Six Ways Your Business Can Outsmart Amazon.com

Six Ways Your Business Can Outsmart Amazon.com

Did you know that there are approximately 80 million Amazon Prime members and that Amazon accounts for 80% of the growth of online sales and $4 out of every $10 spent online is at Amazon.com? Those are depressing numbers depending on your perspective. I can’t even get my head wrapped around those numbers! Every day, I see several Amazon deliveries in the building lobby where I live. I was chatting with a friend the other day and she mentioned a store in town had been Amazoned. I had never heard the term before but it wasn’t hard to figure out the meaning; a store was closing because they couldn’t compete with Amazon.

I am passionate about small business and backing the underdog so I began to think about how small businesses could find a way to compete in the age of Amazon. Here are six ways that can help your small business can compete. They are either free or low cost and even if you don’t sell online, they can still help your business thrive.

Define Your Niche

You didn’t start your business so you could be like everyone else so concentrate on what makes you different and what value you provide that other businesses don’t. You have to differentiate your business from your competitors both big and small or you are going to blend in with the background and not get noticed. While there is no way you can compete with the breadth of Amazon’s product inventory, you can have a tight focus on the products your customers want. Having detailed buyer personas is helpful in targeting what to sell. A buyer persona  is representation of your ideal customer and it can help to narrow down what products to carry or identify any opportunities to adjust your service offerings.

Find those customers who are most likely to buy from you, learn what their needs are and target them with the products or services that will help them. By carrying a curated product inventory, you will often avoid the need to price match your competitors. Products that aren’t widely available but are well liked, will create demand. Shoppers often assume it’s easier and less expensive to buy on-line, so if you have a physical store, there had better be a reason for them to come in and shop. Provide them an experience they can’t get online such as an in-store event along or personalized service from your knowledgeable staff. Learning the names of your regular customers will make them feel important and give them a good impression of your business. Our blog post How to be Competitive Without Going Broke will give you suggestions for how to help your business to stand out.

Use Content Marketing to Build Customer Relationships

This is one area that Amazon doesn’t utilize so use it to your advantage. What is content marketing? It is a strategy of producing and publishing information that builds trust and authority among your ideal customers (another reason you should use buyer personas). Content marketing keeps your brand or service in front of customers and builds a better relationship with them. It also builds loyalty with customers and gives you the ability to get personal with them. You can market to customers via your website, email, printed material, a blog or on social media.

Content marketing will also help to build your follower base. Not just Facebook followers but followers of your business. This is where being small is an advantage. You can interact with followers directly on your social media pages and give them the personal attention that can turn them into a brand ambassador. Everything you do as a brand should have this personal and close-connected feel to it. When you form a bond with followers they are much more likely to do business with you. Interested in learning more about how content marketing can help your small business? Visit our Content Marketing page to find out.

Provide An Exceptional Customer Experience

While this may sound obvious, you have an opportunity at every touch point with your business to create a positive experience with your customers. What are those touch points? Your in-store sales people, your return policy, social media pages, live chat, even the way you present your store are all opportunities to create a great customer experience.

While you shouldn’t compete on price, you can compete on service. Do your best to make every customer experience with your business a pleasant one and if a customer is dissatisfied, do your best to resolve it to their satisfaction. It’s better to have the problem solved and at least have the customer happy that you cared about them then do nothing and have them leave a negative review or tell their friends not to buy from you. Have a flexible return policy including free returns and exchanges. Find ways to show customers how much you care about them. The biggest factor that drives customers away from your business? Feeling like you don’t care about them.

Have you looked at your website lately? Your website is one of the best ways to build and improve customer relationships. Treat it like a combination online storefront and most valuable employee and you’ll recognize the importance of first impressions. Think of it this way, if you pull into the parking lot of a store you want to visit and the storefront looks tired and worn down, that forms a negative first impression. Take it one step further and you go into the store and the sales person acts like you’re interrupting them, that’s another negative impression. Would you want to make a purchase or go back to that store? Probably not. If your website hasn’t been updated within the last two years you better get on it. It is well worth the investment. Read our blog post on What A Good Website Looks Like for help.

Create a seamless shopping experience between your online and brick and mortar sales. Customers shop 24/7 and if you don’t have an online shop, you are losing out on them. It increases your customer reach, can drive visitors to your brick and mortar store and enhance relationships. Having an online store isn’t just about online sales though. Offer customers the option to buy online and pick up in-store. Local customers enjoy the convenience of not having to wait for their shipment to arrive. While Amazon offers same-day shipping in some areas, they aren’t interacting with their customers. When a customer comes into your store to pick up their order, it’s another opportunity to create a good experience for them.

Offer Free Shipping

Before you throw your hands up in the air and say you can’t afford to have free shipping, hear me out. While you probably can’t beat the convenience of Amazon’s Prime shipping, you should at least reduce your shipping charge. While it may look like a big expense to absorb, customers routinely factor in the price of shipping when deciding where to purchase from. This is especially true when you are selling a widely available product. You should also aim to ship items the same day they are ordered or offer online ordering with in-store pick up. Another idea is to have an annual subscription, much like Amazon Prime, that offers expedited shipping for a discounted price or free for repeat purchases. This will help to subsidize shipping costs and it builds customer loyalty.

You can shop around to find the most cost effective shipping option for your business. Depending on where you ship to, USPS Priority Mail can be a good option, and it has quick delivery, but I would suggest including insurance, just in-case. If you do a large shipping volume, services such as UPS and FedEx offer discounts. If you can’t offer free shipping, offering flat rate shipping keeps things simple for your customer as they know up front what shipping costs, instead of learning this at checkout. It’s often a big turn off for customers to get to checkout to find out that shipping costs are based on price. It’s like punishing the customer for placing a large order. If your shopping cart abandonment rate is high, your shipping cost is a likely culprit.

Have a User Friendly Website

If you have an online store, make it easy for shoppers to find what they want. Minimize the number of clicks it will take to get to their destination so they don’t get frustrated. With so many products, Amazon’s website can require a lot of clicks and product sorting, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you want. Since shoppers on your website don’t have the ability to try on the product or touch it, it is imperative to have useful and detailed product descriptions. Take the time when writing your product descriptions to have as much information as possible including sizing and fit, but without overwhelming shoppers. Poor descriptions will drive customers to look elsewhere for the information they need and they will most likely not come back to purchase from you.

It’s very important to have high quality product images. Shoppers want to see multiple views of the product as well as have the ability to zoom in to see product details. If the shopper isn’t familiar with the product, they are not going to trust the quality of it if the only image they have to go on is a small thumbnail. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take your own product photos. It just takes a bit of creativity.

Allowing purchasers to post pictures of them using your products helps to demonstrate usability and build confidence in the product. Photos can be posted on your website or social media pages.  Having a list of the most asked questions about a product is another way to instill confidence in shoppers.

Reviews and Testimonials

Today, customers frequently look to reviews and recommendations from friends when researching products or services. They are a very valuable selling tool, so be like Amazon and post reviews of your products or services . According to a survey by BrightLocal, 88% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation when making a purchase decision. But, make sure you post all reviews, not just the good ones or you risk losing credibility. If someone does leave a negative review, make sure you address it to the customer’s satisfaction and post your response below their review. This shows that you are accountable to your customers and that you care about them. It’s also another way to form a good impression.

How will this help you compete with Amazon? Having reviews on your website can boost your ranking in organic search results. While many shoppers choose Amazon as their default shopping site, there are many shoppers who are looking for something unique or want to support their local merchants. Having reviews on your website adds more unique content to it and makes those pages more relevant to shoppers. Both are components of Google’s ranking algorithm. Reviews left on external review sites like Yelp are also good for boosting your search rank and can even put you in Google’s local three pack, which appear just below paid ads. Having a high search ranking means more shoppers will find you.

The common thread in all of the above tips is your customer. Care for customers as though they are a rare gem because without them, you have nothing. Amazon doesn’t have to be the death knell to your business. You can compete with Amazon as well as your other competitors. The only requirement is to accept the fact that the face of selling is changing and that you either adjust or risk losing your customers and your business. I hope these tips will help your business thrive. If you have any tips you would like to share or have found success using these, please tell us in the comments. You’ll be helping other small businesses facing the same struggles, so thanks!

 

Best Free Apps for Managing Your Business

Best Free Apps for Managing Your Business

 

Because I love my free time, I’m always looking for ways to run my business in a more efficient and productive way. Here are some websites and apps I have found that will help with both. I have used some of them and others I’m going to try out. I’m willing to bet they can help your business too. They are free or have a low monthly cost to access premium features. They are definitely worth checking out!
 
p.s. these are not spammy links so it’s safe to click on them.
 
Do you have any productivity apps that help with running your business? Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite.
 

APPS FOR MANAGING YOUR BUSINESS

//pitcherific.com/ – Learn how to make or improve your elevator pitch. Great for meeting with new clients.

//ad-spend-calculator.qwilr.com/ – Can you afford to advertise? If you have a tight ad budget this will help determine what you can afford.

//rocketship.fm/ – Informative podcast on all things entrepreneur.

//www.hemingwayapp.com/ – Good app for analyzing your writing. I use this to edit my blog posts. It’s also good for writing presentations and proposals.

//invoiceto.me/ – Free invoice template that is really easy to use.

//www.waveapps.com/ Invoice customers, accept payments and track income and expenses. It’s free to use except for credit card processing. I like the looks of this one and I’m planning on trying it.

//helprace.com/ Combines multiple tools for great customer service: Tickets, Email Management, Customer Community, Feedback, Docs & Knowledge Base. I think this app could definitely be a time saver.

PRODUCTIVITY, ORGANIZATION AND COLLABORATION APPS

//www.mailtoself.com/info – An iOS extension to mail notes to yourself from any app. I’m going to try this one.

//getpocket.com/ Ever find a great article on the web but didn’t have time to read it? Save it for later with Pocket. I have used this app in the past. It would be perfect if it reminded me to read the article I saved.

//yanado.com/ – Productivity app that works inside of gmail to keep you organized and on task.

//www.dropbox.com/ – Save files on your computer, then access them on your phone from the road. Everything you keep in Dropbox is synced automatically to all your devices. This is a great app for storing images and large files since they live in the cloud instead of taking up space on your computer.

//Evernote.com – Organize your work and declutter your life. Syncs across all devices.

//trello.com/ – Collaborate with your team from any device. This is a good app if you have employees who work from home or are on the road alot.

APPS FOR CONCENTRATION

//getcoldturkey.com/ – Distractions bothering you? This will keep from looking at your email or wandering onto a website to “quickly” check something out.

//coffitivity.com/ – Like being in your favorite coffee shop. If only they could bring me my Starbucks…

//noiz.io/ – Become engulfed in the tranquil sounds of nature.

//www.noisli.com/ – Blocks out annoying distractions. You create your own environment. This one was fun to play with but I could see myself spending alot of time trying all the variations which is a distraction in itself.

//e.ggtimer.com/ Countdown timer. This is helpful for writing. It’s amazing how the words flow so much easier when you use this.

Here’s to more free time to do the things you enjoy!

 

Did you know that your website can help you be more productive? It can be a hub of information for visitors and can answer many of their questions without the need for them to contact you. Want to know more? Contact DLJ Creative and we’ll give you a free website consultation. LEARN MORE… You can also check out this blog post, that will tell you what makes a good website.

Is Blogging Worth the Effort?

Is Blogging Worth the Effort?

Starting a blog on your small business website can be a very powerful addition to your marketing toolbox. Your blog can provide value to readers as well as provide value to your business. Even if your business occupies a small niche or is in a “boring” industry, there are several benefits to having a blog that make it worth the effort.

A good blog will bring more traffic to your website and give readers a chance to learn more about your business and its products/services. In turn, that great content you post can be shared on your social media pages and readers can share your blog with their friends. A good post can take on a life of it’s own as it continues to be shared. This will increase your reach as well since your business will be in front of more of the people that are interested in your product or service.

Even better, the only cost to having a blog is your time!

Blogging can establish your authority and position you as a thought leader.

Customers are very knowledgeable and will often, as part of the purchase process, use a blog as a source of information on products and services. What problems do your readers have? How can you solve them? How can you pique their interest and inspire them to take an action?

Think of how you can help them better than anyone else while providing incredible value. Keep brainstorming ways you can give readers what they need and you’ll be the one they turn to when they need help. This is one of the best ways to lead first time visitors on a path to becoming a customer.

Linking to other quality sources in your blog posts positions you alongside an expert and will boost your authority. This is a great way for small businesses to gain credibility when competing with larger companies.

 

According to Experian, more than 80% of consumers in the United States consider blogs a valuable way learn more about products and services that they’re considering.

Blogging helps source new prospects and get customers.

Every blog post should encourage visitors to take an action. Using a call to action “CTA” is an effective lead generation tool and it is a must have, no matter how long the purchase cycle. It encourages readers to supply their contact information in order to subscribe, download content, schedule an appointment or make a purchase. This is helpful for sales because your new lead has already expressed interest in your company.

Blogging allows you to highlight your products and services in more detail. You become a more credible business. Potential customers want to know they are dealing with a legitimate company before purchasing and blogging is a great way to build trust with them. The more familiar they become with your company, the more likely they are to become a customer.

 

61% of U.S. online consumers have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog. – Factbrowser

Blogging benefits your website.

Having a blog will improve your website’s search engine optimization “SEO” as well as its position in search results. Google uses an  algorithm to rank and serve up the most useful content based on a search query. Every time you publish a blog post, it’s a new page link that will be indexed by Google. When a website is continually updated that is a signal to Google’s web crawlers to visit the new page link and your website will be crawled more often.

Including an internal link to an older related post or a page on your website helps to keep visitors on your website and will give web crawlers more pages to visit. Outbound links i.e. links to your website from another website, are a major ranking factor. Each time your blog is shared a link is created back to your website. Cross-linking to another quality blog, writing a guest post and sharing your blog on other blogging platforms are additional opportunities to get those important backlinks.

Companies who blog receive 97% more links to their website.searchenginepeople.com

When you post quality content on a consistent schedule your page rank will improve as readers spend more time on your website and Google crawls it more often. So it’s not just about keeping your business in front of potential customers but Google as well. However, all of the above will mean nothing if your readers don’t find your blog topics interesting and relevant.

Over time your business will reap the benefits from having a blog, all without the need for paid advertising. You’ll get new leads, turn more of them into customers and your bottom line will improve as a result. Yes, it will require effort and consistency on your part but the benefits are worth it! Need help with getting your blog off the ground? Contact us and we can help you set your blog up as well as consult with you on choosing blog topics and blogging best practices.

How to Be Competitive Without Going Broke

How to Be Competitive Without Going Broke

You’re sitting at your desk in your office. It’s another day of struggling to make ends meet. You thought owning a small business would give you financial freedom, more time with your family and give you control over your future. The reality is anything but. Expenses are high, sales are low and there is little if any money left.

You see your dreams slipping away as your competitors with better cash flow gain more customers while your company slowly fades away. But before you raise the white flag and quit altogether, know that you CAN compete even if you are small and have a limited budget.

 

Your dreams can come true; all it takes is your time and a little creativity.

 

The Power of Your Story

As the founder of your small business, you are in a unique position to personally connect with customers by sharing your story. Your story also helps to set you apart from the competition. We’ve all had someone tell us to just be ourselves, and it’s also a valuable trait in business. You may not be accustomed to talking about yourself, but in this instance, modesty is not the best policy.

Today’s customer values authenticity in the companies they buy from. They want to know the real you, form a relationship with a company they can identify with and one who shares similar values. While product features are important, what customers really want to know is:

 

Who are you and what you can do that your competitors can’t?

 

Help customers identify with you by sharing your values, passions, as well as any hurdles you’ve overcome in business and in life. Any ties your business has to the community where you’re located or a cause you’re involved with are a plus. You can show that you’re more than just another business out to make money.

 

The goal is to leave a lasting and favorable impression in your customers’ minds. It’s not about being the same as your competitors; it’s about being different. Focus on what is unique about you, your product or service and how you alone are the answer to your customers needs. Seth Godin

 

What is your special something?

 

Be Proud of Your Strengths but Humble of Your Weaknesses

You may think you know what they are, but it’s your customers’ point of view that counts. If you’re not sure, post a survey on your website or send a feedback form to customers after they’ve made a purchase. The results will help you pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

Needless to say, emphasize your strengths and address any weaknesses. Focus on the areas that are mentioned the most. Even your weaknesses can be used to connect with customers when you tell how you listened to customer feedback, made changes to resolve the problem and how it’s improved your business.

Does the positive feedback point to an area that will help you stand out and give you a competitive edge? Focus on creating a niche in this area and become the go-to source for it. Specializing in this area can be the key to your success.

 

How can your unique strength give you a competitive edge?

 

As a small business, you have a distinct advantage of being able to pivot quickly and change while big businesses often find change difficult to implement. They also don’t have your ability to specialize. With numerous products and services to sell, salespeople can have difficulty knowing the subtle details of every product. You will now be in the position to provide customers with an experience they can’t get anywhere else.

 

Don’t be one of the masses. Be the leader.

 

Get Ready to Shine

Now that you’ve defined who you are and how you will set yourself apart from the competition, it’s time to get the word out. Many small business owners make the mistake of thinking that the only way to make sales is to sell to “everyone.” The fear of missing out on a customer causes this “spray and pray” mentality. Unfortunately, the end result is often a depleted budget with nothing tangible to show for it. You’ll get a better ROI when you target only those customers who are most likely to make a purchase from you.

 

Avoid the spray and pray approach.

 

The internet is often the first place customers go to get help so you should consider your company website to be your online storefront. First impressions are critical as you only have a few seconds to quickly convey who you are. You need to clearly show what benefits customers will enjoy when they do business with you that they can’t get from a competitor. All of your work so far should be incorporated into your website copy as part of a buyer experience built around your target customer.

If you’re short on advertising dollars, content marketing is a cost effective alternative. It uses the power of the written word to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined target customer. There are several methods of content marketing you can employ. Company blogs, email, social media and your website copy are some examples.

Just remember that whatever form of content marketing you employ, quality and consistency are crucial so customers get to know, remember and get accustomed to your company. If you need help with this, a content marketer who specializes in helping small businesses can be a valuable investment and can still cost less than traditional forms of advertising.

If you are a local business, your current customers can help promote your company. A company listing on review sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp is becoming essential. Not only does it help boost customer trust, it can also improve your local SEO. If you aren’t on any review sites yet, sign up for a free listing. Then ask your customers to leave their feedback.

 

Make Them Smile

Make every touch point with your company reinforce who you are and provide a memorable experience for customers. Nurture them in order to foster positive associations with you and treat each one as a valued asset. Let them know you will always be there to help and you’ll see customer retention improve. The individual attention you give each customer will give you an advantage over big businesses, leading to more new and repeat customers.

 

Make it your goal to always exceed customer expectations.

 

While larger competitors can always outspend you, as a small business owner, you can uniquely position your business to compete against them without having their budget. There are many additional ways you can make your business more competitive than what I’ve described here. You are only limited by your imagination! In the comments section, let me know how your small business stays competitive.

How You Can Court Millenials Using Relationship Marketing

How You Can Court Millenials Using Relationship Marketing

millenial marketing

Here’s a profile brands drool over; the group of 18 to 37 year olds and their trillion dollar plus spending power, otherwise known as the Millenials. The largest and most influential buying group since the Baby Boomers, Millenials are continually changing the face of marketing. For brands, it’s tough to ignore their allure and influence, but they are a fickle bunch. If you don’t have exactly what they’re looking for, when they want it, they’ll skip right over you. So how can you attract them and better yet, turn them into long term customers?

To reach this influential group think two words – relationship and community. Those two words sum up what it is they’re looking for from your company and brand. While they may prefer the impersonal text message instead of face to face communication, they long to have a connection with the brands they care about.

When thinking of how to build a relationship with Millenials, think of how you would form a relationship with anyone in your life; what they would want to know about you, your values as well as what they would appreciate about you. No one likes someone who is pushy, brags about how great they are and isn’t interested in what is important in your life. Be careful your messaging doesn’t take this approach as this is precisely the wrong message to send to Millenials.

Millenials can see through anything that is overly commercial or that hints of being anything less than authentic. Boasting claims about how great your product or service is? You better be able to back those claims up because Millenials are highly educated and will research your claims before deciding to purchase. If you’re not completely truthful, they’ll broadcast it on social media.

Don’t try to be something you’re not or be swayed by what your competitors do because you think you need to be like them. Millenials want to experience the real you and how your differences resonate with them. So rule number one is, be authentic. PictureYou get one chance to make a great impression, so make sure the first impression Millenials experience with your brand is a favorable and memorable one. They will want to know what’s in it for them and you need to provide it.

Millenials are fans of online shopping, due in no small part to being the first generation to grow up with technology. They are heavy users of mobile devices to shop, research prices and get recommendations from their friends. They’ll pay for quality but would much prefer to get quality at a good deal and if you offer free shipping, even better.

If you haven’t updated your website, what are you waiting for? That circa 2000, out of style website won’t cut it with Millenials and you’re losing customers because of it. You need to look your best, and with mobile device shopping now equaling desktop shopping, a mobile friendly website is a must have.

Your website should have a clean design, without over embellishment and be easy to navigate. Stand out from your competitors and show how your brand is the best match for their needs. Don’t forget the impression your sales staff and customer service have on your customers. They’re like your family and are a reflection of your company. Every touch point Millenials have with your brand should reinforce the positive feelings and message they get when they interact with you.

Your values are very important in any relationship and this goes for relating with Millenials as well. They want to be valued as an individual and not one of many. Hence, they can be skeptical of big box retailers, instead preferring smaller niche brands. They want to know that their opinions are valued by you and that you understand what their problems and needs are.

Your job is to clearly show how your product can help them and make them feel good at the same time. They want to trust you, but you have to earn it. The opinions of their friends has an influence on whether to trust your brand or not. Loyalty programs add additional value to their purchase, so it’s not just about the price but about the experience of being a part of your brand.

What is the human element of your brand?  What does your brand or product stand for? Do you give back to the community, use environmentally friendly products or locally sourced goods and materials? Communicate in a language they can understand, be real and hold their hand as you listen and solve their problems.

We all want to experience a connection and feel like we matter. This is very true of the Millenial group. Think of them as many small tribes with diverse interests looking for someone to lead them. They want to be part of something and want to be heard so invite them in and listen to what they have to say. Listen in on social media and find out not only what they’re saying about your brand but what problems they need to have solved. Make them feel included by letting them co-create your brand experiences.

Listen to and respond to their feedback. You can show them you care by posting photos of them interacting with your brand and products. The goal should be to create a one-on-one or small community connection through the use of meaningful, useful and shareable experiences.

The foundation for communicating with Millenials should be based on content marketingthat is relevant, engaging, authentic and shareable through the use of customer events, social media, e-mail and blogging. It’s important to be aware of which social media platforms and devices your customers are using in order for your message to reach them at the right place at the right time. The much quoted dating phrase, “When you’re not looking you’ll find it” does not apply here.

A lasting relationship doesn’t happen overnight. Strong customer bonds are formed over time but with the right foundation in place, you will have a loyal following of Millenial brand ambassadors, eager to spread the word about the good vibes they get from having a great and lasting relationship with your brand.

DLJ Creative helps small businesses by providing innovative, creative strategies to solve their content marketing, web design and e-commerce challenges. Contact DLJ Creative at hello@dljcreative.com