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Related News

Lansing’s Old Town Commercial Association: Working with SBAM to Focus the Power of Small Business

In November of 2008, the Small Business Association of Michigan launched a new initiative to actively seek out regional and statewide business organizations who shared our vision in moving toward an entrepreneurial economy. Lansing’s Old Town Commercial Association was one of the first to see value in partnering with SBAM. We sat down with OTCA’s Executive Director, Brittney Hoszkiw, to talk about our partnership.

Old Town Commercial Association

Businesses that join the Old Town Commercial Association have a passion for and are committed to preserving Lansing’s only historical commercial district and influencing economic development. With a mutual goal of developing a more vibrant community, the actions of Old Town Commercial Association’s 100+ members are bringing real results.
“Members of the Old Town Commercial Association are automatically members of the Small Business Association of Michigan,” shared Hoszkiw. “Together, we work for the betterment of the Old Town neighborhood – and that’s made possible by these types of partnerships.” Focus had the opportunity to talk with Hoszkiw about Old Town’s partnership with SBAM:

Focus: What is the value of SBAM to Old Town?

Hoszkiw: For us, the different benefits that SBAM offers are often times thought to be available only through larger organizations. When our members, 50 percent of whom have one to three employees, realize what they have access to through their Old Town membership and consequently a membership in SBAM, they are thrilled. This partnership is a good example of a value-add situation where you’re providing extremely small businesses the tools to be successful. When working with a staff of one to two people, that value is exponential.

Focus: Why are partnerships important?

Hoszkiw: To improve Old Town and the Lansing region as whole, we need to look at partnering with other organizations and find ways to achieve the mutual goal of a more vibrant entrepreneurial community. Our partnership with SBAM, for example, has allowed us to work toward that goal by giving a small organization like ours the tools needed to strengthen our member businesses.

Learn more about the Old Town Commercial Association at www.iloveoldtown.org. For more information on SBAM’s strategic partnerships, contact Pierre LaVoie at pierre.lavoie@sbam.org.

Balancing Life and Social Media Usage

By Nipa Shah, president of Online Marketing Simplified. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

As if it wasn’t difficult enough to balance work-life and family, now we have to balance work-life, family, and social networking. We are constantly “twitching” to share where we are, what we are doing, what we plan to do, etc. to our network.

But all this sharing is creating havoc in many lives. People are getting fired for posting inappropriate information. We hear of robberies stemming from status updates announcing vacation plans. And although reports about Facebook causing divorces and death announcements made online through Twitter may be laughable to some of us, the reality is that this is the world we live in today.

As business owners, we find ourselves in even more of a quandary. Do we focus on growing the business or do we spend time online, building larger networks to grow our visibility and branding?

Well, ideally, businesses should rely on marketing professionals to manage their social properties so that it can be done right and done in a comprehensive manner to generate the desired results. However, as a business owner, if you are in a chicken or an egg situation of whether to invest the money or the time doing it yourself, here are some baby steps to help you get started:

  • Create your personalized profile on no more than two or three social networks. I recommend two. You can choose from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube.
  • Download Twitter and Facebook on your smart-phone (I assume you have a smart-phone. If not, get one pronto).
  • Until you get into the habit of it, put down a recurring event on your calendar to post at least once or twice a day on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Make your posts count. It’s okay to announce, “I’m at Starbucks” of course. But what’s the value of it? Why not post “Going to Starbucks to meet a prospective client” or “Getting coffee to wake me up before I get to work, anyone else feel like I do” is so much more interactive and enables engagement from others.
  • Create Google alerts for news items that are interesting and relevant to your business. Post those with a comment and you benefit by sharing ready-to-use content with others.
  • If sharing photos and videos, use the many tools that are available to do this sharing across multiple platforms through one single post.
  • Stay connected regularly through smartphones to maintain the momentum.
Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to online marketing. Social networking is here to stay. Sooner or later, you’ll have to get familiar and engaged online. But it doesn’t have to be at the expense of family and business. Leverage smart-phones, apps, and other tools to remain connected without sacrificing too much of your family or business time.

Innovation – Better is Always New; New Isn’t Always Better

New? You bet! Who (except marketing gurus and analytical chemists) would think changing Coke’s hundred-year formula for success would be sound strategy? And then give the new product the flagship brand name? New Coke? Was old Coke bad?

Was New Coke better? The market passed a harsh verdict on that.

Why did this “innovation” happen? Did the Coke brand people forget their product had a very loyal following -- more than caramel colored water with fizz? Certainly they thought Pepsi was just fizz water. Did they never eat in a restaurant that only served Pepsi products?

(Next time you’re in a Pepsi-only restaurant, ask for Coke and check the response: “Is Pepsi OK?” It immediately says we’re second best. Is it OK? IS IT OK?!?)

Any brand with an “is this OK?“ competitor should be working on so many other things than copying that competitor’s formula.

OK, we learn from mistakes and Coke has done a lot of things right – other flavors (cherry, vanilla, diet versions of each), juices and bottled water (natural and with additives). They defined themselves not as a cola company, but a beverage company – a broader mission that encourages product innovation.

Speaking of bottled water (which some call “dead” water because it has no trace nutrients like tap water), how did it become so successful? My grandmother would hoot at the idea of paying $8 a gallon for water ($1 for 16 oz.) when it’s free at any drinking fountain. (Gasoline’s “only” around $4 a gallon.) This IS innovative thinking.

It’s not the product; it’s the convenience. It meets a customer’s needs. Buy a bottle and take it with you. Sip it in class, on a bus, while you drive, in a meeting. Hydration is important to health, right? Bottled water makes hydration convenient.

As a small business person you have a need to define your business in the broadest benefit terms possible, and make sure you look at the non-tangible aspects of your product (package, delivery, timing, everything you can’t touch).

You may not have a separate marketing team and an engineering staff devoted to new product development – and that may be a plus as well as a minus. But you do have customers more than happy to tell you what they’d like to see added to (or subtracted from) your product. The good customers will tell you directly if you ask.

I once presented a pretty solid marketing plan (I thought) to a very honest client and then expectantly asked his reaction. “It’s a pretty good plan, but you didn’t put a bow on it,” took a lot of air out of my balloon. Then I realized he wanted my plan to look like I was proud of the work, that I cared enough to polish the format. The hurt changed to appreciation and a change in the way we presented future plans.

A word of caution in researching customers; don’t just say, “What do you want?” Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Ask them what problems they face in your area of their operation. What takes too much time or materials? What’s unused? What would they like the product to do that it doesn’t? What does it do now that it shouldn’t?

Look especially closely at the intangibles you provide that may not be appreciated – particularly the “everybody does that” feature. If none of your competitors offers or is highlighting it, then promoting that feature first makes you “the inventor.”

Back when beer first began to be delivered in bottles, Schlitz had the foresight to claim their bottles were cleaned with “live steam.” (Is there “dead steam”? Hot water?) The brewers said “everybody does that,” but the marketers recognized it as a “secret” and one that would overcome the public’s fear of getting beer in a dirty bottle. “Live steam” earned Schlitz a market share second only to Budweiser for years, because other brand

Friend Raising -- Getting the People Right Before Raising the Money

Money is the focus of many business meetings and strategic planning sessions. How do we get more sales? How do we fund our growth plans? How do we cover our cash flow? These are just a few of the multitude of money issues that small business owners deal with on a daily basis. As important as the answers to these questions are; there is something more important than FUND raising and that is FRIEND RAISING.

Friend raising can take many forms. For a start-up it is getting those closest to us to buy into our crazy ideas. And for established businesses, networking is a popular and effective technique to open new sales opportunities. But there is so much more to be gained by making new business friends inside and outside your business. The best part is many of these ideas can be done for free.

 Build your board. Every company should have a board. It doesn’t have to be a board of directors that have authority over your organization, but an advisory board can be a very invaluable tool, especially when facing tough decisions. An advisory board will provide an outside perspective to your business and can both encourage and challenge you. When selecting board members, look for people who believe in you and your business. Be selective, not every personal friend should be on your board. Choose people who will bring a different perspective to your business. Often retired professionals in your industry can impart a wealth of information from their years of experience.

 Make friends in your industry. Even competitors can be friends and you never know when you may need to partner with someone on a project or vice versa. Attending trade shows and industry events is a great place to meet new friends and become aware of even more opportunities. Keith Ferrazzi talks about the many techniques for making friends in his book, “Never Eat Alone.” This includes, as the title says, building friends over coffee, lunch and dinner. Spending time together and sharing reality with each other builds friendships. Be honest and expect honesty from others and true friends will emerge.

There are many other friends you can make including mentors and political allies that you will find to be valuable contacts when the need arises.

"If you go out looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
— Zig Ziglar

Nothing is ever free. Making friends is hard work. If you look for friends that can help you but are not willing to reciprocate your friendship may be short lived. You must be the friend that you seek in others. See everyone not as a sales target but a potential friend and you will find many friends and sales opportunities will follow.

Todd A. Luhtanen is a serial entrepreneur, business consultant and founder of Talan SBS a Michigan-based provider of Small Business Services, www.talansbs.com.

Turning Unhappy Customers into Fans

The weatherman has the world’s easiest job. He can over promise and under deliver to his heart’s content and still keep his job. Other than a few unhappy school kids, no one gets upset when the predicted storm doesn’t live up to the hype.
He will live to predict the weather once again.

As small business owners, we don’t often get that second chance.

Making Mistakes


If you have a business it happens. You will over promise and under deliver. Maybe it is a special order that didn’t arrive in a timely fashion. Maybe it is a product or service that wasn’t as advertised. Maybe it was a bad day for one of your employees and the great customer service you advertise wasn’t there.

As the owner of a small business, the burden is on you to take care of that unhappy customer.

How do you handle those moments?

The best thing to do is say, “I’m sorry. We made a mistake.”

No matter whose fault it is, no matter that you did everything right but your vendor failed you, your shipping company goofed, or your employee was totally misunderstood – it is still your mistake. So own it.

The customer doesn’t care about all that other stuff, the excuses. She put her trust in you and you failed her. So say you’re sorry, admit you made a mistake, then go about trying to fix it. That’s all she wants.

An apology — An admission of guilt — A solution.

Making Amends

An apology changes the tone right away. She came in guns a blazing. I’m sorry extinguishes those flames. Most unhappy customers are satisfied with a simple “I’m sorry.” They come in angry, prepared to fight. But the apology stops them in their tracks, softens their demeanor. So say it first and mean it. Without the apology first, it is hard to have a meaningful conversation and find a solution.

An admission of guilt takes away her defensive posture. No matter who is to blame, you screwed up somewhere. At the very least, you didn’t meet her expectations. So admit you made a mistake and move on. Don’t make her have to defend her position. It only belittles the relationship and keeps her guard up.

A solution shows that you truly care. And you often don’t have to give away the world to find that solution. You can start by asking her how she would like the problem solved. Usually her solution is more than reasonable and far less costly than what you were planning to offer. And even when it isn’t, the act of solving the problem is what turns you from goat to hero.

Creating Fans

Customers are reasonable people. When they have a problem what they really want is to be heard and have their problem acknowledged. Do this and you turn an unhappy customer into one of your biggest fans.

In fact, the true difference between a store with good customer service and one with great customer service isn’t in how you deal with the happy customers. It’s how you handle the unhappy ones.

When you under deliver, give your customer an apology, an admission of guilt and a solution, and I promise the sun will come up tomorrow. Heck, I’m certain of it. My weatherman told me it would.

Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too, one of the 25 Best Independent Stores in America in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. In his spare time Phil helps other independent retailers to succeed. Read more about Phil’s thoughts for business at www.PhilsForum.com.
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