Strategic planning is an annual exercise at most successful organizations. This process is essential to discovering new areas of growth and establishing a road map for future development. Consumer demands are changing every day – often fed by rapidly evolving technologies. Keeping up with these changes is essential, but often difficult while immersed in day to day operations.
One way to keep current with the changing landscape and infuse new thinking into strategic planning is to start with an analysis of best practices. I recently completed a benchmarking and best practices analysis for a Fortune 100 company eager to improve their performance in customer service. We worked together for several months completing a robust assessment that resulted in new inspiration for the department with clear takeaways to apply to their own business.
Understanding best practices is important because it can help catapult performance to another level – if applied appropriately to an organization.
Key elements to conducting a successful best practices analysis include:
1. Verify the Leaders – Begin by identifying the leaders in the chosen space. Make a list of those companies admired both inside and outside of the relevant industry. Verify the leaders by searching for those companies who have won awards for best performance, or who are consistently ranked as best in class. Check with publications like Fortune, Forbes and Tech Crunch, or industry research groups like J.D. Power and Gartner.
2. Collect the Data – Begin researching the identified leaders in the field. Read articles, examine annual reports and record available information about how they pushed to the top of the heap. There will be important similarities between the leaders and key differences. Analyze the trends. If possible, work with an expert network like GLG to quickly access relevant professionals and set up conversations to gain more knowledge. Make a list of best practices, which companies embrace them and how these practices drive results.
3. Measure Your Performance – Establish metrics to measure your company performance and compare to the leaders. Data is sometimes hard to find, but there are resources to help such as: Similar Web to compare website traffic, NPS Benchmarks to compare Net Promoter Score, and data from annual reports of public companies to compare financial and other performance ratios.
4. Identify Gaps – Compare the approach and performance of the leaders to your company. Realistically identify the best practices that could be applied. Make a list of quick wins and longer-term aspirational goals.
5. Make it Yours – Each company culture is unique. Share the best practice research with your team and begin discussions about how to adjust and apply these practices. Armed with this research, the team will enter the strategic planning process sharper and more focused on what will drive innovation and results.
Taking time to reflect on past results and plan for the future is critical for all companies. Starting the planning process with an analysis of best practices will inspire the team with new ideas and a fresh perspective on growth.
Contact us to discuss.
The burning question for many private-equity investors is - "How big is the market?" In an era where entrepreneurs are breaking ground in new markets daily, this question is difficult, but not impossible to answer.
Experts are predicting some of the hottest tech trends for 2017 will be
As an example, the Internet of Things promises to materially disrupt our economy with the connectivity of everyday devices, allowing them to send and receive data. Private-equity companies and others are investing heavily in promising IoT technologies. Business Insider predicts that nearly $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years. The overall market size will be large with McKinsey estimating the total IoT market to grow from $900 million in 2015 to $3.7 billion in 2020 (33% CAGR).
Although the research powerhouses have analyzed the overall market size and provide credible direction for growth, there is little published on niche markets within IoT. For example, how about the size of IoT analytics in a specific vertical like vineyard management? Traditional analytics vendors like IBM, SAP and Microsoft, or cloud service providers like AWS may try to enter this space; however, upstart pure-play vendors may be able to quickly capture market share. What are the opportunities in this market? Does it make sense to enter - organically or through acquisition? The market must be properly sized to answer these questions.
Calculating the Total Addressable Market (TAM) for niche, new, or relatively unknown markets is always challenging. However, it must be done with a degree of precision to understand value and opportunity. We broke the process down into five steps:
1. Compile Existing Secondary Market Research - Although these markets are new, pull all surrounding data. It helps to know the size of adjacent markets, the trends in adjacent markets and perspective on influencing factors. We start with Forrester Research, due to the breadth and credibility of their analysis. A new favorite research tool is Statista, not as comprehensive, but very quick and easy to use.
2. Analyze Top-Down - This takes us back to our McKinsey/BCG consulting interviews with questions like, "How many telephone poles are there in North America?" Start with a verified macro number, like population, then segment the market. Who uses the product? How often? At what price? Provide a source for every assumption you make. For example, if trying to calculate the market for IoT analytics within the agricultural vertical - vineyard management specifically - one approach might be to start with the overall value of IoT in agriculture. Determine the relative percentage that vineyard management represents. Triangulate this with the number of connected devices - total revenue per connected device in total, for agriculture and again for vineyards. Calculate the number of vineyards who could be customers. Apply a price. Are analytics sold per connected device? Price times volume equals revenue. Work on credible estimates for both sides of the equation.
3. Analyze Bottom-Up - This approach is usually more detailed than the top-down. Determine specifics of production and then calculate this number across the market. For example, if trying to calculate the market for IoT analytics at vineyards, you could start with one vineyard. Understand the economics for IoT analytics within a single market. Annual reports of public companies are usually a wealth of information for this analysis; websites and press releases of private companies often include one or two key pieces of data helpful for market sizing and benchmarking. Call vendors to check pricing. Build up the market size piece by piece and then triangulate with your other sources. Is it in the same ballpark as your top-down analysis? Does it make sense given the size of the macro or adjacent markets from the secondary research findings?
4. Verify with the Experts - As much as possible, reach out to experts in the market. Sense check your assumptions. Trade Associations are often incredibly helpful. Always be mindful and specific that you are not looking for confidential information. When working with GLG Strategic Projects, we utilize the GLG expert network to reach out to leaders in their field to verify assumptions and learn more. GLG is a fantastic resource for connecting quickly and professionally with experts. If you are not a client, you can utilize your own LinkedIn network, or make contacts directly.
5. Calculate Sensitivities - Markets are always changing. New markets are especially sensitive to growth assumptions and pricing projections. How do your numbers look if growth happens earlier, or later than expected? What if the market growth and opportunity attracts large entrants that drive prices down? Calculate (and graph) a market range based on the key variables that will impact value.
Entrepreneurs are pushing boundaries on new markets every day. As you look at these opportunities, make sure that market value is calculated with a detailed, analytical and credible approach. There probably isn't a research report available for most of these new, niche markets, but even if there is, it's important to understand and verify the assumptions that drive the calculations to truly understand the market opportunity.
According to a study cited in Harvard Business Review, 75% of the S&P 500 will turn over in the next 15 years. Will your startup transform your market to skyrocket to the top? Can you continue to push innovation, disruption and transformation through your organization (big and small) to delight your customers year after year?
Don't just "go digital" to solve old problems. Create transformation to reinvent your growth engine.
Read more here.
New technology is making us faster, smarter, smaller, and more efficient.
While it’s not always easy to learn new systems, some are just too good to pass up. We’ve selected a few of our favorite tools to make your life easier.
But don’t just take our opinion—we’ve also researched what others are saying and doing. We referenced two recent surveys to reinforce our top picks.
One survey, published earlier this year in Inc. Magazine by SurePayroll, asked 350 small-business owners nationwide for their favorite online tools; another survey we accessed interviewed over 500 entrepreneurs to find their favorites.
We bring you the best of these lists—with our endorsement of how this technology is changing our small business life.
Communication and Meetings
Google Hangouts: At Prestobox, we use Google Hangoutsevery day. It’s an easy way for us to have “face to face” meetings when we can’t be there in person. Sometimes we share our screen and do training with customers on Skype. Other times we gather our remote team for internal meetings.
We use Google Calendar as well, so we send out meeting requests that automatically have a link included to the Hangout. It makes it so easy to click on the link and join in. We’ve had meetings with people around the world and it feels like they’re next door. And it’s free.
Skype: This is our backup. We have Skype accounts in case a customer prefers Skype, but don’t find it quite as easy, or full functioning (easy screen share, multiple participants) as Google Hangouts. However, we are including it on this list because in the surveys we referenced, many small businesses do use and enjoy Skype.
See Also: 85 of the Best Tools for Startups
Box: This is a great cloud-based storage system that allows you to securely share, store, and manage all your company’s files. Your team can access your files anywhere and they are securely backed up. We use their starter package for $5/month/user. We came to Box after a few heart-stopping moments with Dropbox where we lost files, or functionality. That might have been our user error, but it scared us enough to make the switch. Box is also on the Inc. list of favorite tools.
Google Drive: Lots of our partners use Google Drive, and we’re on here too. We don’t find it quite as easy to use as Box, but it’s also free and probably easier to set up. Google Drive is also recommended in the other two surveys we referenced.
See Also: 34 Educational Resources for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Trello: Trello is a visual project management system. It allows you to see how you are progressing through a series of steps. Your entire team can access it, write notes and instantly see where things stand. We use this with our tech team to identify what needs to be accomplished each week, and to track progress. Trello was also selected as one of the best online tools in the Inc. poll.
Evernote: Evernote is a nifty way to take notes across different devices. You download the app onto any device you use—your phone, your computer, your tablet—and then it all syncs together so your notes are always up to date and accessible. The search function in the notes also works well so you can find what you’re looking for. No more scraps of paper; it’s all organized online. We use the free version of Evernote. The surveys we referenced agree with us too; many small businesses swear by this app.
See Also: 19 Funding Resources for New and Existing Businesses
Moz: If you want a quick hit to your search engine rankings, try Moz Local. They push all of your contact and location information to the major data aggregators. Then, the search engines can find you more quickly and your customers can find you.
We recommend this to our website customers, and have found that the results are fairly instant and dramatic. Access to Moz is $84/location.
Weebly: We use Weebly technology for the backend of the websites we create, and we love it. There’s really no need for custom coding for most websites anymore.
Weebly’s platform creates mobile-enabled websites that are as easy to create as a Powerpoint doc. Intro websites (you don’t get your own URL) are free.
PrestoBox: Full disclosure, yes this is our company and we created it with the sole purpose of automating branding for small businesses. Our “Brand Genie” software quickly identifies your colors, fonts, images, and brand personality. Then you create a logo, business cards, and a website. Our websites are on the Weebly platform with your brand on top. What used to take months of time and cost thousands of dollars, now happens in a snap. The Brand Genie is free; logos are $9; custom websites are $345.
Canva: Canva was called “the easiest to use design program in the world” by the Webbys, which gives awards for best on the internet.
They have turned me into a designer. I’m still not as good as a pro, but the Canva online platform features all sorts of pre-loaded graphics and tools that make design simple for everyone. The tool is free to use with minimal charges if you use certain graphics.
See Also: 3 Tools That Will Turn You into a Designer
Managing a small business is always a juggling act, and if you’re like the majority of small businesses, you’re the sole proprietor. That means you don’t have employees that specialize in whatever it is that needs to get done. You usually have to do it yourself.
These online tools are here to help. Each one should help you become more productive and free up more of your time—without impacting your budget. We hope these tools make your small business life easier.
Professor Pian Shu tackles one of the most difficult questions in the startup world: How can you tell if a new business will succeed?
In 2008, entrepreneur Brian Chesky and his two San Francisco roommates made the rounds of Silicon Valley VC firms with what they thought was a great idea: a website and mobile app that would allow homeowners to open their homes to strangers to sleep on their floor while traveling, in exchange for a nightly fee.
Of course, now we know the idea as Airbnb, a $10 billion business with 1.5 million listings around the world. But back then it must have seemed crazy. The liability issues alone seemed insurmountable—to say nothing of the likelihood that people would be willing to give the keys of their houses to total strangers who may or may not be serial killers.
Five VC firms rejected the nascent company’s pitch outright, and another two didn’t even bother to reply. “Investors must have thought, who would ever do this?” says Assistant Professor Pian Shu, a member of the Technology and Operations Management unit at Harvard Business School. “They didn’t know it would turn out to be a multibillion dollar industry.”
Click here to continue reading the article on HBS Working Knowledge.
You Can't Sell CFO Services When You Look Like A Bookkeeper
If you are trying to become the firm of the future and connect with new clients, you need to look the part. You can’t sell CFO services when you look like a bookkeeper. Put on a tie. Button up. And build your brand.
Your brand is what the outside world thinks of you. It’s a collection of impressions you build up over time. These days your first impression is often made online. You need a website and your website needs to be a great reflection of you. A branded website.
Here’s what your clients do:
- 87% check out your website before meeting with you
- 96% admit the website highly affects whether they choose your service
- 100% admit, “I have left a website because it was poorly designed or difficult to use”
Clearly a website has an important impact on your business. When your clients search for you online you need to be there. But you can’t just be there in a bland, or unprofessional way. You need to look the part. Looks matter.
A branded website will instantly build your credibility. Your clients will be more likely to choose you – and trust you when your website reflects your best self.
Here are the 6 rules of a branded website:
1. Define Who Your Are and What You Look Like – This is Branding 101. Know who you are. Your customers can’t begin to understand your unique sales position if you don’t. Write down 5 words to describe yourself. Then narrow it down to one. Keep this word in mind as your mantra when you are building your website. For example, the one-word mantra for a Nordstrom-type practice might be “quality”. A Nike-type practice might be “leading”. Then figure out what this looks like. Look at some companies you admire. What colors and fonts do they use to convey their brand? What images? Put all of these details into a document together and call it your brand guide. Share it with your staff and select clients for feedback.
2. Create a Logo – Keep your logo simple. Some of the world’s leading brands stick with stylized type. If you do add a symbol, it does not have to mimic what you do. Mercedes doesn’t have a car. Amazon doesn’t have a book. Your logo does have to convey the spirit of your brand and speak to your target customer. If you need a logo and know just what you want, contact a freelancer to complete it. If you need help and have a big budget, contact a branding agency. If you need inspiration and affordability, check out the online logo builder at PrestoBox, SquareSpace, or Vistaprint.
3. Choose Great Photos – Images convey emotion. Choose the right ones for your brand. Ideally these are images that you have professionally taken of your company, your products and your happy customers. There are also several free and affordable online resources for stock photos. We like Unsplash, iStock, and MorgueFile. Please don’t use any clipart on your website.
4. Keep Your Website Simple – Make it easy for your clients to find what they are looking for. Use a lot of white and not a lot of words. Simpler sites – with small splashes of color and great photos – look more sophisticated and visitors are more satisfied because they can find what they want. The more color and light variations on the page (complexity) the more work your eye has to do to send information to your brain. Take your inspiration from Google – our favorite example of online simple (and so effective).
5. Make it Mobile – Your branded website needs to be mobile. Your clients are increasingly attached to their phones. In fact, 91% of adults have their phones within reach 24/7. When your clients search on their phones, 70% of the time they take action within 1 hour. Another clincher, Google announced this year that non-mobile responsive websites would rank lower in search results.
6. Be Found Online (SEO) – When your clients search for you, you need to be there. Identify your key search terms. These will probably be your business name, location, services and names of your key staff. Setup your website with tags for these phrases and use them in content throughout your site. Most small firms are found by searching for the primary accountant’s name. If your name is Robert Smith, for example, use your full name in content on the site. Using abbreviations like Robert, or Mr. Smith won’t be as effective to get into the search results.
Follow these 6 rules to help you better understand who you are and how to communicate that online. Your branded website will be the gateway to your firm of the future. In fact, 80% of people surveyed chose one service over a competitor because it had a better website. Make it your firm they choose.
Comments from Sara Conte on leadership lessons from World Cup.
The Women's World Cup victory was historic. Loved this article from Inc. about leadership lessons we need to learn from the win. Good for all startups and entrepreneurs!
Click here to read the article on Inc.
5 Leadership Lessons from U.S. Women's World Cup Team
The U.S. Women's World Cup team wasn't without its controversy. But its consistent wins demonstrate uncanny leadership principles.
BY CHRIS MATYSZCZYK Owner, Howard Raucous LLC
Perhaps you leaped on the bandwagon late.
Perhaps you were there all along in spirit. Or at least on Twitter.
Perhaps you haven't gone to bed yet, after many rousing hours of celebration and patriotic fervor.
Whatever your current state (mental or physical), the U.S. Women's World Cup team showed us a thing or two about winning leadership.
1. Secure Your Foundation Before Becoming Too Aggressive.
Critics were saying in the group rounds that the U.S. couldn't score goals. The truth was that few teams could score goals against the U.S. The team understood that the World Cup, not unlike business in general, can be a grind rather than a single glamorous event. In the six games before the final, the team had conceded one goal. It played for 540 minutes before conceding. That's like Congress sitting for 10 years before agreeing on anything. Praise might be heaped on goalkeeper Hope Solo, but no goalkeeper looks good in front of a porous defense. Organize the foundation of your business first and more exciting things might follow.
2. Ignore Obvious Injustice and Adversity.
FIFA, otherwise known as the Church of the Blatter Day Saints, decreed that the whole World Cup would be played on artificial fields. This is the equivalent of playing the World Series in a gym. Oh, the U.S. team fought against this venal insult. But when they knew they couldn't win, the players still played soccer as it should be played, rather than hoofing the ball and hoping for a fortuitous bounce. (There are many fortuitous bounces to be had on plastic fields.) The players could have let the turf warp their perspectives, just as so many businesspeople blame unfair business conditions or plain cheating. The U.S. women could have used the turf as an excuse. Instead, they just played. And just won.
3. Let Talent Do its Thing.
A tempting strategy in both business and soccer is to fill your team with workhorses--efficient players who don't possess too much inspiration or imagination but will get the job done. The U.S. had a lovely balance between the trickery of Alex Morgan and the work rate of Megan Rapinoe. Against both Germany and Japan, when many might have thought the team would play even more defensively, the talent on the team was given the confidence to go forward and create. When you're at the critical juncture that might divide success from failure, let your talent do what your talent can do. That's when those with true ability want to shine most.
4. Don't Make Changes When You're Criticized. Make Them When They Feel Right.
Against Germany in the semi-final, U.S. coach Jill Ellis brought on Tobin Heath and pushed Carli Lloyd further forward. Potato-headed critics on couches make terrible coaches. Yet many suggested far more changes when the team seemed shy in front of the goal. At some point as a leader, you have to accept that yours is a lonely task. It can be even more miserable than having your online date not turn up. You can listen to advice. You might even listen to your critics--which doesn't mean agreeing with them. When it comes down to it, you will be judged by your decisions. Make sure those decisions are yours.
5. When You're Winning, Shoot From Midfield.
Few more glorious goals have ever been scored in any World Cup final--men's or women's--than Carli Lloyd's third. Her effort from somewhere near Edmonton was pure judgment, pure talent. To enjoy that level of confidence is rare. To enjoy that level of confidence in the most important game of your life shows that somewhere in that team was a winning mentality and a leader who encouraged bravado, rather than made like an actuary. Once a business leader can see that she's ahead, there's a certain swinging for fences unimagined that can bring not only more success but true, lasting glory. Every businessperson deserves to enjoy the feeling of glory just once.
Judging panel: Stephen Green, entrepreneur and assistant vice president at Albina Community Bank; Sara Conte, co-founder and president at PrestoBox; Marcelino Alvarez, founder and CEO at Uncorked Studios ;Genevieve Morganstern, CEO at Sadie; Paola Moretto, CEO at Nouvola; and Junea Rocha, founder and CEO at Brazibites.
A Loteria app — a Mexican game similar to bingo — targeted at English and Spanish language learners took home the overall prize at Portland’s first Startup Weekend Latino this weekend.
Ninety people participated in the event that aimed to bring the Startup Weekend model to a population of entrepreneurs who might not otherwise have known about the resource.
Participants arrived on Friday at the Portland State University Business Accelerator and pitched ideas to the group. Seven teams then formed to spend the weekend building and gathering customer validation. By the end of the 54-hour challenge, the teams pitched to a panel of judges.
Team creations ranged from apps, such as Loteringo, to a food business, an apparel brand and an Internet of Things application for agriculture.
Juan Barraza, one of the event organizers, said the weekend required more education for entrepreneurs to introduce them to the concept of Startup Weekend. The whole point was to offer an entrance into the network of startup resources in Portland. Once word got out, sign-ups took off in the last week or so before the event, he said. He added that 75 percent of the participants were Latino.
The judging panel consisted of: Marcelino Alvarez, founder and CEO at Uncorked Studios; Stephen Green, entrepreneur and assistant vice president at Albina Community Bank; Sara Conte, co-founder and president at PrestoBox; Junea Rocha, founder and CEO at Brazibites; Paola Moretto, CEO at Nouvola; and Genevieve Morganstern, CEO at Sadie.
Barraza is already busy planning next year's event. “We want to build a following. What we did was set up and get a community into place to participate,” he said. “The call to action is there,” he said, making reference to diversity efforts in the startup and tech community in Portland. “The Latino community needs to answer.”
Following the weekend activities, teams are invited to participate in two more events. One takes place next month on how to pitch to investors, held at Quick Left and supported by Portland Seed Fund, TiE and the Portland Development Commission. The other occurs in August, focusing on one-to-one work on legal, accounting and go-to-market strategy. The second event is slated for the eBay Community Lounge and supported by Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and the PDC.
The next Startup Weekend in the region is slated for the weekend of July 24 — Startup Weekend Vancouver, at Clark College.
Episode 11: Sara Conte: Build a Brand that Creates ‘Loyalty Beyond Reason’
In this episode, co-founder of PrestoBox Sara Conte shares some of the growth strategies PrestoBox has used to build their customer base.
Sara also talks about the psychology of brand strategy and how even the smallest business can start with a brand that connects with the personality of the company.
Businesses that last and create loyalty and stand out in a crowded world need a brand that is memorable. If you want know more about creating a brand that communicates who you are, you’ll want to hear what Sara has to say.
We are so happy to have Sara Conte (joining our Latino Startup Week as a judge. Sara is co-founder of PrestoBox, the world’s first automated branding agency. Sara’s resume is impressive: she is has earned experience in many industries (including venture capital and e-commerce), she sits on the board of many organizations and she is a prominent fixture in the Portland startup community. Her background helped to prepare her for her current challenge of running her own startup – where she learns new lessons each day about sales, customer service, analytics, technology, SEO, social media and the art of partnerships.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get valuable insights from people like Sara. See you at Startup Weekend Latino!
Q. What are you passionate about?
A. I’m passionate about building businesses – especially ones that utilize technology in new ways to solve problems and create value. Also super passionate about raising smart, healthy girls.
Q. If you could give advice to your 10 year old self today, what would you say?
A. I am living with my 11 year old self – my mini me daughter Hannah! I tell her to have fun, work hard and be kind.
Q. What’s the best advice you ever received?
A. My parents taught me to keep reaching for the stars – and enjoy the journey.
Q. What is your personal mission statement?
A. Have fun, work hard and be kind.
REGARDING STARTUP WEEKEND LATINO:
Q. What compelled you to participate in Startup Weekend Latino as a Judge/Mentor?
A. Juan Barraza’s big smile, hablo un poco español and a fire to help entrepreneurs from all walks launch successful ventures.
Q. What excites you most about participating in this event?
A. I’m hoping to help get some new ventures launched! And fingers crossed we have good salsa.
Q. What advice would you give to participants of Latino Startup Week?
A. As you develop your ideas, remember to put the customer first. Quickly identify your core customer and prove that your product will delight them.
Q. What is your opinion of the current state of diversity in the entrepreneurial community?
A. Entrepreneurs come in every shape and size. We shouldn’t cookie cutter our impressions of who’s going to succeed.
Q. What is the biggest factor limiting diversity in entrepreneurship?
A. Know your market and sell to them. Take a risk. Support your friends.
Q. What would you do to ensure increased diversity?
A. Access to training and capital for diverse communities.
Q. What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur?
A. It’s a journey and a leap of faith. Make sure you’re wearing the right pack with the right partners – on the right trail. Know your customer.
Get your tickets to Startup Weekend Latino today!
As part of our vision to create a community where businesses can come and learn about how to grow, we are doing a series of interviews with business owners and executives that highlight what has helped their businesses grow.
Today’s interview is with Sara Conte, Co-Founder of PrestoBox.com.
1. Can you give a brief overview of what PrestoBox does for our readers?
Sure, PrestoBox is a startup software company and the world’s first automated branding agency. It’s the perfect option for small businesses who want more than the online DIY templates, but who can’t afford an agency. The “Brand Genie” automatically matches small businesses with a recommended brand personality through 12 easy questions (backed by 10 years of research and the latest technology). Small businesses can then quickly build a cohesive and well designed Brand Kit, including a logo, business card, and website.
2. What is your vision for PrestoBox?
Our vision is to bring branding to the masses. In the past, small businesses had to spend thousands of dollars and take months of time to determine their brand. With the Brand Genie, it happens in a snap. Small businesses need brands as much as big companies. Brands help small businesses tell their story and connect with their customers.
3. In looking at your website, it is amazing that you are able to deliver a complete branding package and website for under $100. What is even more amazing is that you have eliminated a lot of the challenges normally associated with creating a brand and a website. Can you speak to the branding process and how its simplicity has played a role in your success?
Oh thanks! Simplicity is a big compliment. We take a complex and expensive process and make it easy and affordable. Our founder, Elicia, developed this unique methodology in an offline way first while running her branding agency. We added technology, millions of design options and a team of people passionate about solving this problem for small businesses. That’s how we created this platform for scale. It also helps that we’re partnered with Weebly for our websites – arguably the best technology on the market servicing 30 million customers.
4. In general, what have been the key factors to your growth?
We are growing primarily through strategic partnerships and content marketing. There are a lot of companies already laser focused on serving the small business market. We offer them a fun, easy and affordable new solution for their existing users.
5. Is there a specific story that stands out to you where a customer was really impacted by what you do?
One of my favorite customers is Susan Philpot, a woman who is starting a coaching business in Austin, Texas. She wanted a jumpstart for her business – and needed to look polished. The Brand Genie gave her just that – and more. She was online and ready for business in a matter of days. She just kept telling us, “I love it.”
6. It looks like you have had success reaching out to the media and influencers. How did you manage those efforts?
A combination of efforts – some reached out to us – and others we targeted. We haven’t done a full push for media coverage. Instead, we are really focused on getting helpful information out to small businesses about branding (content marketing).
7. Any advice for other business owners who are looking to grow?
My advice is to clearly set goals and then outline the steps to reach them. Growing a small business can be really tough. Celebrate every milestone and learn from your missteps. Listen to advice, but be true to yourself. Nobody has all of the answers.
Thank you Sara for your time! This interview highlights one of The Way Company’s core principles, the importance of understanding what challenges your offering is helping customers overcome. Yes, PrestoBox has a created a great product that delivers automated branding, but it is also working to eliminate the need for small businesses to spend thousands of dollars or months worth of effort developing a great brand.
To learn more about PrestoBox or build your business branding package visit their website at prestobox.com.
Customers are the life of every business. Your company won’t exist without them. So how do you find out what they’re thinking? You ask them! But there’s a real art in getting them to respond in a meaningful way.
Follow these five steps to meaningful customer feedback.
1. Know your customer
First, you need to know as much as possible about your customer. Identify your core customer. To help figure this out, review your sales figures. In most businesses, 20% of your customers generate 80% of your profits. This is your core customer.
Write down as much as possible about this customer and how they interact with your products and services. How old are they? Male/female? Why do they need your product? Why do they like your product? What are they passionate about? Where do they live? How do they live?
Develop this into a full narrative about your customer. Give them a name.
2. Throw a party
Now that you know who you are targeting, get them to talk. In person feedback is the best way to get nuanced information from your customers. Ask your customer to demo your product. Watching your customer interact with your product will almost always provide incredible insights.
Get a group of customers together. Throw a party. When we were starting PrestoBox, we threw Brand Genie launch parties where we invited people who matched our core customer description to give our software a whirl. We did it on a shoestring budget by borrowing cool space in the penthouse lounge of a friend’s apartment and catering the food ourselves. We watched silently as people went through the process, then talked to them individually and finally brought the group together for a discussion. All the while we kept it light and fun – enticing them with the “magic” of the Brand Genie. The feedback we received was priceless.
The event doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be consistent with your brand.
3. Remove yourself
The “party as focus group” is a great way to dig into what your customers are thinking and feeling. However, customers aren’t usually as honest when you’re right there. You need the brutal truth.
Remove yourself from the equation and do some blind tests. Our favorite source for these types of reviews is UserTesting.com. You define who you want to test your product and then get feedback in an hour with videos of your target customer speaking their thoughts as they use your website.
We tested our product this way and were startled at the results. It was clear after watching the videos that our logo builder product was broken. All of the users said that they needed more variety before they would consider making a purchase. It was the first time we heard this so directly. This feedback immediately changed our priorities and we got to work creating thousands of new logo options.
This service works great for online companies – however it can be replicated offline as well. Just remember to remove yourself from the equation.
4. Send email
Email is one of the most effective ways to get customer feedback. However, you need to do it right. The average person receives over 100 emails each day and is increasingly annoyed by messages they did not ask for. Make your email relevant and more likely to get a response by taking time to craft it.
A request for feedback email is not the same as a newsletter. Keep the email short and leave the graphics out. Start by making it personal. Use the person’s first name and insert a personal message. If the recipient knows you took the time to write this email, they may take the time to respond.
Online surveys can be an incredibly effective way to gather information. However, clicking on a link takes extra time and your response rate may decrease. Try embedding your question in the email and then tally the results by hand.
Use “because”. When you want people to take an action, always give them a reason. Response rates will go up significantly if you tell your customers why it’s important. One word can make a big difference. Try to incorporate a few of the most persuasive words in the English language: you, free, because, instantly andnew.
5. Call them
Reach out to your customers on the phone. In today’s digital era, a personal phone call stands out and can be a great way to get feedback. Handle your calls with care. Make sure you are friendly, professional and uber respectful of their time.
A great time to call is after they place an order. You’ll be on their mind and they will be more inclined to help. Do leave personal messages if your customer doesn’t pick up. Treat these customer calls just like you would a call to a dear friend.
Follow these steps to get meaningful customer feedback. And once you get it, remember to circle back and let these customers know what you did with it. Tell them when you launch your new products and thank them again.
Photo Credit: Eugene Kim/Creative Commons
Sara Conte is a frequent contributor to online discussions about strategy, branding and entrepreneurship.