Category Archives: Customer Service

Owning A Business – Part Four

When you have clarity on your products and/or services and know your target audience, take the time to go back to the reason you wanted to own your business. This is the foundation of the value proposition you, your company, and its products and/or services offer to consumers.

What is your value proposition?

Clients want to know what makes you different.

Your value proposition identifies what makes your business different.

One of the most common questions business owners are being asked today: What makes you different?

What the consumer is asking, in essence, is why should I buy from you?


Let’s look at the example of what a value proposition might look like for owning a storage facility as your business venture. In most communities, there is usually more than one storage facility because we humans have accumulated stuff we don’t have room for in our homes.

So what are distinguishing features of your facility that appeal to potential customers?

Do you offer 24-hour access? Is it lighted outside and in each unit? Is it paved or gravel? Are there concrete floors? Are units insulated? What do you charge per month? Do  you offer discounts for longer rental periods? Are pallets available to raise items off the floor?

Once you have answers to questions your prospective clients are likely to ask, compare your facility to the competition and you should wind up with a fairly solid value proposition that differentiates you from those competitors. Maybe it’s location and convenience or ease of access for trucks and trailers.

When a prospective customer asks what makes you different, you need to give them a succinct value proposition. In the case of storage units, it might be that you offer clean, safe, and economical protection for their assets.

Take the time to think it through, and when you have your proposition, see how it resonates with customers. Modify it if you must. We’re here to help if you need assistance.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Owning A Business – Part Three

You’ve had some time to evaluate your products or services from the perspective of your customers, so now you have a much better perspective on what owning your business means to them. This third part of business ownership involves consumer demographics: How well you know who your customers are, why they buy from you, and what may or may not bring them back to your business.

Owning a business involves knowing your clients

How well do you know your prospects and customers?

You would be amazed at how many business owners, when asked who needs their product or services, answer “everyone” can use what we offer. Banish that thought!

Sure, everyone needs to drink water, but why should they drink the water you produce when there are several brands on the shelves and some that comes out of the tap in their home? They ask, before they purchase: What makes you different?

The secret lies in knowing your customer demographics as well as you possibly can. Are they women or men? What ethnicity? Young, older, or more mature? Where do they live, primarily? Where do they work? What are their hobbies or interests? Are they active in the community as volunteers? What hits their hot button? If they’re a couple, who’s most likely to make the buying decision?

This laundry list about your customers can be rather extensive, but as you’ll see, it’s important to know so you have perspective on how to reach them. If they purchase clothes at outlet retailers, they may be more likely to listen to country radio than if they shop at higher end retailers.

How do they get around? Do they take public transportation, walk, or drive a vehicle? Signs in train stations or billboards along the highway may be avenues to reach them.

Do they listen to the radio, and when? What genre, and how many different options are there? Sponsorship and advertisements become possibilities, and the same holds true if they watch television programs. Keep in mind that certain generations use a digital video recorder (DVR) and fast forward through commercials. Viewing preferences are constantly changing, which merits considering professionals to assist in identifying prospective customers and appropriate channels to reach them with your message.

Engaging a professional marketing firm can save you money and help you wade through the swamps of advertising possibilities. The focus needs to be on getting returns from your investment.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand 

Owning A Business – Part Two

Once you’ve taken the time to think about why you want to own a business, and considered corporate structure, legal, and accounting issues, it’s time to think about your products or services as they relate to your customers. That should come sooner, but as you will find out, the knowledge about your customers is vital to profitable business ownership.

First, consider this: What are you selling?

Business ownership means knowing what you sell.

Does the customer buy what you’re selling?

It’s not as simple as selling your landscaping service or furniture. That may be what you intend to market to consumers, but where business owners come up short is in believing that’s what the customers will buy. Far from it.

Let’s get specific. Owning a landscaping business can range from mowing lawns and plowing snow to designing landscapes for new homes or commercial properties and everything in between. The skills and expertise of you and your crews are essential to the brand your company portrays to the public and convey a certain value to the proposition.

So flip the coin to the customer’s point-of-view: What they’re buying is, in one case, more time they don’t want to spend mowing their own lawn, raking leaves, or shoveling snow. The other extreme is having landscape design (and implementation) that matches their lifestyle, whether it’s where they can entertain friends or showcase their home in the neighborhood … or whatever other reason.

Owning your furniture business involves products more than services, although design and delivery are aspects that involve customer expectations. So, do you sell couches, love seats, beds, mattresses, chairs, dressers, and shelves? Yes. Is that what your customers come in to purchase? Yes, but …

Are they purchasing functional pieces with certain styles that fit their decor or color schemes? Or do they insist on mid-century modern? In either case, it’s more about the lifestyle they want to have. Price certainly comes into play, but your success and profitability as a business owner lies in being able to learn and know what appeals to your customers.

As you can begin to see, there is considerable thought that needs to go into business ownership, and we’re just getting started. In part three, we’ll spend some time on how to identify your customers.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand


Owning A Business – Part One

Owning a business is relatively easy. Operating a successful, profitable enterprise is an entirely different and more complicated matter.

The easy version is to figure out if you want a sole proprietorship, LLC, S, C, or other corporate designation and get a EIN, then open a bank account. You are now a business owner!

Hanging a shingle does not mean customers can find you.

Hanging a shingle does not mean customers can find you.

That may be what you think, but let’s look at what you don’t know. Most business owners don’t know what they don’t know about owning a business, so let’s scratch the surface with these few things from a long laundry list, in no specific order. Come back for more in part 2.

  • The first question you need to ask is why? Why do you want to own a business? Did you get fired? Believe you can do it better than your employer? Are you setting it up for your children to take over some day, and if that’s your reason, will want it? Do you want to be free from having someone else tell you what to do; and do you understand that consumers will always be your boss? Is this your retirement plan, and will it even make money? Or are you doing this because you believe you have a great product or service to offer people?
  • When you look at a corporate structure, consider if anyone else will be involved in the business. Are there going to be partners? Will they be equals or subordinates? Investors? Family members, including a spouse? How do you want to handle taxes? These are questions you will be asked by the professional who helps you set up the corporate structure, and you are wise to engage a business attorney to assist you with establishing bylaws, if necessary, as well as operating agreements and other legal documentation to protect your assets. Check to see if they are qualified to assist with patents, copyrights, trademarks, and any other intellectual property rights you may want to protect.
  • Do you know what EIN stands for? It’s the Employer Identification Number you need for tax purposes, both for filing your corporate returns and for your customers to report their financial relationship with your business. Engaging a Certified Public Accountant or Enrolled IRS Agent (EA) to assist with your corporate tax obligations, including quarterly payroll, is another wise decision. Your accountant can help make sure your chart of accounts is set up correctly, that you’re operating on either cash or accrual basis, and that your financial reports (cash flow, profit & loss, balance sheet, etc.) are accurate. They know the questions to ask, which is why we strongly encourage engaging professionals to help you.

We haven’t even scratched the surface or discussed branding and marketing and customer relations and location and many other aspects of operating a business, so check back for part two next week.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Missionary Zeal

If you lack passion for your business, it’s time to give some thought to why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Missionary zeal is essential for business owners to ingrain into their company or organization.  It becomes the defining element of their corporate culture, the reason for your existence.

150px-USS_Benfold_DDG-65_CrestThere is an excellent book on leadership by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff called It’s Your Ship and sub-titled Leadership Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.  Abrashoff created the best ship in the United States Navy by realizing that the destroyer he commanded, the USS Benfold, was more than “his” vessel.  It belonged to every sailor on board and the standard military protocol of command and control was less than ideal as a management technique.

The captain found that the more every member of the crew knew they had ownership of their ship and that he cared about them and their role on it, the higher the level of performance could be expected from everyone.  His vision was to reinforce that the ship’s mission was combat readiness.  Pure and simple.  That vision was communicated with the expectation that every sailor on board was important to achieving that mission.  It was, without a doubt, their ship!  The fact the USS Benfold became the best damn ship in the Navy proved his approach.

Does that same missionary zeal apply to your organization?

Do your “sailors” feel as though they can help accomplish the mission?  Do they even know what the mission is?  Do they care?  If they don’t, the reason may be that they don’t believe you care about them or what they do.  Do you listen to their suggestions?  Do you implement those recommendations, or sweep them under the rug?

More importantly, do your sailors understand the corporate mission?  Do you, as the business owner or CEO, convey your vision for the company’s success?  If you are unsure or unclear, it may be time to seek professional counsel and re-visit your corporate culture.  It’s okay to embrace change if it is warranted.  Insanity has been defined as continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.

Your mission needs to clearly define your reason for existence, cutting through all the verbosity.  Are you in business to provide a service or a product to consumers?  Or to make money?  It should be both, but if you answered “Yes” to only making money, you need an independent third party to help you figure out how to do it.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand



Communication: Critical

Communication is critical to business success.

When you look at business plan formulas and study different models, there are two key ingredients woven through every one of them,   One is the reason for existence, or the corporate mission and vision.  Without a mission, success is hard to define and largely a matter of luck.

The second essential that is critical to whatever plan is put together is communication!Communication Diagram

Communication is the thread that is woven into and through the success of any organization.  If it is weak at any level, the message can be lost and the consequences will be seen on the bottom line.  If lines of communication are strong throughout the company, substantial profits can be gained.

Communication starts with the corporate mission.  It should be clear why the company is in business.  This falls on the owner to know the reason for the company’s existence and to communicate that vision throughout the entire organization and to the consuming public.  If the ownership has a hard time defining that vision, imagine the impact that has on everyone else involved with the company.

A consistent message must be communicated within and throughout the company, from management to employees and back as part of the culture.  All levels of the organization must sing the same song.  Managers must be open to suggestions from staff, especially those on the front lines of production or customer service.  Staff, especially those involved in sales, have a direct line of communication with customers, so their voices must be heard.  What they can communicate to the organization as feedback from consumers can mean the difference between long-term profitability and going out of business fire sales.

Everyone is part of the same ship and can make the difference between sinking or sailing.  The owner’s vision also defines his or her leadership style.

The company must communicate clearly with its customers and potential consumers.  If the customer is getting conflicting messages, often generated by word-of-mouth from other consumers, the likelihood of continued sales goes down dramatically.  Consistency is important in the message delivered to the public, but so is the value of consumer perception, whether it matches the company line or diverges.  Despite what business owners may think, people do talk about companies and ask what makes them different.

The key is to facilitate open and honest communication throughout the organization.

Customer Service: Tasks or Customers?

The clerk behind the grocery store service counter was running ragged.  There were five customers backed up waiting to take care of business, from purchasing lottery tickets to returning merchandise and from asking about a coupon to getting a price adjustment.

When it was our turn, we made a comment about how busy it appeared to be.  The clerk replied that it had been hectic all day and that the work they’d been assigned “in the back” was not getting done.  At that point, we began the conversation about staffing the “customer service” counter.

We suggested that the reason they were there in the first place was to take care of customers, not whatever the manager assigned as chores or tasks.  There was agreement before a “but” that prompted our response to let the manager know, in no uncertain terms, that the assigned work was not getting done because they were taking care of customers.

If you are a manager or business owner, it is imperative that your employees understand their first priority:  Take care of the customers!  Reports, stocking shelves, team meetings or whatever else is on your agenda of priorities should always take a back seat to taking care of the people who want to move your merchandise and give you money.  Anything less, in our opinion, is poor management.

Consider this example;  You’re shopping in a store and hear the announcement over the  public address system that all “associates” should assemble in the men’s wear section for a team meeting in five minutes.  What’s your perception?

One could be that you have five minutes to get any help before there is no one available to take care of whatever you might need in terms of service.

Two could be that someone is going to get chewed out and made an example of in front of all the other people on shift.

Three could be the manager has a self-inflated ego about what’s important to the company.

A criminal mind might use that meeting to attempt something illegal.

While we realize it is difficult to hold team meetings when a business operates 24 hours a day, they can be conducted prior to a shift change by paying a few minutes of extra time for staff to show up early.  Consider how the workers feel when they have to stop what they’re doing and ignore customers to attend a group get together that may or may not have significance to their performance.

It is far easier to build employee morale through individual attention.  Corrective action is best achieved one-on-one and while praise for exceptional performance is appreciated in a group environment, it is also a boost when provided face-to-face.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand