do you have any raving fans? What might they rave about? In my book business, my fans rave about fast shipping. Go look at our feedbacks and you will see that over and over again. That is powerful for a bookseller because that is not common with a bookseller. Our eBay store is You might want to find a way to get your customers feedback. Raving fans are so much fun--and profitable.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Background Music Is Important

Background music. You hear it in a lot of places from Starbucks to Mervyn's to the mall to the call you are on hold with. You probably take it for granted, but it is extremely important.

My partner and I were at a Farmers Market event yesterday and the person who coordinated the event made sure to have a good speaker system and some good choices of music to play during the event. It was in a small park and I was sitting on a bench and reflecting how pleasant it was. Then I focused on the music. It was so perfect. Just the right volume. Not overpowering, but you can hear it well. Good choices of music--some Jack Jones, some Doobie Bros., a little of this and that. Very pleasant.

The music really set the mood. Sellers were busy selling their vegetables and fruit and hot dogs and flowers and here is the key ingredient: people were hanging around. They didn't just come and buy and go, they felt comfortable and stayed. I stayed almost two hours. I complimented the coordinator on having the music and I told him how important to the event I thought it was.

I sat there and imagined no music. No sounds except that of people chatting a bit and sellers talking to buyers. Boring. I saw everyone leaving quickly. The music is so important because the mood is so important. The mall would be boring without it. I wouldn't shop as long without it. I wouldn't feel as comfortable talking without it. It has great power to smooth and soothe and create a friendly atmosphere.

Next time you hear it in a shop or store. Imagine it without the music. Then notice how much better your experience is with it. Think about that for your own store or office.

Friday, August 8, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 11

Website maintenance is a key ingredient in your websites success. Don't leave it out, make sure and budget it and fit it in.

Updating your website is a given. If you have events calendars, products that change, personnel that change, suppliers that change, or any of the many things that change day to day, you will need to have your website updated. That is part of website maintenance and it is very important to insure that you are getting that done regularly. I've said it before and again now, a website with out of date information is not only ineffective, it is actually destructive. It will work against your efforts and you would be far better off to not have a website at all than to have one that is out of date.

Just updating the information in your website is important, and website maintenance goes further than this. You would be good to have your website people work with you on a package that includes search engine optimization, updating the look and feel of the website so that it remains as fresh as it can be for the money. If you figure this in on a monthly basis, it is an easy amount to deal with.

Think how great it would be to have people taking care of this stuff for you. Isn't that what you really want. I know you want to be able to trust them to do well, be effective, follow through and protect your interests. You'll see that if you are watching. The real need is to get the job done and keep doing the job so you can get on with other important tasks. This task is too important to not insure that it is assigned to someone or some company to get it done.

Think of it this way. A website with many companies is such an integral part of who they are and what they do, they have a whole division of the best they can find to keep it growing and improving and working through power outages and the like. They cannot afford to think any other way. Think of without their website being updated. No way. Yet, even much smaller companies have the same need.

Your website may be a central part of how your business functions in the future. You may have an office, a building, a store that you operate out of but you will most likely find that the Internet and your website will be key players in your success. The time to start is now. Make sure that you are thinking toward the future of your website and taking care of business today will insure that future is bright. You do this by building a good site now and making sure it is maintained perfectly and expanded as needed and is alive and well. Website maintenance is the key.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 10

What is your niche? What is it about you and your method of doing business that is special? Whatever that is, it is worthy of your focus.

Bakers and candle stick makers, plumbers, auto repair, dentists, gas stations, grocery stores, department stores all have one thing in common--there are a lot of them in pretty much every town around the land. Are they all the same? Absolutely not. Each one is different. Each is run using people and people are different. And, that is good.

In order to stand out from the crowd of other like businesses, you would do well to focus on what it is that makes you different. I would even recommend that you put so much energy into that that you make that difference dramatic and strong. Don't try to please everyone. It is an impossible task. Please yourself first and be the unique business that you really want to be. Promote that everywhere you go. Promote that especially on your website. One of the best things about a website is that it works better with a personality--even a strong personality.

Think about what is special about your business. Why did you start it? What are you trying to achieve with it? What methods are you using that other people are not? Do you have a unique approach to how you treat your customers? Do you have unique products? Do you make your own products? What about your services sets you apart? What do your customers say about you? Do you have a lot of repeat and referral business? Determine what is unique about you, your business, your products and/or your services and write all that down. Choose the most unique things to market. Build your website around telling the world about your uniqueness. This is your chance to tell the world. Work it. Improve it. Focus it.

The more unique you can represent yourself, the better will be the response over time. It is your sales tool. Use it and have fun. You've been wanting to all your life. Now's the time. Go for it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 9

Field of Dreams. Remember the movie? "Build It and They Will Come." Great phrase. It is the strategy of so many with regard to their websites. I know this for sure: That would be a dream in the field for sure. It might have worked when you were the first of 50 websites out there, but when you are one of hundreds of millions of sites, that strategy is ridiculous. That is just hope and hope is not a strategy.

A better strategy is to build your site, keep building your site, keep adapting your site, keep promoting your site, keep networking your site, keep linking your site, did I mention promoting your site?

Let's ask ourselves some questions. One, what do we really want our site to do for us? Answer this in as much detail as you can with the knowledge that you have right now. Do you want the site to make your phone ring? Sell products online? Provide free information? Be a way for your organization to have information available in many different locations quickly? Be a resource for your customers to have information more readily that you used to mail out or hand out? Announce events? What is it that you really want your site to do for you and/or your business.

Two, since you probably now have a list of things you want your site to do for you, what are the most important things? Whatever those things are, we will want to focus our website on those and the rest can be added. What I mean by that is to build the site around the most important aspects of what you want it to do. For example, if selling online was one of the most important things, we would want to develop the site based on this aspect and create an effective online storefront and user-friendly shopping experience design. If you were presenting products and wanting the phone to ring, we would showcase those products in a way that would peak someones interest enough to want to find out more and make the call. In addition, we would have the phone number in so many places, that no one could miss it. The basic design should be aligned with the most important aspects of what you want your site to achieve.

Three, how much time do you have to devote to your website? If you say you have a lot of time, you could chance doing it yourself, but I think most people are going to say (honestly) that they do not have much time, nor do they want to commit much time to yet another project. In this case, you will pay someone to assist you. It will not take all the burden off your back, but it certainly will make it a much lighter load and will benefit you greatly. Get real. We have clients who hardly have the time and focus to get us the information that we need to build their website. I cannot fathom them building their own. Next, forget the brother-in-law thing. Having relatives and close friends that claim to be willing to help you get this done will generally drag out the process further. We have seen this over and over. Trying to save a few hundred by this avenue will actually end up costing thousands in lost time and/or revenue. Give it to someone who is in business doing this for much better results--and accountability!

Four, how's your crystal ball? Is it ready to predict the future for you? We know one thing for absolute certain: everything changes. Life is movement and is constantly changing. Nothing rests. Your website will need to change constantly as well, otherwise it is a waste of time and energy to build it unless (and this is the only good reason we can think of) you want it just to be a business card that very few people will see--kind of like throwing a business card on the sidewalk near Central Park in New York. Make this commitment early on: keep you site alive by continuing to feed it, massage it, love it, care for it. It will need to change. You will want it to change. Accept that up front.

And, five, when do you want to get started? The best answer is right now. Human nature is procrastination and this is especially true when people are dealing with things that are not confident in, not knowledgeable in, and are unsure of. There is a tendency to want to gather too much information. Better to move forward now, making mistakes along the way than to wait and wait and never get around to it. It is just another learning experience! So learn! Learning is good. Get started today. Right now. Don't put it off another day. Call three companies, talk to them about your ideas for a website, make a decision. Go with your feelings. You have good intuition. What you need is a decision, so make one. . .now! There, that's better.

If you build it will they come? Maybe. We know one thing for sure: they won't come if you just build it. You will need to do more. Plan it well, get it built, adapt it as needed, keep expanding and growing the site, make it more and more valuable all the time, promote it every way that you possibly can and they will come.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 8

Social networks are all the rage. The most famous of them is probably My Space and then came You Tube and Facebook and LinkedIn, Moli and many more with more on the way. Many of these sites are being utilized with success by businesses seeking new markets, new viewers. Some are putting their toes in the water and others are jumping in full on.

These sites are ways that you can network with thousands of other people and share common interests. Your business is part of you and it makes sense to include it in your profiles and even a bit of self-promotion. In addition, many businesses are linking their blogs, newsletters and such to these networks so that people will visit all of your various sites. It's like having 10 websites in 1.

It's interesting that this also helps in the search engines, especially when searching names. I know if I search my own name that I come up on the top of the page and the link is to LinkedIn. Nothing wrong with that. Then if you click on that link, you see some information including a company name and links to my website. That'll work! Getting to the top of the list is cool and helpful as well. I know that is what a lot of people focus on--getting to the top of the page. So, here I wasn't even trying and there it is. This is how powerful some of the social networking sites can be for you and your website and other interests. If I type in our company name, it also is at the top of the page, but the link comes from this blog. We talked about blogs in this series and you can see by this some value of the blog in finding you on the web along with the value of the information in the blog.

When I type in part of my business name (Upward Trend) and my name, of the 10 items on the first page, 8 of them match me and the company. Two are links to this blog. Another is Technorati which is a social network for blogs, two are for LinkedIn, and the last three are to our other website, Commercial Truck Success, but through the use of multiple domain names pointed at that site. It's not that I was trying to do all of this, but you can see that it is working at bringing our information at the top of the pages.

It all has to do with information though. For example, if you just typed in Upward Trend, you would have very different results because the phrase Upward Trend is used in many common ways and is generally used in reference to market trends or sales trends and such so there are a lot of links from all over the place. If you just add a bit of definition such as our complete name: Upward Trend Management Services, we come up to the top via this blog, not the website, but the blog is a direct link to the website and much more, so it is all good.

The bottom line is that there are a number of things that you can do to promote your website. Some of these things are becoming familiar with some of the social networks. It is very easy to do. Joining is free. Join them all if you like.

Monday, August 4, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 7

Get other people to promote your website and your business. You can do this through links from their site to yours and from your site to theirs and so on. The more links you have the better. Think of this like network marketing.

You probably have friends in business and they have websites as well. If there is the slightest connection, having links to each other can be very beneficial to everyone involved. It could just be that you recommend this business for this reason.

Here is an example of a company that we are associated with that is a good fit with what we do and them with us. The company is Communities Online Network. They have a number of other sites that we are linked together in. If you go to Woodland Community, Davis Community, Elk Grove Communities or Natomas Communities, you will see links to our site and we have quite a number of links to their sites in two websites, two blogs, an email newsletter as well as other communication links. This mutual promotion of like-minded businesses is great for all concerned including our customers and prospects. In addition our other suppliers and associates have a possibility of benefiting as well. For example, it was through our association with Communities Online Network that we had our first video commercial created. Now we will promote them as well. It becomes more and more of a network as it expands. You get more exposure and they get more exposure. I've mentioned them 6 times in this paragraph and five of the times there is a link to their sites. But, I don't do it just for the heck of it, this company is an awesome bunch and what they are doing is very valuable to large communities and they deserve to be promoted.

Find some ways that you can link with others through website, email newsletter or blogs and continue to make your website work for you. It's not very hard work, but worthy.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 6

Change from sending out mail to sending email, but make it interesting a send an HTML email newsletter style piece promoting your business, your products, services and your website.

When you send out mail, even though you may have your website included, the customer or prospect must go to a computer and type in the address. It's not that this is a hard thing to do, but we're not sure when they might get around to it. With the HTML style newsletter, the piece can have the same or even greater design features like photos, logos, graphics as you would have in the direct mail piece; however, with the insertion of links, people only need click on it while they are looking at the newsletter. Much better chance of them getting to your site by probably a factor of 10. In addition to your website link, you can link certain pages of your site to have them go once, twice, three times or more.

We talked in this series that there needs to be a good amount of content and interest to have your customers and prospects visit your site again and again. Maybe this time they will come to look at a product or service feature and another time it might be an article of interest. Keep expanding your value to your customers and prospects by expanding your site and its interest.

The email marketing will not only help get people to your website, but it will help you get information to customers more effectively. Sure there are some that don't use the computer much, but that is becoming more and more rare. With the volume of information now on the Web, you will need to keep increasing the value of your site and as that value increases, your customer loyalty is increased.

Having a website is just one piece of the marketing and there are many things related to it that can dramatically help you move forward with your Web presence and web commerce.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 5

Expand your websites influence by the use of a blog. This is a great way to increase the content of your site even when the blog is not actually on your site. For example this blog is on and our website is These are hosted in completely different places, but there is a link to each other in both locations. In addition, the content of the blog is directly related to the subject material of the website. Blogs are also found in search engines from the content, so blogs can help you get found that way as well. Blogs are generally just content, so that is even more helpful for the searches.

Writing a blog can be fun and interesting. It will probably work best for you to use your expertise to talk about your experience, your thoughts and ideas as they relate to that expertise. My experience is in sales, marketing and merchandising as well as using tools such as websites, blogs and newsletters, so it makes sense that these are the things that I have a lot of knowledge of and would write about. This is my second daily blog. The first is here: CTS which was started several months ago. My goal is an article a day in both blogs, but you can choose your own goal. Maybe it is an article a week or two a month or something like that. I see many blogs that have about 5 or 6 entries a month. You'll know what is right for you. It just needs to be fun and interesting for you or it is likely it will not get done.

If you are a plumber and want to expand the influence of your website, write a blog about plumbing. There must be a wealth of stories, insights, plumbing problems and solutions to write about. Maybe you are a general contractor and you have all kinds of tips for people to work with contractors better. Perhaps you have a shop where you sell unique products and could talk about those products. You could be a dentist and we all know there is a lot to talk about there. If you are a physical therapist, there is a wealth of information that could be of value to many including how to choose a good physical therapist. Whatever field you are in, there is much you had to learn to become proficient at it and all of that information can be of value to many others.

You can write as often as you like. The more often you write, the more content, the more value. You can then offer to send it via email as I do with this blog and develop a following of people who enjoy your articles. That makes it more fun as well. It's always great to find other people getting value and learning from your efforts.

If you aren't into writing much, you can dictate to a recorder and have an employee write it for you. There are even programs that you can talk into and it will type it out for you. There is always a way if you see the value in doing a thing. Think of all the information that you have gathered over the years and how you can help other people avoid the pain of making mistakes that you've already made and learn a better way of doing a thing. It may be as simple and powerful as an idea whose time has come and you have just inspired someone to reach for something. You just never know who you will touch and how it will affect them. There is so much knowledge in the heads of people in business and the web is a great place to share that information. That is powerful. It is of value to so many all over the world.

Make your website work for you by expanding its influence through the use of a blog that is included in your website, or linked to it. It is fun and is a great way to expand. Go for it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

How To Make Your Website Work For You, Part 4

Grow your site. Of all the things we see with small business websites, they build them and quickly forget they are there. A website will only be as effective as the information and if that doesn't change there's no reason for prospects or customers to come back.

If your website has a comment at the bottom that says something like. . . last update on [date]. Get rid of that. What is the point of putting that on the website. It could only be a positive thing if that date is updated daily along with the site. We know one that says last updated in 2006. That's a fresh site?

Here's a good goal: add a page a month. That's not much, but it is something to continue to grow your site with. Add some information about products, information links, photos, detailed descriptions, articles about what you do, ideas for future product or services, a newsletter tab, a newsletter archive tab, a link to your blog, and much more.

Pretend you're a customer coming to your site and think what you might like to see that would continue to peak your interest. Add some of that. Ask your friends and associates to give you their input to what they might like to see to maintain their interest. Add some of that. Keep your mind open to new thoughts and ideas about your site and add some of that. There you go, your site is growing every month. A little here, a little there and pretty soon, you have a lot of great information, photos, videos and more. Great job. Keep it going.