It’s Time for a Third Quarter Review of Your Business Plan

The third quarter wrap-up is quickly approaching therefore it’s a good idea to review the progress on your business plan again. Your business plan should include short-term goals (3-6 months) as well as annual goals and long-term goals (two years or longer). It’s important to understand not only whether you’re meeting your goals, but why or why not and what changes need to be implemented to make sure you meet those goals.

As summer closes and you gear up for fall, you want to look at your progress on some crucial priorities in your business plan. This should start with your revenue and profitability. Are you meeting the targets you set at the beginning of the year? If not, it’s worth looking at how you’ve done on your other priorities to see if you can determine the reason.

This is the time of year when you should evaluate your marketing efforts. If you devised a marketing plan in January, maybe it’s worked out exactly as you had hoped. But nine months have gone by and the realities of your business are not always what you thought they were going to be. You need to consider whether that marketing plan requires an adjustment.

Remember, your business plan doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can see it as a living document that is open to amendments. If we can amend the Constitution, you can amend your business plan if it needs it!

You should also look at whether you’re hitting your target demographic. A simple but tailored customer survey – possibly conducted online or via phone, can help you find out. These techniques can often help you understand if you’re reaching the people you need to reach, and whether you need to tweak your approach to do so more effectively.

Take a step back and ask yourself, are you hitting your target demographic or do you need to tweak it? Create an online survey and/or make a follow up call to see if your customers are happy with your service and if you are meeting their needs/expectations.

Recently, one of our team members visited a local hair salon. She received a follow up call within the week to see if she was happy with the service they provided, and if she had any recommendations to improve the experience. Small businesses that follow up are smart, usually among the first to recognize the adjustments they need to make and tend to be more successful than those who do not. So, make it your priority to review your business plan before the year comes to a close and adjust wherever you may need to!

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

Turning Your Customer Database into Business Growth

There are several ways to build your business, but you must know what’s strategic for your particular business, and you must execute this well.

Loyalty cards can be effective because they draw your customers into your business with discounts and/or rewards programs, and will keep them coming back. Many of the cards are able to do more than just earn loyalty through discounts. They can help businesses understand the buying habits of their customers and market to them more effectively.

Social media can also be a very beneficial tool, and allows you to engage your customers. In one innovative promotion we saw, a store invited customers to comment on the store’s Facebook page about their experiences with the store, and those who did were automatically entered into a sweepstakes competition. In another, a restaurant invited customers to post photos of their meals and comment on them for a chance to win a prize. There is almost no limit to what a business can do using social media. A clothing store could invite customers to post photos of themselves in their new outfits. It’s the sort of thing that can generate energy and buzz, and the best part is that the customers do most of the work for you!

Email is also very effective if you use it correctly. You don’t want to constantly invade your customers’ inboxes, but when you have something that is truly of value to them, email lets you get it to them directly. You can offer them coupons and promo codes for birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions – or even just for the season at hand.

Speaking of promo codes, there’s no reason not to add them onto the back of your business cards as well. You hand them out all the time, after all. Give recipients an easy way to try out the experience of doing business with you.

Of course, so much of modern communication is now happening in the mobile environment, it also makes sense to communicate with people on their mobile devices. Again, you have to be careful because they may not respond well if they’re constantly receiving promotional texts from you. But there’s a right way to do it, and Derek Johnson, CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango, explains it here.

It’s all about getting permission to capture customers’ information, and then making sure they understand how you’ll use it. And of course, quantity is not what gets results. Quality is – and that means useful, relevant messages that offer value to the customer, including worthwhile discounts, deals and other offers the customers have already told you they want.

Finally, customer referral programs offer a win-win, as you can reward customers with discounts when they refer a friend – and of course, you get a new customer in the process.

Customer referral programs can keep your customer focused on promoting your business. Referring a friend can not only benefit the customer but also the business as well.  If they tell their friends and offer them an incentive, customers will be more engaged and more likely to keep spreading the word.  The business will make more money as a result.  It is a win-win for everyone.

Your customer database is a tremendously valuable asset! But like any asset, you have to use it wisely and effectively to get the value out of it.

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

 

Creative Business Strategies to Drive Summer Sales

Summer is certainly a time when people get out of the house, so owning a local business presents a chance to get them into your store. What’s more, our area tends to attract additional population during the warm parts of the year – so there is more business to be had! A good strategy could be the difference between attracting them to your space and watching them go to a competitor.

What are some effective ways to attract customers during the summer months?

If your business is in a strip mall, you might consider joining with your fellow tenants to host a summer block party – complete with games, prizes, coupons, and gift cards. Maybe a guest could win $5 off their next visit to your store in a spin-the-wheel game.

People are drawn to spectacle, and there are lots of low cost ways to create them. A well-planned spaghetti eating or hot dog eating contest can generate traffic via word of mouth, not to mention possible media coverage. This is a great fit for a restaurant, but it might work for other businesses as well.

Other businesses can come up with concepts that fit their particular specialty. A salon can generate attention by staging special makeover nights, while a printing company can offer free wedding invitations – something that is sure to find plenty of takers during the summer months.

Any special event that attracts an audience is also an opportunity to build your mailing or email list, or to find new Facebook fans and Twitter followers, so it’s important when people show up for an event to get their contact information. That might be accomplished through raffle entries, with a charitable component as a possible incentive for people to participate.

There are also usually plenty of events already being planned, such as city street fairs or Chamber of Commerce events where individuals can sign up and participate – often at less cost and with less preparation required than you would need to stage your own event. Within the context of these events, you can often do something creative that helps people to remember your business.

Summer brings the crowds to shopping districts, but it’s your creativity that will bring them through your door – and keep them coming back!

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

ROI in Your Business

Now that you’ve mapped out your marketing plan, you need to figure out what worked and what didn’t, in terms of attracting customers to your business. It’s important to determine which funds are being spent the right way in order to make sure you get as much return on your marketing investment as possible. There are a few ways you can do this, which we’ve outlined below. Be sure to take the time to do the research to determine your ROI, allowing you to tweak your marketing methods to maximize your presence in your target demographic.

The first and least expensive way is to survey your customers to find out how they learned about your business. When you are meeting with your customers, or when they are at the register, just simply ask “How did you hear about us?”  There are also other methods, such as web sites and software that allow you to survey those who go to your website. An example is Survey Monkey, a low cost online survey program which enables you to select the best plan for your business based on the number of online surveys you might want to send out over the course of a year.  Some of these methods do cost money, but can easily help you determine how effective your campaigns are.

Additional, inexpensive ways include:

  • Video monitoring and clipping services to determine TV viewerships
  • Setting up special web pages that are for the specific purpose of radio ad promotions so that you know which customers came from your radio listenership
  • Setting up Google analytics for your website
  • Setting up Facebook Insights for business or fan pages
  • Using Twitter to see how many followers you have and how interactive you are

Be sure to maintain a positive viewpoint along the way. This is a learning process and it may take a bit of tweaking to get your ROI just right. Try to think of ROI in other ways instead of the definitive “Return on Investment,” such as:

  • Re-Organizing Identity
  • Releasing of Information
  • Recognizing our Industry
  • Realizing obtainable income
  • Retiring old itinerary
  • Rewarding our interests

Soon enough, you’ll be on the path to your perfect ROI marketing equation.
Share your personal definition of ROI that you came up with by leaving a comment!

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

Cash Flow Options for Business

This is a good time of year to examine your cash flow. Even if your sales are good, you still have to make sure the money is actually coming in on the schedule you need to meet your expenses and, hopefully, build up cash reserves.

If your cash flow could use a boost – and let’s face it, you would have lots of company – First Financial has several options you might want to consider. One is a line of credit. A very helpful option that’s there when you need it, many businesses access lines of credit to stem the effects of slow receivables or other short-term cash flow issues.

Personal credit is also an option for many business owners. You will need three years’ worth of both business and personal tax returns, and lenders will definitely take a keen interest in your business plan – since that tells a lot about how prepared you are to maintain business success and put yourself in a position to make your payments.

The good news here is that credit unions don’t simply pass judgment on your business plan. We help you with it. Our members are our owners, and we’re here to help make them more successful. So if we see issues with your business plan, our priority is to help address them so you can be more successful.

If you have a commercial mortgage, you might also consider refinancing it at today’s relatively low interest rates as a way of freeing up some capital on a month-to-month basis. That could make the difference in your ability to make crucial capital investments – perhaps an important piece of equipment or a technology upgrade that will allow you to win or successfully execute an opportunity for growth.

As the economy rebounds, many companies have a need to make fresh investments in employees, products and technology. Often, the state of your cash flow determines whether you can make these investments or will have to hold off. Talk to us about customized lending solutions that will allow you to shore up your cash flow and strengthen your business. We’re here to support your success!  Contact Business Development at business@firstffcu.com.