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How to Broach Collaborating with Another Local Business and More of Your Questions for May

Also what to look for when contemplating a mall lease … or any lease really.

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I’d like to experiment with cable TV ads but there’s no way I can put myself in front of a camera. Where can I find local talent that won’t cost an arm and a leg?

First, we’d say reconsider your “No way” position. Local ads are so much more powerful with the owner’s face out there. (And if cable TV is too big a step, try a video for your website.) If, however, we can’t convince you, call your local volunteer or professional theater company. They should have some suggestions on the local talent pool. You could also try a nearby college or university’s drama department. Or call the TV station that will air the spots. They can often help not only with talent, but with scripting and all other elements of production. Finally, look in the mirror one more time. Cock your face to the side, try a line like “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and see what you think. Come on, you can do it!

I’d like to propose a collaborative marketing activity with another small business. How do I go about it?

Begin by introducing yourself and your business in an email and explain what you have in common and how you believe you could complement each other. Then, articulate your vision for the collab. What is the purpose? Who is the target audience? What kind of event did you have in mind? And, perhaps most importantly, how will you each benefit? There’s no need to be too specific in your initial contact — you are selling a vision of mutual success. When you get into the details, it’s wise to have everything written down. The goal should be an arrangement that allows each party to play to its strengths, to work with business leaders, to partner with those that share your values, and finally to be open to thinking outside the box. The best collabs bring something surprising to the marketplace.

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Our community has changed over the last two decades with a lot more Latino families moving in. How should I market to this demographic?

It’s a smart move to ensure your marketing doesn’t exclude the largest ethnic group in the U.S. Phil Nulman of the Nulman Group, a PR agency, says start by advertising in Latino publications, radio stations and via direct mail (you can purchase Latino household e-mail lists). “Speak to them, invite them into the store, welcome them or they’ll go 40 miles out of their way to get products from their own cultural orientation.” If you have a Spanish speaker on staff, make it known.

I’m set to sign a lease on a new mall store. What should I look out for?

Those noisy herds that wander through malls are a sweet sight to any would-be retailer, but the foot traffic comes with a price tag — incidental costs that significantly inflate your overall rent. Scrutinize the lease for so-called “pass-throughs” — charges on top of the basic rent for things like common-area maintenance. Make sure you’re paying a share that’s proportionate to your unit’s actual square footage. Look carefully too at who pays for utilities, taxes and insurance. If the contract includes a provision for annual rent increases, see if you can get the landlord to agree to a cap. Further, if you’re not fully confident in the outlook for your venture, bargain for a short initial lease with an option to renew. This will cost more at the beginning but it’s better than being strapped to a slowly sinking shop. Alternatively, you can ask for the right to sublease your space. That way, if you do need to cut and run, you’ll be able to have another tenant take your space and pay the rent, without having to break the lease.

My question regards the “other” 80/20 rule — that 80% of your headaches come from 20% of your customers. How do you get rid of these customers without creating an enemy who will bad mouth your business?

Some customer types are easier to deal with than others. For those who want you to do something illegal — such as help them commit insurance fraud — the answer is always a simple “no.” If it’s a client who repeatedly changes her mind or imposes unrealistic demands, raise your prices until the money compensates for the grief or she goes away. More common is the demanding type who believes the customer is always right and then is never happy — but keeps coming back regardless. These people need to be “fired.” They damage employee morale and waste resources. For such clients, be calm but firm. Small business consultant Kate Peterson suggests you think of a specific customer objective that you can’t meet and then explain that they’d be better off shopping elsewhere. Make your presentation sincerely and be prepared to take responsibility for the problem. Peterson suggests something like this: “Mr. Pain, I can’t tell you how sorry I am, but it’s become clear we are simply not able to get the job done. We’re never happy about losing a valuable customer, but I have to accept the fact that you would be far better served by someone better equipped to meet your standards. We’ve appreciated your patronage and you’ll be missed — but it’s time for me to put your needs first and recommend that you explore other options.” Then stand up, shake hands and end the conversation.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at [email protected].

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