Shopkeepers are Friendly!!!

I followed my own advice last night.  My husband and I decided to do some Christmas shopping in the old town Glendale shopping district, specifically Catlin Court Historic District.  Our first stop was at Cameo Candles, Bath & Gifts run by Bernie and Cindie Boyle.  Their young son greeted us as we entered the shop and asked us if we had ever been there before.  We told him that it was our first visit, and he promptly told us that all their candles are soy candles made on the premises by his dad (who you can see working in the back room if you’re lucky).  His mom makes all the bath products and holiday decorations that are available.  We were encouraged to visit each room of their little shop, which we did.

Isn’t it fantastic to meet the person who has actually created the things that you purchased?  What a wonderful feeling to know that you’re contributing to the upbringing of Bernie and Cindie’s young son?  I do regret not getting his name, but I will the next time I visit.

Our next visit was to Bears and More, which has so many adorable gifts for young children, as well as a few unusual things for adults.  My husband managed to find a needle felting kit for me ( I know, I’m not supposed to know what I’m getting for Christmas, but needle felting is something I’ve never done and I was encouraged into it by one of the owners, Valerie, who was as sweet and welcoming as she could possibly be).

I mentioned that I wanted to bring attention to the fact that more people need to think about shopping local and she laughed and said, “What do you need? I’ll tell you where you can get it!”

The point is that before we decide to just run to one of the big box stores, just because they’re convenient or a little less expensive, we should look to see if we can meet our needs locally.  The point is to keep more of our money inside our own local communities.

Our last stop in Catlin Court was at The Open Door and The Open Door “Too” where we met Daphne and Russ.  I mistook them for a married couple because Daphne was telling Russ where to display his items.  My mistake!  They’re actually very good friends and laughed at my assumption.  Another wonderful experience talking to shopkeepers, and people who either make the items that are for sale, or are responsible for placing them in the store.  I have been looking for an indoor fountain to help me sleep at night.  At The Open Door, I found beautiful copper fountains, each one a work of art, reasonably priced, and something that I would never find at a big box store.

The Navajo artwork was stunning.  Each piece is numbered and guaranteed to be authentic.  None of these items have the words “made in China” on them. Instead, they are made by hand, one at a time, and a tribute to the history of this part of the country.  Without these types of items, we would lose track of our heritage.

Do we want to be an identical twin of our neighbor?  I certainly don’t. I want to be an individual, and as such, I want to purchase some of the things that speak only to me.  I don’t want to be told what to buy. That is, in essence, what happens when a computer does the inventory ordering for a big box store.

In a small store, you find things that are created in a very limited number. Original works of art go for a great deal of money because there is only one of them.  Limited editions are still collectible because they are limited.  When you make 100,000 of an item with pending orders for even more, it becomes common, and not as desirable.  It makes it inexpensive…but that’s about it.

Please try to find a local business to support, and do it often.  Without recognizing that we’re bleeding our country dry we will die a slow death.  If we stop the flood of money out of our communities and pledge to keep more here, we will turn things around and make a difference.

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Social Media as Advertising for Small Business

The times…they are a-changing!

It used to be that you had to market to your customers on a regular basis, reaching out to them at regular intervals with more and more messages about how and why they should do business with you.

Let me tell you my friends, things are changing!

With the advent of social media, and by that I mean…

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blogging – WordPress, Blogger, etc.
  • LinkedIn
  • and many, many more…

…customer behavior and expectations are changing, moving from the “old way” to the new way.

When people look to shop for something these days, they don’t open a catalog, or yellow pages the way they used to.  Now, they ask their friends for advice (not so different, right?) but they do it through social media now.  They aren’t just asking their coworker or next door neighbor…they are using Twitter and Facebook to ask, “What do you think?”

And this is powerful!

If you aren’t a presence on the internet, you are MISSING OUT ON A LOT OF MONEY!

A young woman wanted a camera to take on vacation and so she asked for advice from her friends on Twitter.  A CMO (chief marketing officer) for Kodak was on Twitter, monitoring for this type of query.  He reached out to her and suggested one of Kodak’s least expensive cameras that might be a solution for her situation.

This is a 6+ billion dollar company!  And they are on Twitter, chatting with their customers about the pros and cons of an inexpensive camera.  How incredibly powerful is that?  It used to be that to get in touch with the executive of a huge corporation, you really had to have connections.  Today, if you want to stay in the running for business, you need to be using social media.

A recent article caught my attention about a local Phoenix restaurant, Z-Tejas.  One of their customers was really unhappy with a recent visit to their restaurant and tweeted about it.  Instantly, one of the owners of Z-Tejas contacted their unhappy customer and sorted out the matter.  Had they not been monitoring Twitter, they would have NEVER known how unhappy this person was, and that they were tweeting about it to anyone on their list.  I’m not as active on Twitter as a lot of other people, but my list is over 400 people.

Would you like 400 people to read about a bad experience?  Or would it be better to have 400+ people see that you appreciated how much of a problem this was for one of your guests, and you actually took steps to fix the problem? Believe me…negative advertising can cost you a LOT of money.

By monitoring Twitter, being attentive, and alert to a problem Z-Tejas was able to reach out to this unhappy customer and fix the situation.  This kind of advertising is worth its weight in gold!

Today, people Google everything. According to the February 2010 study from Compete.com blog, 3 out of 5 customers all use search engines when shopping for something, and that includes when they are shopping locally.  They want to know who has what they’re looking for. Not using social media can be killing your business.

Everyone who knows me understands how important shopping locally is to me.  If you don’t let your local customers know about you, how interested you are in them, their concerns, and how you might be able to help, they will find someone else to solve their problems.

And, very often, that is money you won’t be collecting, and if it isn’t local, the entire community suffers.

To that end, I can be found on Twitter as @KathleenBirming and @SmallBizBits.  I can also be found here on Facebook as Kathleen Birmingham.  And if you want to stay up on my Small Biz Bits, please “like” my page here.

Local Biz Needs a Lift

A new report just out indicates that as a single state, Arizona has lost over 250K jobs since June 2006…but the Housing Market finally looks as though it is going to improve. (We are all holding our breath on this one…)

The news is pretty similar to everyone around the country, local biz, large and small, is suffering.

As I go out and interview small biz owners in the community here, many of them are really working to keep their people employed, but admit that it is hard to provide all the hours that their employees want or need.

Remember to shop locally.  Even when you can spend a little bit less because you don’t have to pay sales tax, those dollars spent locally can mean the difference between someone keeping or losing their job.

I’ve even managed to change the thinking of immediate family members, by talking up the “shop local” idea.  Most folks don’t understand just how difficult it is to keep our economy going, especially when we’re all trying to stretch our hard earned dollars by shopping for bargains. Some of the bargains are found in the big box stores, and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to pay a large percentage more.

Next time, try this, go to a local store owner and tell them your dilemma.  You want to shop locally, but their price for a specific item is just too high.  See if the good old “let’s make a deal” method can give you a better price than you would have gotten, and your local shop owner made a sale.

Remember, it’s our local economy we need to worry about, so keeping our money local is critical!

Persuasian – Your Customer Buys the WHOLE Package!

Sometimes we have to get back to basics.

What does your client or customer expect when they meet you to do business?  They expect someone who is an expert in their field, someone who can answer questions, has a skill set that they don’t have, and has the confidence to carry out any directives.

Recently I heard about an extreme example about first impressions, and while it might have a place in the opening pages of a novel, it has no place in a business setting.  Let’s say your first introduction to a person is meeting them while they are covered with mud, wearing boots, jeans, Stetson, etc.  All the clothing is top quality, but it is rumpled, messed, and dirty.  You’ve just met your new doctor.

What’s your impression?

Do you have confidence in this person?  Do you believe that they have the necessary skills to help you? They could be the most skilled surgeon in a five state area, but your initial impression leaves you doubting their abilities.

A very extreme example, to be sure, but don’t you see how hard it would be to take this individual seriously as a neurosurgeon?  It doesn’t matter that he may also be a rancher.  His/her first impression leaves a lot to be desired, and no matter how skilled he is, it will be an uphill battle to get you to believe it.

Wouldn’t it?

If you have ever read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, you will understand why people can sum you up in less than a second.  If you are anything less than genuine in your business dealings, they will know it.  They won’t know why they don’t trust you, but we all go with our gut feeling.

The question remains, are you doing everything you possibly can to make a good impression? I know it almost seems impertinent to point out that you need to be well dressed and well groomed, but we all tend to forget to really look at ourselves in the mirror when we get ready in the morning.  We put on the same clothes we’ve always put on (hint: this is an indicator your wardrobe needs updating).

We might style or comb our hair the way we have for years, (and it’s always worked for us, right?)

Shoes…briefcase…even your car gives an impression about you.

Is it the one you want to portray?

If not, then it’s time to make a change. If you’re not sure, pretend that you’re going to meet the President of the United States, or the Queen of England.  Would you spruce anything up?  If so, why are your customers any less important? You’re probably not going to be doing business with the President, or with the Queen, but to treat your customers with any lesser courtesy is to do both you and them a disservice.

Let’s start with you. When was the last time you had a hairstyle change? Bought a few new articles of clothing? Look at  your hands…are your nails well groomed?

Even though most people don’t look directly at everything, they will “thin-slice” you, and make a determination about you based on what they see. Make sure it is the professional look you intend for them to see. I recently talked with a woman who was worried about her husband…he had been removed from his position as a leader of a team and moved into the position as leader of another team that was perceived as less important and not really in production yet.  In order to help his self-esteem, she insisted that he get new clothes, focusing on dominant and powerful impressions.  He decided to grow a beard, and when she saw a lot of gray hair in it, she helped him to dye it strategically to present a youthful appearance, yet with the “grey-back” signature of experience on it.

Guess what happened!

The move that was to put him on the sidelines instead catapulted him to the top of his game.  The new people he was dealing with saw a confident, well-dressed, well-groomed man who had the presence, skills, and knowledge they were hoping for.  They were afraid their program was a step-child, and instead when this man appeared, they believed that they had been given a true leader.

What would have happened if this man had gone into this new position as a lackluster shadow of himself? If he’d worn his tired old clothes, once very nice, but certainly worn, grey hair, and a lack of confidence? Certainly not what is happening to him today!  The program, once thought of as the step-child by the entire corporation has taken on a life of its own. The team is coming alive with renewed vigor and inspiration.  What everyone had written off as a lost cause is now the “new and improved version of the company”.

Don’t EVER neglect to notice what your first impression is with your business. It can make or break you.  If you have to save one or two sets of good clothes for when you meet clients, then do so!  Get your hair styled and/or colored.  If you wear facial hair, is it well groomed and in the most becoming fashion?

When you are in the business of persuasion (i.e. selling), your clients and customers are buying the entire package…

…and that includes you!

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

The Birth of Our Nation

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,

That they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights,

That among these are Life, Liberty,
and the pursuit of Happiness.

~Declaration of Independence, 1776

We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Do you know your history and appreciate the significance of this beautiful flag
of ours?

We might be taking the 4th of July a bit for granted, so let’s recall the important events of 1776 and what they meant to us. Prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Americans had been chafing under the rule of Britain’s King George who wanted not only to rule and tax the people of the new colonies.  He also wanted to keep them well under his thumb, limiting their ability to expand territories and to export all our natural resources. The Revolutionary War is the result of that desire for Independence and the signing of the Declaration of Independence was merely the beginning.

It would take six very long and painful years before we broke free from British rule. The Revolutionary War pitted families against one another long before the Civil War ever did. Some people were content to remain loyalists, but I am
glad that the Patriots held fast.

Hurray for the USA!

Here is an article on Independence Day that summarizes much of what went on in 1776 and the subsequent six years.

It is good to recall that the 4th of July is about a whole lot more than fireworks and BBQs.

It really IS a day to celebrate the birth of our nation, and the beginning of an entirely new way of life.

We are, indeed, fortunate to live in the USA!