Clever Customer Service

Customer service comes in all shapes and sizes . . . from a cashier who smiles genuinely to a service tech that goes the extra mile to make sure everything is working for you just as intended to a clever little card enclosed with your purchase.  Enter Anker, a Chinese electronics company, and my new portable charger.  While I was sufficiently pleased with the charger, I was taken with their customer service insert.  A small business card in size that was folded in half . . .

Compact, concise, thoughtful, and thorough.  I was impressed enough to snap a few pictures and jot down a few words . . . to remember my dose of inspiration and perhaps extend the feeling to others.  Establish your objective, however ordinary, and challenge your thinking to be somewhat extraordinary in your path to achieve it. 

Web Design: Everyone has to Start Somewhere

Recently, my blog partner did a post urging any small business owners holding out on creating a web site to take the plunge (read that story here).  He assured anyone feeling intimated that every “first try” typically lacks polish and suggested going to the Wayback Machine (a digital archive of the World Wide Web) if in need of evidence.  I thought that sounded like a super fun experiment.  So in the name of confidence building, let’s look at some big companies and their humble on-line beginnings. . . .

LEGO

Certainly not without charm (because who doesn’t love minifigures?!), but I’m guessing the individuals in charge of this design can’t look back now without cringing.

HOME DEPOT

I love a web site with a cartoon mascot that introduces himself before presenting the content of his page.  Homer from Home Depot.  Priceless.

MACY’S

Where pink, purple, and red and a dash of stars meet function.

GOOGLE

I rememberd Google always being just a logo and a search box, so I was amused to see this early weightier version. 

MCDONALD’S

More cartoons.  I’m lovin’ it.

PEPSI

This one may be my favorite.  And I’m not going to lie, I wish I had the Shockwave plug-in.

UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE

Look at all them clouds! 

AMAZON

Not too shabby, right?  I even kinda remember this design.  I knew I needed to keep looking. . . .

Here’s the gold!  This relic wasn’t available on the Wayback Machine.  Their earliest functional crawl of Amazon was 1999, and I had a feeling that an older, humbler version existed somewhere.  Thank you, versionmuseum.com.  (In amazon’s defense, this design was among the oldest within this collection with a July 1995 release date.)

FACEBOOK

Welcome to “the Facebook.”

In conclusion, I restate: everyone has to start somewhere. 

I hope one day your business grows so big that someone like me searches its origins to see the beginning of your journey.

How to Market Your Small Business During Coronavirus Pandemic

GUEST BLOG INTRODUCTION: Just as business was gradually opening up a bit, new Coronavirus cases have increased dramatically worldwide. Marketing advice for small businesses trying to navigate this unprecedented territory is extremely important. We thank our guest blogger, Kally Tay, for her insights. Having more than 20 years as a manager in various industries, she founded a career website to help others to thrive in their jobs. Featured on numerous platforms such as WordPress Editor’s Pick and AllWomensTalk, her website MiddleMe.net discusses difficult and sensitive issues like workplace abuse and discord among coworkers while providing practical advice on how to handle those situations. We encourage you to read more about her in her bio.

Photo by tirachardz

The coronavirus pandemic has definitely changed the way many businesses conduct their business. They are now forced to try out several strategies to help them keep afloat, especially now that people are not going out to shop due to the fear of the virus.

Small businesses have it rough most of all because they have limited options available to guide them through the pandemic. Fortunately, these options are enough for small businesses to create an effective marketing strategy for their business to remain afloat even during this crisis.

To help you out, here are some ways on how you can do it in the most efficient way:

Always Focus On Open Communication

Maintaining an open communication with clients has always been a major marketing strategy for businesses even before the pandemic. It is a way to show customers that they are open for business and can assist with their daily needs.

But, with the pandemic changing the way businesses do business, having an active and open communication can help customers know you are still available for clients. Keep your customers updated through social media, text and even through your website and let them know what services you have to offer. You can even post your contact details on Google’s My Business Directory so people can search you more easily if they need a certain product or services.

Show How You Can Help During This Pandemic

When you are showcasing your business to customers, they don’t look at the promises you offer them. They remember you with the services and products that you offer. Since they can’t see your products and services in person because of the pandemic, you can show that your services and products still matter during this time.

To do this, spotlight the products and services that can help improve customer lives during this pandemic. Be honest and sincere when doing your campaign and provide discounts for frontliners and anyone working in the field in your area.

Check Out Your Loyal Customers

Got loyal customers who always check your products and services? If you do, do they know that you are still in business despite the pandemic. If they don’t know you are open, how can you rake in sales and stop them from trying out other brands that offer the same stuff as you do?

Check out your loyal customer database and reach out to them through social media or email. Since the pandemic has closed down many businesses, competition is not very fierce and you can use this opportunity to ramp up your brand for new users. Use the time wisely and you can definitely rake in these clients easily to your midst.

Put The Customer First

In business, the adage “the customer is always right” is a constant thing that must be followed religiously. During this time of pandemic, it opens up a great opportunity for your business to reach out to your customers and see how they are doing.

Since people are not allowed out, especially those who are vulnerable to the disease, they depend on businesses and other content creators to give them something to look forward to. They use the content to alleviate their fears and also pass the time because they exhausted everything they can do at home.

With this in mind, you can give your customers tips on how they can use their time wisely at home with the help of the products or services you have to offer. You can also offer advice on other things related to your business that your customers may not have realized before. For example, if you are offering your accountant services before, you can put in advice on your website regarding how they can save money even while at home.

Boost Your Social Media Presence

For several small businesses, it is no longer plausible for customers to visit you in your brick and mortar stores because of social distancing and other coronavirus prevention measures. If you want to keep people still checking out your offerings, you will need to find other ways to sell your product or services.

Social media is a great place to do this, especially now that people are looking online for everything they need. Customers can check your social media pages for what you offer and reach out if you need it. However, if your social media page isn’t up-to-date or your campaign strategy is all wrong, then it can be hard to get the conversion you need to make a profit. Look into how you update your social media and provide credible information that visitors need. If you stay consistent with your brand and offer relevant information, visitors will definitely check your brand often and peruse your products and services.

Use Your Creative Mind To Think Of New Ideas

With many people now stuck at home and running out of things to do, it is a great way for small businesses to offer solutions to this problem.

You can start selling things like coloring kits or startup planting kits for customers to use on their idle time or offer tutorials on how to photo edit or produce the next big viral hit. It doesn’t have to be related to your business. So long as it can help customers pass the time, it is a great way to get people to remember your business.

Stay Flexible And Learn To Adapt

If you want to market your small business during the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that you remain flexible. You can never tell what will happen next during this pandemic and you need to be on your toes for any changes that may affect your business. Learn how to adapt with these changes and be as flexible as you can for your customers who may need your services during this time.

It is unclear as to when things will go back to normal and for small businesses, this uncertainty can be disturbing. However, utilizing the best strategy available, like the ones above, can definitely make a difference and reduce the losses your business may be having due to the pandemic. See which of these tips above can help you and faithfully cultivate them because when you do, you will see things improve gradually.

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship vs. “Influencer”: Which Best Describes You?

The three categories of activity identified in the headline above have both similarities and differences. 

Since correctly recognizing the term that best describes you could have some bearing upon the way in which you brand your operation, we are using this article to explore these different categories.  That said, be aware that branding does play a key role in each . . . and you should understand that your personal brand may (but does not necessarily have to) play an important part in shaping your company’s brand.

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship

According to the website DifferenceBetween.com

“The difference between small business and entrepreneurship mainly depends on the persuasion of growth. If the owner/owners of the business are content with the manner in which the business is currently operating and do not wish to engage in more growth opportunities, then it can be categorized as a small business. On the other hand, if the entrepreneur/entrepreneurs operate their business with a clear and creative vision and are interested in expansion opportunities, this type of business is an entrepreneurship. Since small businesses do not pursue growth, they remain small or medium scale throughout their lifespan. However, this does not mean that they are not successful; some small businesses may be cash rich.”

Entrepreneur vs. Influencers

According to a National Geographic article entitled, “Influencers:  The Modern Entrepreneur,” the following applies:

“Entrepreneurs are people who organize, manage, and take on the risks of a business. They often start a new business in response to a perceived need for a good or service. An influencer, on the other hand, is someone who has the power to affect or change people and their behavior through social media—often to get them to buy something. Influencers who start their own business certainly fall under the first part of the definition of entrepreneur, as they are managing their business and taking on risk.”

Brand Building

Typically, small businesses build brands overtime that reflect the product and/or service being provided.  The process involves finding the qualities that set the business apart from others and developing strategies to reinforce those traits and communicate them to customers.  Each interaction with the general public and consumer audience then plays a part in refining the brand to reflect the feedback received via comments, reviews, complaints, and sales.  This process of evolution should be never-ending.  (See our articles designed to help you get started building a brand.)

Very often, the brands of both entrepreneurs and influencers seem to take on the characteristics of the personal brand of the individual(s) involved.  (That said, a strong personal brand can be useful to a small business, too, which may not necessarily be seeking growth but would want strong customer retention – an attribute that could be helped by loyalty to an individual.)

Common Qualities of an Entrepreneur/Influencer

An Inc. magazine article entitled “10 Essential Characteristics of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs,” indicated that these individuals tend to be:  creative; passionate; motivated; optimistic; future-oriented; persuasive; flexible; resourceful; adventurous; and decisive.  In my experience, many of those kinds of words also ultimately end up being among those that define the brand of both the person and the company.

When I first started at GUARD (pre-Berkshire Hathaway days), the company was small (15 employees) and had been founded by a pair of entrepreneurs who had sketched the original structure of the organization on a napkin over lunch.  Frankly, each of the words identified by the Inc. article describe this husband and wife team very well . . . and also became the kinds of words that applied to the culture, products, and services of the company.

In the early days in particular, GUARD was an entrepreneurship that was independent, creative in thinking outside the box in developing unique products and services, flexible in responding to marketplace opportunities, resourceful in stretching available capital, future-oriented in building toward a big long-term goal, etc.

Understanding that personal and company brands tend to merge can be important in either choosing to intentionally build a personal brand OR in making sure steps are taken to separate the brand of the entrepreneur from that of the company.  Very often, this choice should be one of the first made by small businesses.

Ways to Enhance Your Personal Brand

Patrick Ambron in an Entrepreneur magazine article (“Is Your Personal Brand Losing You Business?”) identified four fundamental steps that could be taken to have a strong on-line foundation for a personal brand.

  • Claim your domain name.
  • Build a personal website.
  • Set up profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Do some basic search engine optimization. 
    (i.e., Use your actual name wherever possible and link all your various pieces of online content to one another.)

Taking these steps can be very inexpensive and (using readily available tools) should be relatively easy.  (Learn more about personal branding.)

And So . . .

If you are an entrepreneur or influencer (or perhaps both), assume your personal brand is going to become part of your business.  Therefore, you better start paying close attention to the kind of statement you are projecting.  If, on the other hand, you are a small business, ask yourself whether customer sales/retention would be improved by linking your identity to that of your company brand . . .  or whether you want the two to make a different statement.

How to Get the Best Fonts for Free

Photo by Lum3n from Pexels

Fonts.  Oh, how I love fonts.  They can make the simplest design unique and elegant.  With the right font, your company name can transform from mere words to a professional and striking logo. So, how does a small business owner make best use of their branding budget (mine is usually $0/mo) to obtain the fonts that are perfect for the job? 

The obvious answer . . . you can search “free fonts” on google and see the results.  Unfortunately, the majority of the fonts in those search results are “free for personal use,” meaning you can use the font for a decoration for your son’s birthday party but not to create your business’s logo.  However, “free for commercial use” fonts do exist, you just need to dig a little deeper for these gems . . . or simply view the list below, because I’ve already done the digging.

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Google Fonts – “Making the web more beautiful, fast, and open through great typography.”

A favored resource, I’ve recommended this site many times.  About a thousand *free* fonts are available, and they’re presented in a wonderfully searchable format (it is google after all).  You’re able to type in your sample text, select the size you want to preview, and choose your desired font characteristic(s);  then, your search results populate accordingly. According to google, “You can use [the fonts] freely in your products & projects – print or digital, commercial or otherwise.”

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Font Squirrel – “100% Free for Commercial Use”

While this web site does have fonts for sale, hundreds are also available free for commercial use (as they promote right in their company tagline).  Fonts are organized by category (i.e., san serif, serif, display, etc.) as well as by other useful attributes (i.e., language, number of font styles included in font family, etc.).

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Font Space – “Free downloads of legally licensed fonts that are perfect for your design projects.”

The majority of fonts available on this site are free for personal use; so, be sure to select “commercial use” as a filter in your search, and you’ll still have thousands of results to peruse.

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1001 Fonts – Your favorite site for free fonts.

Another site in which most of the free fonts are for personal use, you have to look a little closer to find the free commercial fonts.  Click the “Font Categories” at top and within the “Special” section, you’ll find “Free Fonts for Commercial Use.”  At the time of this writing, the count of free commercial fonts was over 12,000, so the choices are still plentiful.

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Font Bundles

I will provide a disclaimer that web sites from this point down are probably only recommended for true font enthusiasts (like myself).  The casual font appreciator will probably not appreciate needing to create an account (albeit free) for access to the free font selection . . . or the regular emails that result (though you can unsubscribe to those; I personally enjoy seeing what’s new in the world of fonts from week to week, but that may just be me).  Now that I’ve mentioned the inconveniences, the benefit is that these types of sites usually have nicer options available.  If you decide to go this route, Font Bundles gives you access to everything in their “free fonts” section, including a new font added every week.

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Creative Fabrica – “BE CREATIVE. STAY AUTHENTIC.”

Another site requiring a free account for access, this source is actually one of my favorites.  They have a “Freebies” section of their web site, in which you’ll find a rotating selection of hundreds of free fonts.  However, my favorite membership perk is their daily emails, each linking to a free font – only available that day.  I enjoy having a free digital treasure delivered to my inbox each morning.  Well, sometimes, the freebie isn’t a treasure, but I can just delete those; no hard feelings.

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Creative Market

Similar to Creative Fabrica described above, you need an account for freebies, and they are regularly emailed to you.  At Creative Market, however, you get one email per week letting you know about six available free goods, which can include fonts, graphics, stock photography, templates, etc.  I would say in general half of the six free goods are fonts.  One nice aspect of this site is that every time you download one of their free goods, its saved for you in your “Purchases.” If you download your free goods every week like I do, hundreds of fonts will be available in that section – all with a nice sort feature and large, graphic preview.

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Do you have a favorite source for free fonts (for commercial use) that I missed?  Let us know in the comments section below!

BTW:  If you get to the point you have so many fonts, you have troubles sifting through your choices, read this story next:  Finding the Right Font: A Review of the Best Available Font Viewers.