Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Business 101: Coloring Inside the Lines of Business

This one is short and sweet.  In fact, so short...I'm going to send you directly to a link that will show you some FASCINATING information on the effects of colors on consumer behavior.  I couldn't do it justice with my yackety-yack.

Perfect for when you are designing your covers!




Business 101: TIDAL WAVE!!...or Getting Ready for a Customer Surge

Big sale events, the beginning of a buying season, and the holidays can almost guarantee the potential to see some major traffic going through your store.

And that is when your store needs to be looking its best!

Whether you are a brick and mortar store or an online store, nothing can turn a customer off faster than drab products, an unwelcoming atmosphere, and a feeling that a business owner hasn't even done anything differently in months.  Imagine walking into a store on Black Friday and seeing Halloween decorations, hearing elevator music, and rummaging through racks of summer clothes. 

Customers want to be "dazzled" when they come with money to spend. They want to be welcomed and entertained and charmed. They want the " buyer's high" that comes from clicking the download button and getting something they can show others.  And if your store doesn't offer a chance at that feeling...they will find one that does.

So what can you do?  A lot!  Here are some ideas to get your store ready:

1) Put out a current welcome sign for the event.  Either use that great space where you put your quote...or/and write it on top of each product description.  This lets the online shopper know that there is a live human being who is up on the events happening on the site. Keep in mind any advertising information  or rules that have been given by the site's administrators.

2) Spruce up your products. Think of each product as a RACK of the same product. You want multitudes of them bought.  Need a better cover? Make it.  Need a better description? Write it.  Need something more or different in the product? Do it.  Put your most eyecatching items up in the featured section. You have the potential to earn a lot of REPEAT business.....get them coming back with showing them that ALL of your products are quality made and are up-to-date.

3)Do you have a new product? Get it on! But make sure it's up to your standards before you put it on.  Large events are great for introducing new items.

4)Answer questions as quickly as you can.  Remember, this is the age of quick, quick, quick.  Some customers think all online business owners are glued to their computers...which even with "work at home" owners isn't the case.  You don't have to answer within minutes...but you need to get back to them that day.  I realize teaching can prohibit getting onto the site during the day...so just do it as soon as you can!

5) Direct your customers to other great items you offer by adding suggestions of similar products in your description. The goal is to get them to stay in your store. If you can get them to stay in your store and click around on several products, you have more of a chance of them buying from you.  As simple as it sounds, the time and action of clicking is an "investment" to customers.  More investment=More sales. 

5.5) And related to above, UTILIZE the custom categories option in your store. Make it easy on your customers to find items they are looking for without spending a ton of time searching.  You know the sound you make and the frustration you feel when you are in a new grocery store and you can't find the salad dressing aisle. It's the same online.

6) Pin, link, promote the week before as much as you can.  Get those "wishlist" statistics up so that when events start, customers have a starting place....YOUR store!

7) HOSTS of Collaborative boards should make a pin announcing the big event (adhering to site rules and suggestions).  This will alert followers and get them looking through the board again.  This should really be done by the HOST of the board as too many "big event" pins can be a turn off...and redundant.  The pin should link to the main site...but even better....link it to a general category that fits with your board. (Example: A math board would link to the math category). This will help increase the chance that most of the pins on your board will be seen with that particular pin.  At the end of the event...remove pin....quickly.

8) If you have a blog....get the word out.  Tell teachers at school.  Tell people who homeschool. Tell parents. The more people that come into the "site mall"...the more business everyone gets.

9) And remember..each customer has at least a "mental budget" they are working with during selling events.  The "business game" is to see how much of that budget will end up in your store....and your pocket.

10)And if you are a "datahead"...record the data on your statistics before and after the event.  This will provide good info for you later on. 

Hope these help when it's time to get out those virtual brooms and dustpans, ladders, and any little animated forest animal that will help you to get your store in tip-top shape! 

Keep on...Keepin' on!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Business 101: Markets, and Words, and Spiders...OH MY!


These are words that will never make anyone's list to describe me.


Now we're in the ballfield.

And not only do these words describe me, they tend to descibe the "band of merry men" I hang out with comfortably.  These are the type of people that I have attracted to me in my life..like a moth to my computer screen.....for better or worse.

Businesses are the same way. They attract people by their identity. Their characteristics. The words that describe them.

You don't have to be a business guru to know what type of customers shop primarily at La Diamond Jewelry and what type shop at Carla's House of Bracelets. Or what type of customers eat at Wings and Sports and what type eat at Farmhouse Fran's.  In fact...you could probably describe them with one word. (And I'll let you do that fun mental exercise on your own).

So what does this have to do with you and your business? Everything.

If your business doesn't have an "identity" or a word that could describe it...chances are you don't have a target market.  And if you don't have a target market, then a lot of your efforts marketing may not be hitting the right places....or the right people. And that is money and time lost.

So...right now....think of ONE word...just one....that describes your business. (I'm going to run and grab a drink...take your time.)

Okay...do you have one? Fantastic!Just hang with us until we get to the part that might interest you. 

Don't have one yet?....well, let's get you one!

In an effort to be totally "transparent"...I can tell you  the word that would describe my store  up until this point.

Scattered. (NOT a good word to have as an identity)

I have to "stick my toe in the water", until I know I want to commit fully to a business venture. Otherwise, I'll end up with another room full of fabric, thread, pillow stuffing, and a lot of cool ideas....but not a single desire to do anything with it past that point.

But continuing not to have an "identity" is not a good long term business practice ....unless I want to continue to market to about a 100 different types of customers. Which, if I wanted to do a lot of work for little payoff and no one even noticing, I would probably just scrub my baseboards.

But happily, I finally figured out my  new "word" today. And now I have a good, solid launching point AND ..... I get to make a super, cool spider graph.

My suggestion, if you don't have a "word" that can describe your store is to either think of a subject, grade, or product item...OR a characteristic  that you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like....because once you decide on your identity word...it's going to be strapped like Yoda to your back...screaming at you to do all kinds of things to make your store better every. single. day.

Can you think of a word now?  Okay...no pressure.  But here's where our friends with their "word" can join us. Feel free to come to the carpet when you have your word.

Now that you have your word...you are ready to expand and find your target market.  This will help you not only market your items, but it will help you decide what KIND of items to put in your store.

You need to decide what kind of customers you want to attract.  Your "band of merry men" so to speak. And because you will be inviting these people into your store...you want to invite the kind of people you want to do business with for the long term. And don't just say "people with money"...because my Uncle Leroy has money...and trust me...you don't want him anywhere near your store.

This is where you get to  make a spider graph...or just a list if you're afraid of spiders.  And a spider graph is a circle in the middle with lines coming out of it...in case I wasn't paying attention that day in second grade and just named it that.

So grab a writing utensil, paper, draw your graph, and write your word inside the circle.

Now answer the following questions on the "legs". This is where you get to create your "dream customer base".  Answer the questions as if you had all the power in the world to bring who YOU wanted into the store. And they don't have to be one word...but brief descriptions. And the more specific...the better "target" market you'll have.

What grade(s) do your customers teach?
What subject(s) do your customers teach?
What kind of personality do your customers have?
What style of teaching do your customers have?
What type of income do your customers have?
What kind of school do your customers teach in?
What age range are your customers?
What are the values of your customers?
What is the gender(s) of your customers?
What kinds of things do your customers buy (besides teaching materials) when they have money?
Where would you most likely see your customers out in public?
Where do your customers live?

So that's a start. Now look at your answers.  Then look at your products and look at your marketing. 

Are they targeting the people you want as customers?  If they are not...it's time to make your store, products, and marketing plan more cohesive. Almost a theme ...if you will.  So that when someone visits your store and looks around, they will remember..."Oh yeah...I've got to tell Angel Snodgrass about this store...she'd love it!" or "YES! Finally...a lot of stuff I've been looking for...this is awesome!"

People are more likely to REVISIT a store if there are several things they like....rather than just one single product.  Especially if the store appears to have been made "just for them".  AND it's much easier to develop products if you know who you are developing them for in the future.

Remember....once your customer base gets it's momentum....20% of them will account for 80% of your sales. So give them what THEY want.

So does this mean you have to chuck the products you've made because they might not be cohesive? Of course not.  Consider any that don't fit into your "identity" to be like that candy shelf that's found in just about every kind of store/restaurant/gas station. Just one more thing to possibly purchase on the way out....

And I know you know of a store with an identity that attracts you. You shop there all the time. The one that you go into looking for one item....

...and end up owning stock in the place.

Keep on...keepin' on! And for more info, I've included a couple article links about the topic below. Enjoy!

http://www.inc.com/guides/201104/how-to … arket.html

http://www.hostdime.com/blog/2011/08/7- … -identity/


Business 101: WHY lowering your prices should be your last resort...


I've read thoroughly over almost all the threads about pricing.  I've read the guidelines. I've read Paul's insight. I've read and read and now....

I'm dreaming about pricing when I go to sleep....which is making Ryan Gosling find other dreams to inhabit...which makes me sad.

So in an effort to get Mr. Gosling back where he belongs....here are some small business reasons why lowering your prices  in an effort to make money should not be on the top your list. Or even the middle.

And I've included a number of VERY interesting articles to read below from various websites who focus on business...lest you think I'm blowing smoke.

Reason #1: On this site, thankfully, price is not your ONLY competitive advantage.

Reason #2: If you only market to customers that are looking for really low prices, then that will be your customer base. When the point comes that you have to raise your prices, and it will indeed come from charging low prices over time, you will most likely lose a good portion of your customer base....which means you will have to start marketing all over again for another customer base.  (Remember.... At some point, 80% of your sales will eventually come from 20% of your customers)

Reason #3: Lower prices bring on the common human perception of lower value.  We all know that a lot of generic food items are made by the SAME companies that make the higher price items.  But it's sometimes difficult to bring our hand to grab it and put it in the cart because...."What if?".  I personally don't think that it devalues an entire market of similar items...anymore than Brand X Peanut Butter devalues JIF or Nutella.....but it can indeed decrease the value of YOUR item from the CONSUMER'S perception.  Sorry...that's human brain wiring.  Good luck trying to undo that.

Reason #4: Lower your prices....and you will have to REALLY INCREASE your marketing efforts to attain the same profit you had when you had higher prices.  Time=Money. Time spent having to constantly market because of lost profit means time spent away from creating new materials.....which customers will be looking for if you wish to remain competitive.

Reason #5: You may not realize that your customer's actually LOVE your products and are willing to pay the higher price.....just not this instant.  Again, there is a laundry list of reasons why people buy...and don't buy.  A lot of us have been in this scenario. You decide to have a garage sale. You spend all week cleaning, pricing, setting up,...the works. The day comes and you have set out....let's say...a really nice bedroom set.  You paid $1500.00 for it...and now you are selling the whole thing for $300.00. A great deal. Fair price. You are making a good chunk of money for something you don't need. But as the day wears on...lots of lookers....lots of compliments....lots of interest. But no sale. Finally one guy asks...."Will you take $100.00?". You hate to do it. You sweated getting it out. It's in awesome condition. It's a great deal at $300.00.  But you think if you don't take this offer...and it's getting to the end of the day...you won't make any money. Desperation sets in. And so does your migraine. And dagnabit.. little Junie needs to go to band camp. So you take the offer. And help crush the set into his station wagon.

And then what happens?

You guessed it.  This young (and strong) couple shows up with $300.00 and a pickup truck ten minutes later to buy the set because they had thought about it and now were acting on it....as the guy pulls away smiling at his good fortune.

Moral: Patience is a must in the business world. Especially before you lower your prices.

And having an occasional sale is a great tool. Occasional.  It's not a long term commitment. It's good reward for existing customers and a great marketing tool for new ones. 

There are many other things you can do.  I have taken the liberty to find these GREAT articles that discuss all the other things you can do besides lower your price. Some will probably even shock you.  Enjoy!

Rebecca smile

Increase Sales without Lowering Prices

How to Increase Sales without Focusing on Price
http://www.bizreport.com/2010/11/how-to … price.html

How to Raise and Lower Prices

Gaining a Competitive Advantage without Lowering your Prices
http://www.webstarcorp.com/the-webstar- … our-prices

Lowering Prices will not Increase Profits
http://www.marketplace.org/topics/busin … se-profits

What to do when your Competitor Lowers Their Prices
http://www.marketingdonut.co.uk/marketi … eir-prices

Business 101: A FOOLPROOF Plan for Avoiding Negative Feedback

And here is the foolproof plan:______________________.

Because if I had one...I would be sitting on a pile of gold right now,sipping on a fruity drink...and definitely not working.

But before I get into feedback,I'd like to share a true story...

Once upon a time...okay...actually two weeks ago, I was reminded once again of the diversity of human thinking.

Because I am at home most of the day, hunched over the computer, I am sort of the *"Mrs. Kravitz" of the neighborhood.  And as a result of this, I am on a first name basis with our police department, fire department, and  most of teenagers who walk home from the nearby high school. "Sup?" is my name they've given me...at least to my face.

That morning, I once again heard, as I had heard for seven days and nights straight, the man down the street coughing violently ("cough up a lung along with other organs violently") in his front yard. This man is sadly, mentally ill. After wrestling around with my conscience on if this man had indeed the mental capacity to care for himself in this predicament, I decided he might not since he was still coughing this long.... and so I decided to call our local police department (non-emergency line) to do a "welfare check". Being a small town, they obliged.  So they came out, asked how he was doing,asked if he had visited the doctor (he had..the day before), and then left.  Thank you, men in blue.

Thankfully, this man had someone else who cared and stepped in before me...but what if he hadn't? No harm in making sure, right? I felt good. I felt proud. I did my "Joe Citizen" for the day and went back to hunching.

And now....faithfully....ever since that day....this man has rewarded my actions by flipping my son and I off twice a day as we pass back and forth to school in the car. Without the nasty cough to hinder his hands.

Now THAT'S some feedback.

Now what does this have to do with feedback as a seller? A LOT. Namely, human perception.

I thought I was looking out for a fellow citizen. He, like maybe some of you might  be thinking right now (gulp!), thought I was a "Billy Budinski" looking to stir up trouble.

And not that your customers are going to be grown men who have versatile hand skills...but they are going to be human....with their own perception of you and your products.

And there may be a time when their perception is negative. GASP!

So here are some things I've learned....

Do nice business owners get negative feedback? Yes.
Do products that are awesome get negative feedback? Yes.
Does everyone have the potential to get negative feedback? Yes.

But the most important thing about receiving negative feedback, is how you react.

These are normal actions you might FEEL like taking when receiving negative feedback:

1) Curl up in a ball in your bed and tell everyone you are quitting your business....and to bring you some cookies.
2) Write a response back to the negative feedback that rivals "War and Peace" about the reasons their feedback is unjust.
3) Stare at the computer for three hours without blinking.

Or you could just accept it as part (not one of the great parts) of doing business online with strangers. You don't have to like it. Or agree with it. Or even understand it. But you do have to deal with it...and professionally. Because this will "lessen the blow".

First, don't think this is the end of your business or that people won't buy from you again.  Anyone who has taken their kids to any of those really awful children's movies and spent a fortune on tickets/food knows that reviews obviously don't matter to some people. They believe its just someone else's opinion. If you really want to spend money on it...you'll still do it....even when 7000 people have warned you not to.

Second, don't write anything back right away.Wait.  It's okay to be angry...or upset....you just don't want to sound that way in your response. And you don't want to sound defensive either. People will be reading the negative review...BUT...they will also be reading your response. And if your response sounds like you are a kind and professional business owner who cares EMPATHETICALLY to all of your feedback...you are very likely to "zero out" that feedback with your own words.

An example of an empathetic response would be: "Thank you for your feedback. I'm sorry the product was not what you expected. I am open to suggestions for ways of making the product better."  (I often use a British accent when I am responding so that my written words really sound proper, calm, and dignified. Try it...it works!)

You'd be surprised at how this can catch people off guard. And while you don't have to do a makeover on a product because of one's feedback, the fact that you look open to it makes you look like a business owner who cares about their customers.

Third...don't quit.  I have literally sold over 12,000 things on the internet since I started online sales and I have had my share of negative (around 5 over 17 years) comments. It made me feel bad, angry, and needing to eat a gallon of ice cream. But it never made me quit.

Fourth...and this is my own opinion. Just keep it to yourself. No need to air it all over the forums...BECAUSE...people on your forums might be customers....and they are still watching how you  react.  If you need to vent...which is understandable...tell a 3-dimensional friend in your life. Just my two cents on that one.


If you don't have any negative feedback, feel fortunate. But don't stay up at night worrying that someone has left a seething review for you overnight. You now know it's part of doing business. And if you have one or two...okay. No big. Just brush yourself off....and keep doing what you are doing...


*Nosy character from the TV show "Bewitched".

Saturday, April 27, 2013

On the Couch with Rebecca G.

The other day, I had the great fortune of running into myself relaxing in the living room. Knowing that I would probably not get that chance again, I approached me on the couch and politely asked for an interview.  After brushing off some crumbs from my shirt, and readjusting my sweatpants, I agreed.  This is the actual interview that took place that afternoon with myself.

Me: So, first question.....What exactly have you done that has brought you to this point in which you are writing business articles for teachers?

Couch Me: Oh, good question.  Actually too good.  Any more of these zingers and I'm going to have to ask you to leave. 

First, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to Rachel for letting me bring my posts to her awesome blog.  Amazing person,educator, and business owner...all in one!

 I've actually been interested in business all my life.  At a very early age, you could hear my voice from blocks away bellowing at my "workers" in the neighborhood that they needed to speed up production. Those coloring book pages weren't going to color themselves and there were some pretty tight deadlines from moms who had purchased the artwork.  Twelve years later, and about 10 different jobs stronger, I'm in college, and promptly drop out of the advertising program to become a teacher.  My reason was that I thought advertising would be too stressful.  I believe my other choice was bomb squad captain.

Me: Wow. Your parents must have been proud of you.

Couch Me: I think when you have a daughter that is usually wound up tighter than a cheap watch and needs to release a lot of energy through working, proud may not be the word.  Relieved might be a better fit. 

 Anyway, I became a teacher and because I had an extreme desire to work myself into an exhausted state each night, I started taking second jobs. Just something to support my teaching habit. In 1996,  after a weekend slinging fries and happy-hour margaritas, I found out there was a company opening online in which you could sell used items to other people who actually wanted them...and they would not only pay you...they would actually bid up so high that they would pay you a LOT more than the item was actually worth.

I knew I had to do it.

Me: You must have been happy to find something that was a good fit.

Couch Me: Wow.  That's amazing...that's exactly how I felt.  And so for the next few years, I would spend my summers gathering vintage and secondhand items and selling them. A LOT of them.  Enough of them to have earned a spot for me on a hoarding show if that had that been around then. And all the while, I was teaching middle school and elementary school.

Me: I bet that was some pretty good cash.

Couch Me: It took a while, but this was before digital cameras, laptops, and any technology that would take less than 1/2 hour to load each time you used it. It was hard and expensive in the beginning, but I hung in there.  And eventually, half of the U.S. became loaded with all kinds of junk from me that they are most likely trying to sell now to someone else.

Me: I'm probably in that half.

Couch Me: Yeah..me too. So cut to 17 years later...  and 6 stores, 4 different websites, and over 12,000 sales under my belt. Each site with it's own rules, formats, and customer markets....and a list of ways to mess up on each one....which I definitely did...sometimes more than once....or ten times.  All the knowledge just hung out in my head...blocking out various 70's TV jingles and quotes from blockbuster movies.

Me: So then you joined Teachers Pay Teachers?

Couch Me: Yes, I was in bed with a horrible virus and my laptop one weekend. I just happened upon the site and thought I could use both my business and teaching knowledge with it.  And after learning the various formats and rules on the site, I started visiting the forums.

Me: And what did you learn?

Couch Me: I learned that there were a LOT of awesome teachers with amazing products and great ideas on the site. But I also noticed a lot were coming fresh from the teaching field with a limited knowledge of online business and sales. So I posted a few business tips,using the knowledge I had learned through the years, in hopes that anyone reading might feel more comfortable being in the business world...because it can be very intimidating. And then the lovely Rachel approached me to post these tips on this blog...and so... here we are.

Me: In your living room, interviewing yourself.

Couch Me: Exactly. 

In all seriousness, I look forward to writing these posts and meeting more new teachers on this blog! I hope you'll be able to get a few tips here and there that can help your business be even more successful!