How Satisfied are Your Customers?

Being able to measure the satisfaction level of your customers can be pretty difficult at times. Not only do you rely on customers for their feedback, but you’ve also got to trust that they are being completely honest when providing you with feedback.  People don’t generally contact companies to tell them they’re satisfied.  And even the dissatisfied customers won’t always contact the company to express their dissatisfaction. Instead, they quietly (or not so quietly) boycott the company – swearing to never do business with them again.

Setting very high standards for any employees who deal with customers in any way is a must. You’ve got to enforce strict guidelines and procedures to ensure that your customers are being treated in a consistently professional and friendly way.  Make sure to continually measure the success of your employees’ customer service habits. You can do this in several different ways:

Go To the Source

How can you expect to get proper customer feedback if the only time you hear from your customers is when they are contacting you with a complaint or concern?  As previously stated, most people won’t contact a company to tell them that they’re doing a terrific job. They wait until something goes wrong to reach out to the company.  A good way to get your customers to talk with you and be honest about their experiences is to provide them with customer surveys.  Whether they are done through snail mail, email, or by telephone; having the input of your customers is a very valuable asset.

When conducting a customer survey, the best method is the 1 – 5 scale with 1 indicating complete satisfaction and 5 indicating complete dissatisfaction.  Surveying regular customers is also a good way to find out how well your company is doing. Being able to see how the customer’s experiences have changed over time will be a helpful tool.

Know what Your Customers Expect of You

Common sense tells us that we will be able to offer our customers a better experience when we truly understand what it is that they expect from us.  Finding out what the expectations of your customers are when it comes to both products and services will assist you in being able to meet their needs to the very best of your ability.

Examine the Areas Where You are Falling Short

Find out where your business is falling short, resulting in less-than-satisfied customers.  Ask yourself some very important questions such as: Are my products or services being advertised to seem better than they really are? Are my employees over-stepping their bounds by promising things that cannot be delivered to customers? Are Customer Service Reps handling customer dissatisfaction and complaints properly?  No matter where the weak link happens to be, discovering it and repairing it quickly will not only show that you care, but will also give you a better opportunity to heal any customer relationships which may have been damaged.

Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty

Any information that you collect has to be accurate and provide you with a realistic, specific picture of what you’re doing that’s working, and what you’re doing that isn’t working quite as well. Surveys are a great idea, if implemented properly. When providing your customers with surveys, make sure that the survey isn’t too general. Ask for specific information such as the services or products they purchased, if their experience lived up to their expectations, what they liked and what they didn’t care for as far as the entire transaction went, etc.  Make sure to also ask your customers for any comments or suggestions that they might have that would help to improve their experience.

Know Your Competition

Let’s say that a customer prefers a competitor’s brand over your brand. Wouldn’t you like to know why? One way to find this information out is to ask customers to compare similar products to find out exactly what it is that attracts more customers your competitor’s way.  They may be offering something that you’re not, and you aren’t even aware of it.  Knowing exactly what is going on with your competition will benefit your own business more than you might even realize.

By examining the opinions and experiences of your customers, you will be better equipped to provide them with a product or service that exceeds their expectations.  Do that, and you’ll begin to create relationships that will propel your business well into the future!

Adam Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor. He Co-Founded along with his brother Matthew. Adam is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.

Read The End of Business as Usual for Social Media Insights, Research and Trends

The End of Business as UsualAt the end of each year and into the beginning of the next, we take stock of where we’ve been and where we are about to go.   TV shows and magazines look back on the significant events of the year, and then prognosticators predict what’s yet to come.

One of the best prognosticators out there (although he may not take to being called that) is Brian Solis (@briansolis).  In 2010 he wrote the book Engage, which leads you through the specific steps you need to take to conceptualize, implement, manage and measure a social media program.

I had the privilege of interviewing Brian Solis for an article I wrote for Personal Branding Magazine.  In some ways, he reminded me of Matthew Broderick’s character Ferris Bueller; fun, smart and super-savvy about the ways of the social media environment and how to play it.  Solis knows how to navigate, pull the technological strings and use these tools to business advantage.

But wait, there’s more

And new for 2012, Solis has released The End of Business as Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer RevolutionThis book takes you to the next level, taking social media away from the context of tool and into the context of strategy.  Let me put it another way:  We don’t write about telephones or microwaves or stoves as revolutionary tools for communication or cooking.  We’ve integrated these items into our lives.  Business as Usual does the same thing for us in terms of social media.  Solis is taking the tools and technologies we’ve been enamored with and pushing us into accepting them as tangible, real and unimportant as tools, but vitally important in terms of what we do with them.

The End of Business as Usual is a bellwether

If you like Groundswell, then you will love this. This is a business book, a social media book and a trend book all in one.  It’s 20 chapters and 300 pages of lesson after lesson, insight after insight, and terrific charts and graphics that give you a perspective on what Solis is talking about.

There are so many facts and figures in this book relating to what’s going on in social media that you could probably tweet out a stat every day and have enough to last you a couple of years.  I’m not sure if I’m exaggerating, but I think I’m pretty close.

Here are just a few chapter names that will give you some idea of what to expect:

Chapter 3: The medium is no longer the message. This is the core message of the book. People are spending more time on social networks, TV shows are live tweeted, news comes from Twitter online video networks – in other words, social is as integrated into our lives as phones and appliances.

Chapter 4:  Attention deficit crises and information scarcity: This chapter addresses one of the key reasons I admire Brian Solis: “If you don’t have anything interesting or productive to say – then don’t say it.”  While Solis is a social media expert and evangelist, I respect his integrity in terms of using social media as a valuable communication channel rather than a vehicle for pabulum.

Chapter 7: Your audience is now an audience of audiences with audiences: This chapter has terrific visuals and charts to show you exactly how communication and information functions in the social media world.  This chapter is worth reading and rereading.

Chapter 11: The rise of connected commerce: You’ve already heard the phrase “blurring the line between personal and business. This chapter gives you the background on how and why this is happening.  Mobile devices, constant connection and communication will force business to look and feel more personal.

Chapter 14: Reinventing the brand and sales cycle for a new genre of connecter commerce: The message in this chapter is to plug into decision making. We’ve never had better access to data about our customers’ behavior.  Businesses will have to become masters at managing their brand promises.

Who should read this book?

To say that anyone who intends to be in business over the next three to five years should read this book is an understatement.  Business owners will see data and research that will help them create a context for the world that they and their customers are participating in.

Sales and marketing professionals will get insights and be able to develop much more powerful marketing strategies that get to the heart of what’s important to their customers.

Social media practitioners will have evidence and resources to share with their clients that will show exactly why the strategies they are proposing will work.

At the risk of sounding over the top, The End of Business as Usual is a book you absolutely, positively must read to succeed in 2012 and beyond.

From Small Business Trends

Read The End of Business as Usual for Social Media Insights, Research and Trends

7 Vital Keys for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

We live in a world where we can no longer depend solely on our education, and certainly not on employment. This would explain the increase in the number of people who are branching out on their own and starting their own businesses. If you happen to be one of these people who are thinking about creating your own startup business, the tips below will be of great use to you.

1. Have Great Expectations – Being limited by your goals is not an option. Do you know what your goal is? Truly successful entrepreneurs generally have goals which differ from the goals of the average person. Not only are their goals unique, but they’re quite lofty as well. Never underestimate the power of your goals. Your future will be affected by the goals you’ve made, and it can also be affected by your way of thinking. Reach for the stars and dream big!

2. Don’t Listen to Haters – Don’t expect everyone to agree with you and your big goals. A lot of people will think that you are jumping in over your head or being foolish. Never let others’ perceptions of you hinder anything you do in your life. This includes becoming an entrepreneur. If you find that particular people are overly skeptical or discouraging, it might be a good idea to distance yourself from them for a while. If that’s not a possibility, simply don’t share your thoughts and plans with them. Setting yourself up for criticism will only get you down and make you doubt yourself.

3. Get Started – No matter who you are and what experiences you’ve had, it’s very common to feel nervous or afraid to take the first step and get started. Whether it is the fear of the results or the fear of what other people might say, you’ve got to rise above it. A person can have the best ideas and visions, but if they don’t take action and get started, they will never achieve anything.

4. Take Risks – In any new venture, there will be risks involved. Every successful person has had to take risks and sacrifice more than they sometimes wanted to. It’s not always easy to let go of money – or sleep for that matter. You get what you put into things, so the more you give of yourself to your business; the more you will get in return. Not only that, but the risks you take along the way will make your success story that much more interesting.

5. Get Networking – Any aspiring entrepreneur needs to be able to network with people. The people you know and associate with says a lot about you. Success tends to rub off. If your friends are successful entrepreneurs themselves, they are likely to share their secrets with you. Having this type of firsthand knowledge on your side will benefit you and your business immensely.

6. Make Mistakes – Let’s get real. We all make mistakes. The ways in which we deal with these mistakes is where the importance lies. Nobody is perfect, and pretending that you are will only negate what your goal is: Success. Admit your mistakes and then learn from them. After all, whether or not you’ve done this before, you can’t possibly expect to be mistake-free.

7. Get Motivated – Everyone needs encouragement now and then, but as an aspiring entrepreneur, you’re going to need more motivation than most. Find books, audios, and people who motivate you, and immerse yourself in their words. Most importantly, keep your eye on your vision and the reason why you want to be an entrepreneur.

There are going to be a lot of stumbling blocks along the way, but with true dedication and devotion to your entrepreneurship, you can overcome any obstacle that gets in your way.

Matthew Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur, and Investor. He Co-Founded along with his brother Adam. Matthew is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.

Soledad O’Brien’s Morning Show Named

Soledad O'Brien

(Image: File)

Last November’s announcement from CNN that its longtime news anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien would be returning to the morning show timeslot had people yearning for more details. Well, the network is talking.

O’Brien’s morning show will be called Starting Point.  It’s set to debut on January 2, 2012, just in time for the Iowa caucuses. Her 7-9 am program will follow Early Start, which begins at 5 am.

CNN describes the former American Morning anchor’s show as a “conversational ensemble” show, with O’Brien at the focal point.

Read more at The Huffington Post…


Funding Your Startup Might be Easier than You Think

The issue of raising funds for a new business is a worry that’s notorious for giving entrepreneurs sleepless nights. Often, an entrepreneur will have terrific ideas, plans, and projects, but they lack the funds to go anywhere with their ideas. This can obviously be a real setback for many people and has the potential to stop some from even trying to start a business.

Below are a few sources of funds that, depending on your circumstances, you might be able to tap into. As with most things in business, each source has both advantages and disadvantages. They’ve all got their own procedures and processes as well. We won’t go into all the information you’ll need for each source, but this should, at the very least, get you thinking about the possibilities:

Funding That Could be Available to You

Family and Friends

Although it can be a very uncomfortable thing to do, turning to friends and family when seeking funds is the first option for many entrepreneurs. Your family and friends are the people who care about you the most and will be most likely to help you out. If you are known to be trustworthy, your friends and family are much more likely to lend or give you the money that you need.

Individual Private Investors

When raising the required funds to finance your new business, approaching a private investor is an option that you may want to consider. These are typically people with a high net worth and will often times use their wealth as a tool to encourage young entrepreneurs who live in their community. If you are aware of any private investors in your area, taking your business idea to them just might pay off big. One example of a wealthy person who uses his wealth to encourage young people in Seattle is Bill Gates. Imagine having someone like Mr. Gates backing up you and your!

Private Investment Companies

Also known as “venture capitalists,” private investors are another option to try when looking for business funding. These folks are much more selective where granting funds to entrepreneurs is concerned. Venture capitalists prefer to provide you with the money that you require to start your business in exchange for a portion of the business, rather than loaning the money for interest. In these cases, they enter the picture as partners. Never forget that private investors can be very tough, and will often require that they receive a controlling interest in your company. (A 35%-60% equity stake is fairly common.)

Commercial Banks

Not much explanation is needed when it comes to commercial banks. It’s pretty common knowledge that they are a major source of funding for entrepreneurs. Higher interest rates and sometimes collateral are part of these funding deals. The one thing you absolutely need to get bank funding is a formal, comprehensive business plan – and a lot of patience. The approval process can take months.

Government Grants

In the United States and around the world, city, regional (state), and federal governments typically budget some money to encourage development of small and medium scale companies. People who qualify for this type of money will be given grants. If you are a citizen of one of these areas and are able to fulfill the necessary requirements, you very well may qualify for a government grant. The obvious advantage of a grant is that it doesn’t have to be paid back. The down-side is that the application process can involve a lot of red tape. If you’re going for a grant to fund your startup, consider hiring a grant writing specialist.

Public Funding

Investment bankers supply this source of funding. If your company has grown in size and you are seeking funds in order to diversify or expand, selling shares to the public could be viable option for you. There is one major draw-back with this type of funding, however. Since your business will now become a publicly traded company, you are taking a risk of losing control of your company if something should go awry.

The bottom line is that lack of funds should never be an obstacle that stands between you and your dream of building a very successful company. By utilizing one or more of the options above, you have a good chance of getting your idea off the ground. And we didn’t even cover bootstrapping, which is a popular method of true entrepreneurs everywhere!  How did you fund your business?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Adam Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor. He Co-Founded along with his brother Matthew. Adam is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.

Confusion Doesn’t Look Good On You: Profile Your Way To Clarity

If confusion and overwhelm was an outfit, I would tell you to take it off, because it doesn’t look good on you. If it’s old, worn out and faded, then let it go.

confused laptop

What you wear should enhance what you have instead of playing up your weakness. In fashion, the goal is to wear what looks good on you. I’m saying clarity and balance looks good, so wear it well and wear it often. But how?

In “What Not to Do: The Most Important Decision You’ll Make,” John Mariotti says,  “Refocus your time, talent and money on the important things, the big things, that will make a difference.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but here are two things worth your time—profiling your profitable passions and your ideal customers.

The goal is to understand your passion and your customers.

Profile your profitable passions

What do you want to do and can it pay for your lifestyle?

Ivana Taylor shows you how to find your passion and turn it into a profitable business. But it takes effort. You not only need to discover what you are interested in, but you must also find the market who would buy the product or service and the language that would get their attention, using tools like Google, eBay and Amazon.

And after you find the right niche, then it’s time to put more effort into clearly identifying your clients.

Profile your ideal customers

Who do you serve, what do you they want, where are they now and how do you reach them?

The last three questions become much easier to answer when you figure out the first one.

Ivana says:

“When you narrow your message…to a group who values what you are selling, then the rest of your marketing system becomes obvious and easy to implement.”

I spent a lot of time confused and it didn’t look good (or feel good) on me either. To profile my target client I used 3 of the 8 creative ways to profile ideal customers that Ivana mentions—complaints, Web traffic and character descriptions.

Understanding what my clients complain about and the types of people visiting my site based on my profile made it easier to create a character sketch of my target audience. And when you understand what your target audience looks like, then you can figure out where they shop, what they read, where they go to have fun, etc. All that knowledge creates opportunities to meet, market and serve them.

Now that’s a good use of time. Get clear and then get busy.

Confusion Photo via Shutterstock

From Small Business Trends

Confusion Doesn’t Look Good On You: Profile Your Way To Clarity

WATCH: LL Cool J on his Continued Connection to Hip-Hop

(Image: Getty)

As one of the first artists signed to entrepreneur Russell Simons’ legendary hip-hop label Def Jam Records, James Todd Smith, better known to music fans as LL Cool J,  has had quite a career. From a baby-faced rapper with several platinum plaques and awards on his musical resume to an established actor, author and entrepreneur, the Queens, NY native has evolved as a performer and businessman. While he currently appears as a lead character on NCIS: Los Angeles, LL always remains close to his musical roots. In fact, while being honored as a musical icon at the BET Hip-Hop Awards LL shared his views with on the culture’s evolution and his continued connection to it.

LL Cool J is just one of the many iconic artists billed as a “Game Changer” in the new coffee table book, Hip Hop, A Cultural Odyssey. To purchase your copy of Hip Hop, A Cultural Odyssey click here and every 10 books sold will result in a copy being donated to a HBCU library.

Small Business Story of the Year: The Rise of Alternative Lending

Supporting small business was among the top economic stories of the year, and the rise in lending to those growing companies was the most important development in 2011.

pirate story

It’s a story we saw developing since the credit crunch tightened the spigots on funding for small businesses. When the big banks said no, small banks and non-bank lenders increasingly said yes. Over the course of 2011, big banks rejected loan applications about 90 percent of the time. Smaller banks approved nearly half of small business funding requests, while alternative lenders granted approvals more often than not.

Many people ask me, “Who are the alternative lenders?” They are comprised of credit unions, CDFIs, micro lenders and accounts receivable financers.

Credit Unions
A credit union is a cooperative, not-for-profit financial institution owned and controlled by its members. Credit unions are established and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift and providing credit at competitive rates and other financial services to their membership. They are locally focused and lend at reasonable rates, which accounts for their tremendous growth in small business lending in 2011.

Credit unions are becoming more aggressive in soliciting deposits and are seeking to double the 12.5 percent cap on small business lending set by the government. The National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) provides a list of its members online.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI)
Community Development Financial Institutions are financing entities that have a primary mission of community development. Established by the Reigle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1994, CDFIs are certified by the Treasury Department, which provides funds to them through a variety of programs. Biz2Credit has helped numerous small business owners in New York to get funding from the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC).

The organization helps provide term loans to small businesses that sometimes are unable to meet the requirements for traditional financing. In many cases the financing incorporates multiple participations, SBA guarantees, flexible amortization and long-term payouts.

NYBDC also manages the Empire State Certified Development Corporation (“The 504 Company”), which is licensed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide SBA 504 Loans that are designed to stimulate economic development and spur job creation for eligible New York State businesses.

Micro Lenders
Micro lenders provide small loans designed to spur entrepreneurship in economically disadvantaged areas. Often they are granted to women and minority entrepreneurs and to companies that have been established in economic empowerment zones. Often the startup businesses in these neighborhoods are created by individuals who lack collateral or a long credit history and therefore are unable to meet even the most minimal qualifications of traditional creditors.

ACCION USA is a microfinance organization that lends with the mission of empowering business owners with access to working capital and financial education. ACCION offers business loans up to $50,000 and financial education throughout the U.S. and specializes in working with small business owners who cannot borrow from the bank due to business type, a short length of time in business, or an insufficient credit history.

Accounts Receivable (AR) Lenders
Accounts Receivable (AR) financers — often known as “factors” — purchase a company’s accounts receivable, at a discount, to provide them with working capital when they need it. With factoring, financing is provided to the seller of the accounts in the form of a cash “advance,” often 70-85% of the purchase price of the accounts. The balance of the purchase price is paid upon collection, often as a percentage of credit card transactions. Interest rates generally are higher with factoring.

However, the lender is assuming a higher level of risk, which justifies the return. Many times, small business owners who have little or no credit history or who need a lot of money quickly turn to AR financers. In the past few months, my company has connected a number of entrepreneurs with lenders such as Cash Advance Network (CAN), the largest lender in this category.

In November, so-called alternative lenders approved 62 percent of small business funding requests in November, a rise from the 61.8 percent during October, according to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, an analysis of 1,000 loan applications.

Among alternative lenders, credit unions granted 57 percent of small business funding requests, up from 56.6 percent in October. Meanwhile, loan approvals by small banks were 47 percent in November and approvals by large banks reached 10 percent in November — for the first time since April.

Overall, I believe optimism is returning in the credit marketplace. We have seen a steady increase in loan applications, a good sign for the economy. We can all hope that this momentum in the fourth quarter of 2011 bodes well for the coming year.

Money Story Photo via Shutterstock

From Small Business Trends

Small Business Story of the Year: The Rise of Alternative Lending

5 Keys for Effectively Dealing with Criticism

Being an entrepreneur means making a lot of important decisions, and the decisions you make will often please some, and displease others.  Some people might even go to the extent of publicly criticizing you for some of your decisions.   And in some cases, your worst critics can even be those closest to you.  For some people, it can become difficult to continue to move forward in the face of harsh or unyielding criticism, but by remembering some of the points below, you’ll be able to overcome any critics and focus on what’s most important: building a successful business.

1. Know that you cannot satisfy everyone.

Having a strong belief in yourself and your abilities is easier when you realize that you will never be able to satisfy everybody.  Once you notice that there are some people who simply can’t be satisfied, you’ll begin to see these critics as the minority, and you’ll no longer take what they have to say to heart.

2. Recognize that misery loves company.

There are a lot of people out there who are going nowhere with their lives, and at times it feels as though they don’t want others to succeed, since they aren’t succeeding.  Once you understand that these types of people are going nowhere, it will be a lot easier for you to focus on your goals and be successful.  There are some people who will criticize your every move, but never let these types of people get in the way of your success.

When you notice these people criticizing you, don’t allow yourself to take their criticism to heart. In fact, distancing yourself from them as much as possible is a very good way to handle them. They’ll eventually tire of being ignored and move on.

3. Sometimes it’s best to do absolutely nothing.

Attempting to convince your critics, or reacting to them in any way, will only give them an ego boost, and will most likely result in even more criticism from them.  There is a great saying that goes something like, “The best answer for a fool is silence.”  By responding to the fool, he thinks he’s important, and will continue to spout negativity in your direction.  Ignoring the fool shows how unimportant he is to you, and he’s likely to move on.

4. Try observing the criticism.

Regardless of how difficult criticism may be to hear at times, there very well might be a little bit of truth in what they’re saying, so it’s important to observe their criticism in the proper way.  Pay attention to the numbers of people who disagree with you. If over 50% of your circle of influence disagrees with you, then you might consider that you are the one who’s wrong.  However, if the number of people who disagree is much smaller, like 10%, then you’ll know you’re on the right track.

5. Remember: Criticism = Progress

Criticism can be seen as a sign of progress.  If you’re not very well known, you aren’t likely to get criticized, aside from family and friends.  The fact that people are noticing you enough to criticize is proof that you are, in fact, progressing.  Always consider the source of the criticism as well. If the person dishing out the hate talk just happens to be in the same field or niche that you’re in, chances are that they’re simply jealous of your success and are doing whatever they can to try to hinder you.

You’ve got so much to achieve with your business. The last thing you need is to be slowed down by critics.  So keep the above points in mind, and don’t let anyone hold you down!

Matthew Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur, and Investor. He Co-Founded along with his brother Adam. Matthew is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.

How to Shake the Jitters Before a Job Interview

You’ve made it to the job interview! Congrats! But the moment it’s time to step into the prospective employer’s office can bring feelings of nervous jitters. Maybe your palms sweat, your mind goes blank and you even begin to visibly shake.

There are ways you can overcome those last-minute feelings of fear and anxiety. You can come in armed with confidence, knowing you can put your best foot forward and expect the best in return.

Madame Noire gives a few tips on how to do just that, so you can ace your interview and land the job of your dreams.

Read more at Madame Noire …