Stand out, do something a little different

The world is hugely competitive. In business, we are all fighting over a finite number of customers, trying to get them to spend their money with us rather than someone else so we need to think of things that will make us stand out so that a customer chooses us.

For online shops, there are only a few ways to stand out. First and most obvious is price. If you can sell the same item that everyone else is selling for £100 cheaper, you will attract more customers. The problem with having such a low price is that your profit margins are also really low. We did use this technique on our mattress site. Years ago we set up a drop shipping site selling mattresses. A number of things were in our favour which meant that we could under cut almost every competitor out there.

Firstly, we already had income from other businesses which meant we were not reliant on sales from the site. We set the site up as a side project to see what would happen and if we could be successful. As we were not reliant on the income, we were able to set our prices so that we only made £10-£40 per sale.

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168 Hours a Week

I hadn't really thought about it the other day until I was listening to a podcast and one of the speakers mentioned that there are 168 hours in a week. Of course it is easy to work out how many hours there are in a week but until someone said the number, I hadn't thought about how I used my time up.

As soon as I heard the number I started working out how many hours a week I work, how many I sleep, how many I spend doing the things I want to do... I was walking around doing mental maths, working out how many hours I spend each week on different activities and subtracting that from 168, to see how many hours I had 'left'.

It was quite an informative but scary process as large junks of time disappeared into categories, some of which I can't do much about. I immediately worked out that I usually have nine hours of sleep a night. Straight away thats 63 hours gone. I currently spend 40 hours a week working. I'm down to only 65 hours a week already!

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My Monthly Report - March 2019

I've decided to start creating a monthly report so that I can actually monitor my progress with projects, how I'm getting on with my targets and also to ensure that I am in fact working less and not doing more! As much as I have designed by businesses to be automated and easy to run, so that I can spend less time working, I seem to be spending more and more time in front of my laptop. I'm hoping that if I actually document what I am doing on a daily basis and collate it into a monthly report, I might actually find out where I am going wrong and find areas to improve so that I can spend more time relaxing.

This report will be slightly longer than normal and covers bits from the first three months of the year, just to help put everything into context.

Profit and Loss

I'm still working out the best way to monitor profit so that I can run monthly comparisons. The difficulty is that in many ways each business is set up as an independent entity. What I mean by that is each one has its own finance system so collating data from each business, each month and then comparing it to the previous months is quite difficult so for now, I am just comparing figures for the web design, hosting and SEO businesses.

Compared to February, March saw a 4.19% increase in income. Although that's not a huge number, it's important to remember that - especially for these businesses (web design, hosting and SEO) - these are recurring customers so unless a customer leaves, this will be a permanent increase in profit.

I was also fortunate enough to have a large order through the drop shipping business in March so there was a one-off boost there although this isn't shown in this figure - again, still working on how to work out how to monitor all of the businesses in one report.

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It’s the customer service, stupid

Let me give you a scenario. You are about to go out for an evening with your partner. You’re both dressed up and ready to go. You go to call a taxi and find two numbers. You ring each and ask for a price to get you from your house to your restaurant. The first company says it will be £10. The second says £12.

Which one do you choose? The first one, right? That’s what I would do.

You book the taxi, it turns up at your house but he’s a few minutes late. Unfortunately the driver is in a bad mood. You try to make conversation but he’s clearly had a bad day and doesn't want to talk, to the point of being rude.

This is not a major issue but the evening doesn't start off how you would have wanted it to.

Next week you try again expect you try the more expensive taxi firm. The driver arrives on time. He gets out of the car and opens the door for you. He’s in a good mood and chats all the way to the restaurant. You arrive, he gets out and opens the door for you.

Now you’ve tried both, which company will you book a taxi with next time?

I’m guessing the second one. The journey cost you 20% more but it was worth it for the extra attention you were given.

In the future, let’s say that each driver has 30 customers each day. The first driver will make £300. The second driver will make £360.

The second driver has 20% more profit than the first simply because his customer service was better. He hasn’t spent any more on fuel, he hasn’t spent any more time and he hasn’t spent money on additional staff or added extras. Simply through being good to his customers, he has made more money than his competitors.

Do things better

The best thing about customer service is that it doesn't cost any money and there are lots of ways to do it.

Follow up calls 

The idea

A couple of days after doing some work for a customer, why not give them a quick call or e-mail to see how they’re getting on. Was there any problems with the work that you did? Do they have any questions?

The example 

Imagine taking your car into the garage because hear a strange rattling sound. You take the car in, the mechanic works on it for a couple of hours and you drive away.

Best case scenario, you drive away and the rattling has gone. Two days later, you receive a call from the mechanic checking to see that the problem has been fixed. Imagine how good you would feel that the mechanic actually cares about you and your car, and because it’s such an unexpected thing, you will tell everyone about how great this mechanic is. Not only have you created a great word-of-mouth advertising opportunity for yourself, you’ve also ensured that this customer will be back in the future. 

In the opposite situation. You go to the garage. You drive away and the rattling has gone. Two days later, the noise is back. You don’t receive a call from the mechanic so he assumes that the problem has been fixed. You’re so annoyed that he didn’t fix the problem, you tell everyone how useless the mechanic is.

Make it easy to get in contact

The idea

Have enough ways for people to get in contact, regardless of their technical abilities or personality but not too many that it becomes problematic or confusing

Example

How many times have you visited a web site and the 'contact' page has listed five different e-mail addresses for different departments in a company, for you to contact depending on your query.

It's the same when you call you call your bank and you have to press 1 for balance enquiries, 2 for payments, 3 for...Ahhhhgg! It's too much, just let me speak to a human being and explain my problem! I don't mind then being put through to the right department but that's your job to figure out, not mine. Stop putting hurdles in the way when I need some help. 

Banks are a prime example but small businesses can be equally as poor at enabling customers to get in contact with them.

Here are a few key points:

  1. Don't pretend you're bigger than you are. Don't list numerous different e-mail accounts for sales@, enquiries@, customer-service@ etc. List one (info@) and just make it easier on the customer
  2. If you have people working for you, you forward the e-mail on to the right person to deal with so they can reply
  3. List a contact telephone number. No fancy 0800 number, just a basic local rate number to show you are based in your area
  4. Make sure when a customer rings that number, someone picks up the call. It doesn't have to be you - you can hire a virtual receptionist - but someone MUST answer that call during business hours
  5. Outside of business hours ensure a voicemail message it set up which explains your opening hours and how else they can get in touch
  6. Don't list a mobile number. You can get a virtual number to forward to your mobile but make sure a 'real' number is on your web site and business cards. Mobile numbers make you look unprofessional or untrustworthy. Someone with a 'real' number looks like they have a fixed base and are serious about what they do
  7. Add live chat to your web site so that people can contact you instantly if they would like to. Live chat also shows that your business is 'alive' as it will show your customers when you're online

 

Make things better for them

The idea 

Don’t just pretend to do customers a favour, actually help them out.

Example 

We recently took on a new customer for our hosting company. Razu runs a large organisation and wanted his web site and e-mails moved over to us after being let down by the original firm. We chatted to him and discussed how his business works and what days he’s in the office. We let him know that moving his web site and e-mails over to us would mean that both would be down for a few hours. Obviously this would be inconvenient if we did this in the middle of his working day as none of his team would be able to work as normal - wasting his time and money.

We decided that as he doesn’t work at weekends, a transfer on a Saturday, starting at midday, would make sense. A pain for us as we don’t really want to be working at the weekend however it was more important that the customer could access his e-mails first thing Monday morning.

We e-mailed Razu at midday on Saturday, letting him know that we had started the work. A few hours later, we e-mailed him again to let him know that the work was done. The next day, Sunday, we e-mailed him again to say that we had checked and everything was working as expected. 

I spoke to him the following week and he was impressed that a company would take care of him so much that they would work over the weekend for him. He was pleased that he didn’t experience any inconvenience as he wasn’t without his e-mails when he needed them. That’s a customer that it now telling everyone how great we are - sending more business our way.
 

Conclusion

Remember that whatever business you are running, do it with the mantra that you are ‘a customer service company that…’

The end of that sentence could be ‘… sells clothes online’, ‘… designs web sites’, ‘… designs logos’. It doesn’t matter what the actual company provides, you provide customer service first. People are willing to pay more if you care about them.

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