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Tip Sheet

Tip Sheet: March-April 2014

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Focus on birthday

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, probably didn’t send you a Christmas card last year. He concentrates his energies on birthdays. Why? Many businesses send Christmas cards to their clients, but few send birthday cards. And, says Ferrazzi, “Everybody cares about his or her birthday!” If you have a limited marketing budget, consider skipping holiday cards this December. Instead, try handwriting birthday cards to your favorite customers … and include a cash-off coupon. Or call them. Or leave them a voicemail. Your customers won’t forget it when you remember the one day of the year that’s truly theirs.

BEAT THE GRIM REAPER
If you’re in a smallish community and have an older client base, be sure to check the local obituaries once a week. This habit can help you avoid awkward moments and perhaps win you some sensitivity points. Have a staff member check local newspapers and online services (like Legacy.com) used in your community to see if any of your clients have made this bleakest of lists. If you do see a client’s name, be sure to remove that patient from scheduled appointments and recall lists. It’s the right thing to do. And don’t forget to send a condolence card.

SAY THE MAGIC WORDS
Finished dispensing a new pair of glasses? Of course, you want to make sure the client knows that you’re available and happy to help to fix any issues with their new eyewear. But you don’t want to get involved in an endless series of minor adjustments if you really don’t have to. Choose your words carefully. Don’t plant a negative seed by saying something like “If these don’t work, let us know and we can tweak them.” Instead try: “Be sure to let me know how much you love them!” or even a more neutral “If you need me for any reason, don’t hesitate to contact me.”

WORD-OF-MOUTH ABILITY TEST
No advertising force beats word of mouth. Want to identify good candidates to spread the word about your business? Joe John Duran, author of Start It, Sell It and Make A Mint tells of a businessman who tests customers by asking if they know a good restaurant he can take his wife to. They can’t think of one? OK, not a good person to ask for referrals. They give you a name? There’s some potential. They tell you a restaurant, tell you to use their name while making the reservation, and check back later to see how much you enjoyed it? This is clearly somebody who feels good about helping people. And a great candidate to spread the word about your business.

HIRE SLOWLY
You’re probably on the lookout for staff right now. As you search, keep in mind this simple reminder from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great: “When in doubt, keep looking.” (This is absolutely true of fulltime staff … for temporary staff, you can get away with bending a little.)

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WRITE AUNT BESSIE
Want to liven up your overly formal direct mail letters or email bulletins? Michael Corbett, author of The 33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising, says that you need to stop thinking about the thousands of anonymous customers who will be reading your message. That will inevitably make your prose stiff as a redwood tree. Instead, imagine you’re writing all of your messages to your cool Aunt Bessie. That should loosen you up enough to get the words flowing.

THE TRUEST TEST
If you think you’re being productive and making progress, author and management guru Tom Peters suggests you ask yourself a question: “What have I done this year?” Answering that question succinctly puts the focus on your big achievements — or lack thereof — over the past year.

TIME FOR OOPS!
Another good job interview idea from Selling Power magazine: have a little accident. Tip over a trashcan, or spill a cup of coffee on your desk. If the job candidate immediately leaps up to help … well, then they have cleared another hurdle in the interview process.

READY FOR RADIO
The keys to a successful radio commercial: Use your own voice and make your point quickly to grab short attention spans. “Wizard of Ads” Roy H. Williams also offers this advice: Talk faster, say more; use big ideas and present them tightly; introduce a new mental image every three to five seconds; use fewer adjectives; say things plainly, bluntly even; and emotion is good. Even negative emotion.

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Tip Sheet

What’s the Title of Your Autobiography? And More Tips for April

Plus who doesn’t like a party? Especially when the ‘gifts’ are positive reviews for you business.

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planning Be an Idea Machine

Write down 10 ideas a day. “Do it for six straight months and see what happens. It actually turns into a super power,” says serial entrepreneur and author James Altucher. To collect his ideas, Altucher buys 1,000 waiter’s pads at a time from restaurant supplies websites (10 cents a pad). “They’re great for meetings because I have to keep concise lists, and they’re always good conversation starters.”

marketingThrow a Party

What month was your company born? Throw a birthday party and ask your customers to bring “gifts” of testimonials that you can use in your marketing. Including such third-party recommendations on your website and in your ads is one of the best ways around to convince others that your store is, indeed, the best place to shop, says Entrepreneur magazine’s Idea Site For Business.

managementThe Power of Perspective

When somebody gets down over a minor setback, ask them something in the vein of, “So that’s what you’re going to title your autobiography? I Had a Slice of Pizza and Spent the Rest of My Life as a Fat Blob?” And while sarcasm can motivate, best if you follow up with, “Hell no, you get back on track the next day as if nothing happened.” Our thanks to the Reddit diet community.

operationsDon’t Make It Weirder

Sign seen on the door of a store in Vulcan, Alberta: “No soliciting. Seriously, don’t make it weirder.”  Hat tip to Sarini Fine Jewellery for telling it in a tone that would warm the heart of Dr. Spock.

managementWhat Can I Do for You?

Once a month, make it a practice to individually ask each of your employees “What one thing can I do better for you?” After listening to and acknowledging the employee’s ideas, then tell them the one thing that they can do better for you that month. This helps build better communication, and keep both of you focused on continuous improvement, says Bob Nelson in 1001 Ways to Energize Employees.

salesNumbers Game

If quickly working out percentages, such as a 4% discount on a $75 item, trips you up, keep this hack in mind: It’s often easier to flip the sum, i.e. 75% of 4 (for which the answer is — and even we got this — 3!) 18% of 50, 14% of $300 (50% of $18, 300% of $14) … it’s a doddle, right?

communityShare the Ride

April brings us Earth Day (April 22), and if you’d like to do your bit to encourage a more sustainable way of living, take your cue from McCulley Optix Gallery in Fargo, ND, which gives credits to people who show a receipt for ride-share expenses to get to their office.

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Ask INVISION

How to Attract Top Salespeople and More Questions for April

Also, how to structure their compensation to remain competitive.

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We have a very young-looking salesperson who worries people don’t take her seriously. We’ve styled her in planos but what more can we do to make her look more professional?

“Professionalism is really about projecting confidence,” says Anne Sowden, managing director of image consultancy Here’s Looking at You. “And confidence is reflected in clothing and body language. As a general guideline, dark colors — black, navy and charcoal — convey authority.

A jacket automatically makes someone appear more professional. Pair it with a light-colored blouse (conservative neckline), knee-length skirt and she’ll look professional but approachable. And ensure the clothing fits properly, is not wrinkled and she will feel comfortable in it.

“If you’re comfortable, you’ll automatically be more confident,” Sowden notes.

When it comes to greeting customers, remind her of Mom’s dictum: Stand up straight and don’t slouch. “This will indicate that confidence and approachability. Add to that eye contact and most importantly, a smile and she’ll make a dynamite first impression,” Sowden says.

I have an employee at my high-end eyewear store who makes $16 an hour and commission based on gross profit. She earns close to $60,000 a year but feels underpaid and that paying commission on gross profit is contrary to the industry standard. How can I convince her she has it pretty good?

She does indeed have it pretty good, says industry consultant Andrea Hill, owner of Hill Management Group, noting that her hourly rate is almost 50 percent higher than the average for retail sales people of $11.50 and even more than the average of $15 paid by very high-end luxury retailers.

As for the commission, Hill says you are very much on the right track and your employee will probably have to get used to it wherever she decides to work; “wise” businesses are increasingly moving away from a commission based on the retail price to a portion of the gross margin. “In this way, sales professionals are challenged to balance the need to get the highest price possible with the need to close the sale,” Hill says.

“When commissions are paid out on total sales only, then it becomes very easy for the salesperson to sacrifice profits for the easy close,” she says.

While exposure to such numbers should mollify your associate, what you really want to do is excite her about the potential of earning as much as $100,000 a year — which is what top luxury salespeople make — although that requires building a “strong book” of customers through active networking, clienteling and prospecting work.

Keep in mind, however, that even the most generous commission rate won’t help if you’re not on top of your game, meaning advertising intelligently, keeping up with changing retail trends, providing the right technology for how consumers today want to shop, and maintaining an exciting inventory that reflects current tastes, says Hill.

“If the retail business owner does not ensure that they are running a strong merchandising and marketing operation, then even the best sales person in the world will not be able to turn the promise of commission into actual earnings.”

I still can’t get my head around kelvins and color temperatures. Can you help?

It probably helps to think of the original theoretical model that underlies the index — that of a black metal radiator, whose color changes as it is heated, from black to orange to red to blue to white hot.

Similar to Celsius and Fahrenheit, the Kelvin scale marks different degrees of thermodynamic temperature, but it is the association with color change that makes it useful as a way to designate light bulbs.

Where it gets confusing is how at the lower end of the scale, from 2000K to 3000K, the light produced is called “warm white” and ranges from orange to yellow-white in appearance. Meanwhile, color temperatures further up the scale, between 3100K and 4500K, are referred to as “cool white” but the bulbs are emitting a brighter, hotter light.

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Ask INVISION

What the Law Says About Retailers Who Say They’re Selling at ‘Wholesale’ Prices and More Questions for March

Unless it’s true, it might be a criminal offense in your state.

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How can I improve the open rates on my email marketing bulletins?

A few years ago, MailChimp.com did a survey of some 40 million promotional emails and found that those with the highest open rates (from 67 to an amazing 80 percent) were the ones that were — surprise, surprise — the least promotional. Typically, they had subject lines that told the recipient what was inside (they didn’t confuse e-bulletins with promotions or vice versa), they used the company’s name in the subject line, and had straightforward subject lines — they weren’t too “salesy” or pushy (this also helps you avoid spam trigger words). Most email providers will allow you to write subject lines of up to 60 characters but you should try to keep it short and to the point, between 30 and 40 characters and no more than five to eight words.

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Constant Contact, another service provider, recommends you state a clear benefit to opening the email. Email messages that have an “exclusive” offer in the subject line, such as “Private event” or “For select customers only,” can generate an additional 24 percent open rate, according to its studies. Of course, you don’t want to be too dry. Your content should be as friendly as possible. Open with the recipient’s name, use a tone that reflects your personality and end with your signature line. Most important, give them something they want. If they’ve opted in and you are responding to their interests, you too might be able to get super-high open rates.

One of the questions I always get, and hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to defuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look at the customer directly, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal possible, they’ll probably trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, why should a customer or patient trust you to take care of their vision?

My store seems like a reality TV show: unnecessary drama. Addressing it only seems to add fuel to the fire. Is there a way to bring it under control?

You’re not alone. After profitability concerns, this is the No. 1 headache of business owners, says business coach Lauren Owen. Drama and discord create stress and hurt productivity. There is no quick fix but there are a number of things you can do, starting with regular meetings. “Scheduled, well-run meetings are essential to clear communication and team building and addressing potential conflicts,” says Owen, adding that such meetings are conspicuously absent at stores with drama issues.

Other steps include confronting your drama queens, addressing your underperformers (there is often a hidden cost in the resentment they cause), performing a cost-benefit analysis on your high performance/maintenance employees (sometimes they just suck all the energy out of a store), and finally taking a good look at yourself. “Some people actually like drama, despite what they say,” Owen says. “If you were really honest with yourself you might understand that the drama is satisfying some need of yours. Attention? Power? Control? Do you avoid all conflict, even healthy conflict, at all costs?” And are you giving your staff a clear sense of purpose — that eyewear is about something much bigger than business?

My practice has never grown the way I had hoped … or hired for. To keep going, I feel we need to downsize. How can I do it without destroying staff morale?

Layoffs are tough. You can’t have high productivity without good morale, and you can’t have good morale unless people have confidence that the company has a future and that the business is going to treat them fairly if things get worse. Employees need to know that you respect and value their contributions and don’t just view them as a resource.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to order layoffs. In that case, remember three rules.

1. Do them all at once. Dragging things out will destroy morale.
2. It’s better to cut too much than to cut too little.
3. Make sure all remaining employees understand that what you’re doing is saving their jobs.

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