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Customer Loyalty

5 Keys to a Successful Customer Loyalty Program

Every business owner wants to keep customers coming back — and loyalty programs are a great way to do just that. But running a loyalty program can be expensive, and if not done right, may not bring in the customers you’d hoped. So what does a small business need to know before launching a customer loyalty program? Here are the essentials for a successful customer loyalty program.

Simplicity.

Can you explain how your reward program works in one or two sentences? If not, then you’re probably overdoing it. If your reward program is too complex, customers won’t take the extra time to understand it. Keep the reward program simple. For example, you can offer a coupon for every 100 dollars spent, or buy nine coffees, get the tenth one free. By making the reward program simple, you’re encouraging customers to sign up and use the program, which, after all, is the goal.

Speed.

Along those same lines, the loyalty program should be quick — both to use and to sign up for. Signing up for the loyalty program shouldn’t take more than a few minutes at the register or online. Using the loyalty program should be even faster. A loyalty program that delays checkout won’t be successful. Using the program should be as simple as scanning a card, punching a card, or tapping in a customer ID.

Security.

Customers are usually wary about sharing information like phone numbers and emails because they don’t want to be inundated with robo calls and spam emails. Don’t be another reason they don’t give away information. Keep all customer information confidential and use it only for your own marketing — which should be used sparingly. If possible, leave out unnecessary information in the sign-up process — besides making sign-up faster, they’ll feel less wary about giving their information away.

Smart.

Today, loyalty programs aren’t limited to punch cards. If your small business has the resources, smart loyalty programs can be used to track customer purchases. That allows businesses to send out reminders when it’s time to restock an item or make suggestions on other products that customer may like. That data is also helpful for understanding who your customer is and what they are looking for when making decisions on your business.

Relationship.

Yes, part of the reason loyalty programs keep a customer coming back are those rewards — but that’s not all. A loyalty program is a great way to build a long-term relationship with customers. These programs can help show customers what you value and who you are about through the rewards offered and the communication sent to those customers.

Customer loyalty programs can be great for both businesses and customers — but to make the most of a rewards program, businesses need to ensure the program offers simplicity, speed, security, smart technology, and a relationship.

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The Pros and Cons of Free Shipping

The Pros and Cons of Free Shipping

Sometimes an online purchase all comes down to the shipping cost — which is why major retailers like Amazon and Walmart are trying to beat out the competition with fast, free shipping. But is free shipping right for small businesses? What should businesses consider before offering free shipping? Make the right choice by considering the pros and cons of free shipping.

Free Shipping Pros

Free shipping can encourage a purchase.

Savvy customers compare shipping costs when comparing prices at online stores. If the product costs less at your store, but costs more with shipping, customers will buy from your competitor instead. Customers will consider the total cost, including shipping, when determining if a product fits in their budget.

Free shipping can encourage a larger purchase.

Free shipping typically has a minimum order. If you set the free shipping minimum at $50, and the customer has $40 worth of items in their cart, they will likely buy more products rather than pay for shipping. Setting a minimum encourages customers to spend more on products in order to get that free shipping.

Free shipping can make your business more competitive.

Finally, if a competitor offers free shipping and you do not, who do you think customers are going to buy from? Free shipping helps businesses stay competitive, when other businesses are offering free shipping. And when other businesses are not offering free shipping, it makes your company look even more lucrative.

Free Shipping Cons

Nothing is ever free.

Free shipping really just means the shipping cost is built into the price of the product — you wouldn’t stay in business if you covered the cost of shipping but your prices aren’t high enough to cover that cost. When you have to build in the cost of shipping, that can inflate the prices of your products.

Free shipping is no longer special when you offer it 24/7.

While free shipping all the time has its perks, offering free shipping like a sale — i.e. for a limited time — can encourage more customers to place their order within that window. Free shipping isn’t going to encourage extra orders when you have free shipping all the time. A happy middle ground would be to lower the minimum order amount during a sale, if you want to offer free shipping all year round.

Free shipping may encourage fewer in-store purchases.

If your business has a brick and mortar location as well as an online store, free shipping may encourage even local customers to order online instead. When customers order online, you don’t gain that face-to-face interaction and customers don’t see your in-store promotions or walk by that item that catches their eye.

Free shipping has several perks for small business, such as encouraging a purchase, upselling, and standing out from the competition. But free shipping can also get expensive, and mean fewer in-store purchases, while offering free shipping 24/7 means free shipping no longer feels like a deal to the customer.

5 ways to jazz up your email marketing list

5 ways to jazz up your email marketing list

Building an email marketing list is only half the battle of developing a great email marketing plan. So what’s the other half? Determining what to send out. Emails should be regular, but not overbearing, and that regularity tends to make the ideas for a good email run dry quickly. So what type of emails should you be sending out to potential customers? Here are five of the best types of emails to send, according to Vertical Response.

Makeover your sales emails.

Sales don’t do much good if no one knows about them. Send out an email detailing what the current sale is. The subject line should make the sale clear right away, while the body of the email should be short and simple — entice them with a sale and give them an end date to encourage fast action, don’t send a novella to their inbox.

Send out advice and tips emails.

The emails that you send should be worthwhile, or you’ll get lots of clicks on that unsubscribe button. Saving money is a worthwhile reason to stay subscribed, but so is learning something new. Consider sending out an email with a tip, tutorial or recipe related to your business or product. Brainstorm the things your customers may want to hear about and use those ideas to reach out with that email list.

Learn exactly what your customers want with a survey.

Part of successful marketing is understanding exactly what your customers wants and what their pain points are — and what better way to do that then to ask your customers directly? Sending out a survey allows you to gather valuable information that you can use in future marketing campaigns (and, yes, emails) as well as decisions such as which products to stock. Taking a survey isn’t exactly something most people enjoy, so make it more enticing with a discount for anyone who participates.

Embrace the email newsletter.

An email newsletter lets customers know what’s happening with your business, outside of things like sales and coupons. The newsletter helps create a more long term relationship by showing who you are and what you care about. Include things like new products, tips and advice, company accomplishments, employees of the month and more.

Encourage re-orders.

For companies that sell items that customers frequently purchase again, consider sending out an email to remind customers when it’s almost time to repurchase. This takes some time to set up and a platform that will track purchases and automatically send those reminders, but can be a big help both for customers who don’t want to run out and your sales.

Emails remain a powerful marketing tool — but only if you use them right. Part of that is email etiquette like not sending out emails too frequently, but another big part of that is providing valuable information by using a variety of different types of emails. Consider jazzing up your emails with sales, tips, surveys, newsletters and reminders.

5 Small Business Tips for Trade Show Success

5 Small Business Tips for Trade Show Success

Heading to a trade show is a great way to put your business in front of plenty of foot traffic — but you’ll also be one of many different businesses trying to catch customer’s attention. Standing out at a trade show involves some planning and a few tactics to get the most out of the show. Here’s what small businesses need to know before heading out to the trade show floor.

Get the word out ahead of time.

Trade shows can be great for customers that have been wanting to try your business but haven’t gotten the chance to — if they know you will be there. Use your social media platforms and email newsletter to spread the word about the show and where you’ll be during the show. You’ll encourage more visitors and create some visitors that seek your booth out directly.

Don’t ignore the other booths.

Sure, attending a trade show is a great way to get new customers — but what about networking? If you don’t visit the other booths, you’re missing out on one of the biggest perks of going to a trade show. Take some time during the slowest part of the show to visit other booths, chat with other business owners, and find potential new allies in the business world. Be sure to have another person attend to watch the booth so that it’s possible to wander the show floor for a bit to network.

Plan something fun to attract more visitors.

Trade show visitors will see several dozen, if not hundreds, of booth displays that day. Give them a bigger reason to stop at yours. Host a giveaway. Plan a fun demonstration. Create a social media photo contest. Brainstorm a reason for visitors to stop at your booth. Even better — share that reason in your social media posts and email newsletters leading up to the show as well.

Be approachable.

During the show, it’s important to make attendees feel welcome to come and start a conversation. Creating a booth set-up that has the exhibitors mixed with the attendees instead of behind a formal table can help. Standing instead of sitting in a chair can also encourage more conversation. And of course, the old go-to like a smile and a handshake go a long ways too.

Don’t let the trade show be your last conversation.

A trade show is a great time to meet potential customers and chat with them, often more in-depth than you can through the normal course of a day. Don’t let that conversation be both the first and the last with that customer. Strategise ways to keep the conversation going after the trade show ends. Host a giveaway so that you can gather email addresses, for example, or encourage booth visitors to like your social media pages. Plan ahead, and you’ll be able to keep talking to those customers long after the trade show is over.

Trade shows can be great for small businesses — but a bit of planning and strategy can help the time and financial investment go even further.

5 Retail Sales Tricks for Getting Over a Slump

5 Retail Sales Tricks for Getting Over a Slump

In the business of retail, the slump is inevitable. But what you do during that slump can determine just how long your business is struggling, or whether that simple is interspersed with a few good sale days to keep business humming. By upping the marketing efforts or brainstorming unique ways to draw people into your store, you can keep that slump from spelling disaster. Here are five retail sales tricks for getting through the slow season.

Try a sidewalk sale or tent sale.

Potential customers drive by your store every day, which probably makes your storefront so common, they don’t even give it a second glance. A sidewalk sale or tent sale, however, creates something different that catches the eye of all those people driving by that never thought to come into your store before. When something is out of the ordinary on your ordinary drive, you tend to take note — and the same thing will happen when there’s something catchy outside your store.

Donate to charity.

I know, probably the last thing on your mind when money is tight is to actually give away money — but a charity drive can help bring in new customers while helping out a local non-profit during a season that’s probably slow for them as well. Create a donation drive that rewards donations with a discount on their purchase. You can create a food drive and offer a donation for canned goods, or you could instead donate a percentage of every sale to charity. Brainstorm different charities and potential drives — bonus points if you find a charity or drive that has ties with your brand and product offering. Advertise the event, and ask the charity to spread the word on their social media too.

Up the outreach.

Use the extra time during a slow season to run more outreach to potential customers. Ramp up the advertising and brainstorm new ways to reach your target customer. Create a social media campaign that’s above and beyond the usual, consistent posts. Build a mailing list. Try sending out a press release to local media outlets. Reach out to non-competing businesses in the same general category and share cross-advertisements in each others’ stores.

Create an event or holiday.

Sales slumps usually happen during seasons when there isn’t a major holiday boosting sales — so why not create your own reason to boost sales? Celebrate the obscure holidays, like giving out free chocolate cake on chocolate cake day, free pie on Pi day, or hosting an ice cream party on Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast day. If the obscure holidays on the calendar don’t catch your eye, try creating an event like a 5K race, a lecture, a cooking demonstration — the possibilities are nearly endless.

Tackle the business-boasting tasks on your to-do list.

The slow season is a great time to re-evaluate and tackle those projects that you’ve been meaning to get to. Consider jumping on tasks like re-designing or re-arranging the store layout, analyzing your pricing, expanding your social media, or updating your budget.

Slow seasons shouldn’t be a time for panic, but a time for creativity and looking for new, innovative ways to get more customers through the door.

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5 unique, affordable marketing ideas for small businesses

5 unique, affordable marketing ideas for small businesses

Traditional marketing like radio, TV and newspapers can be great for boosting business, but sometimes, the best marketing campaigns stem from unusual, outside-the-box ideas. Getting creative with marketing can often help stretch the marketing budget a bit further too. Here are five non-traditional marketing ideas to try for your small business.

Mix with another business.

When small businesses work together, both of them win. Consider working with a non-competing business in your area that caters to the same audience on a special or gift package. For example, as suggested by Vertical Response, a spa and restaurant could work together to create a Mother’s Day package. The restaurant’s regular customers would hear about the spa, and the spa’s regular customers would hear about the restaurant. Advertise the package, and both businesses could see new customers from the partnership as well.

Send out birthday wishes and other greetings.

Don’t always think of marketing as direct selling. Establishing a relationship with customers is part of that, even though the message may not be hard hitting. When customers sign up for a loyalty program or subscribe to your emails, gather a few basic pieces of information. Then, send out a note on their birthday or a thank you after they make a purchase. You can try including a coupon, but make a majority of the message about them. The same idea goes for in-store relationships, and learning the names of your regulars.

Share advice on a blog.

Do your customers know the best ways to use your product? Share advice on how to use your product, or more general tips that reach out to your target audience on a blog or social media. You’ll help build authority in your field, while helpful information is also more likely to get shares on social media and clicks in the search results over a traditional marketing message. A dairy company can share recipes, for example, a print shop tips on design and photography. You likely won’t see results right away, but you’ll build an audience over time without spending much besides your time.

Send out a press release.

Is your small business hiring new leadership, hosting an event, or adding a new product? Take advantage of these big changes by sending out a press release to local news outlets. The bigger the news is and the more unique, the more likely that press release is to gain traction. News coverage isn’t pushy marketing, but gets your name out there in a positive manner.

If at first you don’t succeed, then, try again.

Don’t quit a marketing campaign after the first run — customers are more likely to buy from brands that they’ve heard about more than once. That means you may not get results the first time, but your odds increase with a second run. If you can, try a marketing campaign idea at least twice between determining if it helped grow your business or not.

Marketing is essential for small business, but the options extend well beyond the traditional, go-to, big-budget ads. Try a few unique marketing ideas to reach new customers on a budget.