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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.
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Customer Service Articles


From the GrowSmartBiz Conference: Customer Service as a Differentiator for Small Businesses

November 12th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

‘There is a general cultural of bad customer service in this country.”

Barry Moltz began his presentation, Customer Service Is the New Marketing, at the GrowSmartBusiness Conference on November 5 with the above statement.  As a prolific author and sought-after speaker on entrepreneurship (he has started three companies and founded an angel investing fund), Barry focused on the incredibly important role customer service now plays in a company’s growth and success.  (His engaging and entertaining presentation was based on his newest book, BAM! Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World.)

As he alluded to in his presentation, small business owners have a competitive advantage over large companies because we consistently deliver exceptional customer service to our clients.  I can only name three large companies that have built their cultures around customer service: Apple, Zappos, and Nordstrom.  (Maybe this is a trick question, but are there any others you can add to the list?)

Following are excerpts from Barry’s presentation, per my furiously scribbled notes:

“In a world with no boundaries, the only sustainable competitive advantage is excellent customer service.

‘There are a lot of myths associated with customer service.  These myths have to be busted, because the customer is not always right.  Under-promising and over-delivering is not a customer service strategy.  Unhappy customers are not part of doing business.  Customers do not only care about low price….

“Good customer service is whatever a customer says it is in a particular instant on a particular day.  Instead of asking, ‘How can I help you?’, ask ‘How can I make your day better?’

“To ensure your customer service is as good as it can be, put together a customer service manifesto to clearly explain what your customers can expect from you. It should include the following:

  • Deliver on what you promise
  • Listen to your customers
  • When things go wrong, be reachable
  • Resolve issues in a reasonable amount of time
  • Admit mistakes
  • Empower employees to resolve issues
  • Make it easy to stop doing business with you (in direct contrast to cell phone and cable companies, as Barry pointed out)
  • Don’t charge nuisance fees or surcharges
  • Treat your customers with respect and dignity
  • Don’t change the rules without prior notification (cough—credit card companies—cough)

“To get useful feedback from your customers, ask the following four questions:

  1. Why did you choose to do business with us?
  2. Did anyone do a good or bad job servicing you?
  3. Do you plan to use us in the future?
  4. Can you tell any friends, colleagues, or business partners about our business?”

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Customers’ Information is Safe

June 16th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Especially when you’re dealing with ecommerce, securing your customers’ information is absolutely crucial. If your buyers don’t think that they can trust you with sensitive details — like credit card numbers — they’ll take their business elsewhere. That means understanding how you can make that information safer is crucial.

  1. Understand ecommerce security: You don’t need to go out and get a degree in computer security, but having a general idea of what terms like ’128-bit SSL encryption’ means are crucial. Most of the tools you use in an ecommerce website have certain security measures built in and understanding what those measures are — and if they’re enough to reassure your customers — is an important step. You need to be able to discuss at least the basics of the steps you’ve taken to keep information safe.
  2. Limit physical access: One of the weak points in many business’ security measures is who has physical access to your computer and information about your clients. Even accidentally, someone can make a lot of information available if they’re messing around on your computer. Limit the people who have access to your computer, as well as your accounts online to those you truly know you can trust with your customers’ information.
  3. Evaluate your security regularly: Just because your security measures are top of the line today doesn’t mean that you don’t need to keep moving forward and improving — you can be that the other side is working hard to break existing system. Check up on the status of those tools and systems you rely on regularly to make sure they’re still the best option. If necessary, like when your business has grown significantly, it can be worthwhile to bring in a professional to evaluate how your security needs have changed.
  4. Respond to even the smallest problems: Small issues can be a sign of something bigger, especially in security. Keep an eye out for discrepancies in client information and respond to any issue (even the small ones) quickly. Such warning signs can help you avoid bigger problems down the road. Furthermore, notify your customers of such situations. It’s not impossible for them to notice discrepancies on their side and keeping them up to date will reassure your customers that you take such issues seriously.
  5. Explain what you’re doing in terms of security: Not only do you have to safeguard your customers’ information, but you have to tell them that you’re doing so. A basic shopping cart on your website that offers no explanation of what will be done with any information submitted through it can be scary for a customer, especially in these days of identity theft. Set out your privacy policy and explain what steps you’re taking to keep information safe. Don’t worry that explaining that you have security systems in place will make them more vulnerable to anyone trying to access this sort of information — if you’ve got good systems in place, just knowing what they are won’t help identity thieves.

Image by Flickr user Brad & Ying

Three Secrets on Effective Social Media that Actually Work

April 20th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Dr. Alan Glazier of Shady Grover Eye and Vision Care here in the Virginia area. They have been in business since 1993 and always early adopters of technology. They registered their domain and built their web site in 1996. Over these last 15 years the web site got them a foothold in search engines and as the web has evolved they have evolved with it. They use the site extensively for customer service and were an early adopter of social media and have seen tremendous value being a small business. This is especially for those customers who are younger and it connects with those patients and potential customers who see that they use the same tools they do. They have gotten rid of all print advertising, even the yellow pages.

Shashi sat down with him recently and discussed the evolution of technology in his small business and how it has changed the way they do business and will carry them forward. He has three great secrets that you will have to watch the interview (or head straight to 6:05 in the video below) and find out. The interview is below:

Shopping for a Bank, Part I: The Small Community Bank

March 8th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I am not a numbers person.  I hated math class while I was in school, starting in kindergarten and going right through college.  During my two required statistics courses in college, I felt like I was dying a slow death.  In fact, I remember falling asleep during one class, and I was not the only one to do so.  I still only understand the most basic concepts of finance, banking, investing, accounting, etc., because honestly, these subjects bore me to death (if they’re not putting me to sleep).  My husband handles the family finances, allowing me to live in a state of blissful ignorance.  Our financial advisor keeps us on track and explains complex (to me) terms and instruments.  Basically, everyone else does the work for me in my personal financial life.

Stacks of British coins

From celebster on Flickr

But now my business is nearly a year old, and I have yet to shop for a bank. Since the Grow Smart Business theme is small business finance during March, I decided to use my bank shopping experience as blog post fodder.   I will be looking at a small community bank, a regional bank, and a huge national bank to figure out who would be most convenient, easiest, and most fun to do business with.

First up: the small community bank.     

Access National Bank is the definition of a small community bank.  It has 5 branches in northern Virginia, and the main branch is conveniently located across the street from my neighborhood.  During its ten years of business, it has been a standout in the local banking industry: it was profitable within 6 months (one year is the norm), and in fact its first two quarters were the only non-profitable ones on record.  CEO Mike Clarke did not establish the bank with the goal of growing it and selling it.  He has kept the bank focused on its core competencies and shied away from subprime mortgages and the residential and commercial real estate markets, the latter of which is now also imploding.  During the first quarter of 2009, one of the worst on record for local banks, Access National posted a $2.9 million profit.  Obviously, this is a solid bank with two feet firmly planted on the ground.  Awesome, and reassuring.

I recently had a meeting with Diane Holland, Assistant Vice President of Client Services, and Cynthia Caldwell, Senior Vice President of Client Services.  It took all of five minutes to walk over—how often can you do that in the suburbs?—a fact that already gave them a leg up on the competition.  I asked them to run down the list of what makes them unique.  Here’s what they said: 

  1. Access National focuses on the business sector.  Their clients are small to mid-sized businesses with up to $100 million in annual revenue.
  2. Each month, clients receive a $20 rebate for ATM fees to make up for the fact that they do not have ATM machines on every corner.
  3. A pioneer in online banking (they embraced it up on their founding in 1999), Access National still stands out for offering real-time online banking.  Transactions are posted immediately, not 24 hours later.
  4. There are no 800 numbers at Access National.  If you need to reach someone, you have a phone number for a real person, and your needs are usually handled by that same person.  Cynthia said she has almost no turnover in her client services division.  Amazing!
  5. Access National offers networking events for their clients, and because they actually know all of their clients, they also act as a source of referrals.
  6. Access National is the #1 commercial bank by lending volume in the entire Washington metropolitan area.  They are also a preferred partner for SBA loans.
  7. Though they are small, Access National offers all of the products and services that large banks offer: investing, life and health insurance, payroll, etc. 

By the time I walked home, I was impressed.  First of all, how often does the Senior VP of Client Services meet with a potential client?  It was obvious to me that if I chose them as my bank, I would receive highly personal service, and I cannot stress enough that being able to walk over to the bank is the ultimate in convenience.  However, the fact that they foster a sense of community through their networking events is the real kicker.  I have never heard of a bank that does so.

Next up: the regional bank.

Does great CRM software exist for an independent professional?

February 17th, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

One of the greatest frustrations for many independent professionals is the lack of a really good, flexible, economical contact relationship management system.

Does such a thing exist for a solo business person?

Everyone’s needs are unique. Your knowledge and experience may make the selection and implementation easy or difficult. You may have to compromise on a few features and functionality and settle for at least 80% of your requirements. I have spoken with many colleagues and clients who are all dissatisfied with what they are using. So, a fundamental question is this: Is there a resource for doing a fair assessment of all options? Well, it depends.

All successful systems and software selection projects begin with a list of requirements or wish list (Must have vs. Would like to have). You may ask, “Where should one start? Are there knowledgeable people who can guide a person or team toward an intelligent selection of a contact management system?” The answer is YES.  They exist at www.360salesfocus.com. 360SF will hold your hand through the entire selection process or provide just-in-time coaching on an as needed basis. For individuals who want to do it themselves, below are some initial considerations.

Regardless of the nature of your practice as an independent professional or the size of a company, its sales value and volume, business development for simple or complex opportunities, I always suggest to clients to first clearly define their processes before evaluating and selecting a technology or automation tool for anything.

For example: What does a typical sales cycle look like for you? How do you process new leads/contacts? How soon do you follow up?  What method do you prefer (email, letter, greeting card, phone call, etc.)? What’s the message? Do you have a sales/biz dev process? What are the steps, decisions, possible outcomes, etc.?

Processes enable people and technology enables processes

Technology without a correctly defined process will speed up poor results. It’s the old garbage in, garbage out concept…but faster.

MY PREFERED METHOD when I was an independent consultant: Even though I’ve implemented, used, optimized, and managed several CRM projects for clients (including SalesForce.com and ACT!), for 20 plus years as a solo consultant or, as the only business development person, my preferred CRM & Sales Force Automation (SFA) has consisted mostly of Microsoft Outlook for basic contact profile descriptions & management. I first had to learn effective relationship management without technology to make this work, thanks to Stephen Covey’s 7-Habits of Effective People. Outlook has all the basics such as detail contact info, calendar, and task, space for tons of notes, attachments, and links on every item. I think this may be true for most PC & Mac office-like contact/calendar/email applications.

For forecasting and tracking sales/business development opportunities, a spreadsheet does it all on one sheet, one line per opportunity (forecast of qualified opportunities…date, company, contact, offer, value, priority, close date, win-probability percentage, next Step (notes/remarks). If you want to see a good example, contact www.360salefocus.com/contact-us for a free Microsoft Excel forecasting spreadsheet that we use often and that you may use and modify for your unique purposes.

One of my requirements is mobility. Both Outlook and the spreadsheet interface well and are mobile (works on my smart phone).  I use Card Scan to scan business cards that I receive from meetings and networking events. I import ../../css/and_synchronize_contacts_with_Outlook._It_s_also_great_for_mail_merges__letters_and_emails.css). I’ve also incorporated David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for processing all my action items.

Once you get your process defined, then you can go shopping. Effective contact relationship management is at the core of what I do and coach my clients to do. Technology can bog you down if you are not careful. Let’s face it; nothing gets done unless you do it…whether on paper or on-screen. A discipline to keep records up to date, follow-up and follow-through still requires the consistent human touch.

One other consideration might be a marketing campaign management system for managing high volumes (> 500 contacts per campaign) of outbound/inbound lead generation efforts of large and frequent marketing campaigns (direct mail, events, website leads, etc.). This is ideal for processing and managing hundreds of leads that you will try to convert to clients. You still need a process first.

Unless you are trying to track contacts for a multiple people, I would keep it simple and use your desktop office apps for contact profiles, scheduling events/meetings and tasks, date all detail notes, and use every reminder and alert possible.

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At http://www.360salesfocus.com we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/carlosdiggs. Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/360salesfocus.

How to Follow Up with Prospects and Clients: Be Diligent, Not Desperate.

February 10th, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

Sales Coaching Tip

I am often asked how much is enough or too much:

  • How soon should I follow up with a prospect?
  • How many phone call attempts?
  • How many voice mail messages?
  • How many emails?
  • How many pigeons?
  • How many telegraphs?
  • How many smoke signals?

Well, it depends on many variables, so let’s address one of the common scenarios.

Common Scenario: You just had a meeting or presentation with a prospective client. Your client requests a proposal. Assuming you’ve qualified this opportunity and client based on need, budget, time frame and solution fit (Free B2B Qualifier). Before you leave the meeting agree to a proposal delivery due date (stick to it), and agree to a decision date. Get your clients preferred method of communication (i.e. email, phone, texting). If your client agreed to tell you NO, chances are, you won’t have to call or email them too often. We all know that things happen. People get sick, holidays, vacations, etc. So, you have to trust your instinct, be diligent, but don’t always assume the worst if you are unsuccessful in reaching them after a couple attempts. Now is the time to practice DILIGENCE and PROFESSIONAL PATIENCE.

In a situation like the one outlined above, the first and most important point to keep in mind is not trying to trick the client into saying yes. Hearing “No” is more productive than spending three months chasing the opportunity only to learn that you did not win. Top sales professionals have learned how to win fast and lose fast. They spend less time forcing unproductive opportunities and more time advancing relationships, opportunities, and sales.

How to develop an open and upfront channel of communication?

One method for developing an open and upfront communication channel with a prospect or client is to let them know that it’s okay for them to tell you NO. Saying something like, “I know you have many options, so if for some reason you don’t think we are a good fit or you just don’t like our offering, are you okay with telling me NO”? With a smile and humor say, “I don’t want to be annoying, leaving you  hundreds of voice mail messages and thousands of emails, because you are trying to be polite and don’t want to hurt my feelings. I would be most grateful if you would say NO as early as possible so we are not wasting each others time.”

How to Follow Up?

Don’t call or email everyday. Once per week is enough (no more than twice if you just feel compelled). Develop a mind set that you have too many new prospects in line waiting to meet with you and too many clients to care for. You really don’t time to call more than once per week…maybe only once every other week.

If you call first and choose to leave a voice message, immediately send an email, “I’m sorry I missed you today. I just left you a voice message regarding…I would appreciate a reply by___”.

If you send an email first, call and say, “I just sent you an email regarding… I want to make sure it didn’t end up in your junk/spam folder. I would appreciate a reply by ____”.

Always smile when on the phone…especially when leaving a voice message (they will hear your smile or lack thereof). Never sound impatient, rude, arrogant, annoyed, or timid, shy, soft spoken or weak. Leave an optimistic and friendly message like you would for a close friend or your grandmother. Regarding emails carefully check your writing tone. Try to choose words and phrases that evoke images and emotions of professional gentleness and kindness, yet with a mild since of urgency to meet upfront expectations.

I have a lot of success with getting timely replies from prospects and clients by using email subject lines to send very short “text-like” messages to ask a question or make a request. I don’t use cute texting shorthand or abbreviations. I may just insert a brief question that can easily be reviewed in their email inbox. If you need to write more, continue in the body of the email. Use clear key words such as: “Do you have time to meet next week” “Request for Information:” “Proposal Attached:” “Action Required:” “Please Review:” “Call me 400.555.1234,” etc…use your imagination.

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At http://www.360salesfocus.com we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/carlosdiggs. Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/360salesfocus.

Five Things You Must Avoid With Your Startup

December 21st, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

I was doing research for my upcoming book “Rules for Entrepreneurs” and providing advice on starting a business is mostly about what not to do. You can only provide recommendations so much until you have to just do it. This is why “Startup FAIL” posts are popular and allow a sort of therapy and war story sharing with fellow entrepreneurs. I came across this post from Momentum Venture Partners that I had to share with you below. These are five great things that you must avoid with your startup (MY FAVORITE? You are building a company, not a club):

There’s no shortage of advice for start-up companies to follow, but in my experience working with emerging technology companies I’ve noticed something that’s just as important: there are certain pitfalls that bog down entrepreneurs, costing them money, time and ultimately a chance to break through the clutter. Every new venture has limited resources – and limited time – to get off the ground, and anything that needlessly burns cash or slows progress limits the chances of making it to the next level. Here are five ways to avoid the most common traps that snare new companies.

1 – Don’t overspend on marketing or advertising

During the late 1990s dot-com boom it was common practice for companies to blow millions of dollars on ambitious advertising and marketing campaigns. Remember the Pets.com sock puppet? It was a funny ad campaign – highlighted by blowing $1.2 million on a Super Bowl television spot – but it wasn’t so funny when the company closed its doors nine months after going public, and investors probably weren’t laughing when they recouped just 17 cents on the dollar two years later.

While most early-stage companies don’t have the resources to mount a marketing effort on that scale, entrepreneurs are often tempted to divert valuable resources to advertising and promotional activities before their products are ready for prime time. A great example is a social networking company I recently worked with. They spent a fair bit of money on acquiring members, but their site wasn’t ready to offer the full range of services they were planning. As a result, users went to the site but had a terrible user experience because there was nothing for them to do once they logged in. The company might as well have stacked up their cash, poured kerosene on the pile and lit a match.

Entrepreneurs need to make sure that any marketing or advertising they do is in support of a specific and tangible goal. For example, it might be worth spending money to generate profitable traffic or to reach a critical mass of customers in a “tipping point” business, but writing checks to achieve the amorphous goal of “awareness” is a sure-fire way to lose money with no discernible benefit.

2 – Don’t confuse years of experience with ability to execute

One of the most difficult parts of being an entrepreneur is hiring the right team. After all, one misstep in a key area could not only cost you money, but could also set the company’s growth plans back. For example, hiring a director of engineering who lacks the right skills or acumen to deliver on your vision could delay the release of your products, which could have devastating consequences for a new company trying to succeed in a crowded marketplace.

Many entrepreneurs overspend on seasoned executives so that they can make sure that their mission-critical work is done quickly and efficiently, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I worked with a start-up mobile applications company that hired a seasoned business-development person to generate deals with major advertisers. They paid him an annual salary of more than $200,000, but never saw any results. In addition to his high pay, he was racking up exorbitant travel costs, including expensive hotel rooms and dinners. It was pretty clear that he was enjoying the lifestyle, flexible hours and good salary without the pressure of incentives to deliver results. In this case, hiring a scrappy, less-experienced candidate with bonus or stock-based compensation would have been a much better choice.

3 – Don’t lock yourself away from the world

Deciding on the right product strategy is a never-ending tightrope walk between sticking to your vision and building products that will generate short-term sales. After all, no one wants to build the wrong solution for the market, but at the same time you can’t spend your time “chasing the rainbow” looking for the next big trend. I have seen companies that are so busy responding to others’ points of view they lose focus on the core rationale for founding their business. But I have also seen companies that go to the opposite extreme, locking themselves away from the world for months on end to build the “perfect” product.

The best approach for start-up entrepreneurs is to try your best to walk the line: pursue a vision while at the same time taking time to really understand the problem you are trying to solve. Sit down with potential customers to hear their pain and really figure out what they’re looking for and take advantage of experts in your own community or industry by recruiting advisors who can help you determine your sales, product and marketing strategies. In many cases, they won’t even ask to be compensated! Also, you need to get out in the world to start refining your elevator pitch. Before you ever get in front of a VC, you’ll have to sell yourself to potential employees, landlords, strategic partners, banks and many others. Get used to it so you’re good and ready for the investor pitch.

4 – Don’t forget you are building a company, not a club

Part of being an entrepreneur is relying on your friends and personal contacts to help you get off the ground, but be wary of hiring or partnering with people who don’t add value to your business. It’s happened to me personally, experiencing the thrill of starting a business with a group of friends only to hit painful bumps in the road later as people show different levels of commitment or value. For some businesses, these conflicts can become debilitating.

While there are no tried and true rules for dealing with friends and family, there are a few things to be aware of. First, make sure you pick partners that have a passion and an expertise that can move your business forward. Second, make sure they are committed to leave their current jobs to join you full time. I’ve seen several companies suffer major conflicts when one partner can’t get himself to leave the comfort of the corporate world. Third, look for warning signs that might indicate your partner isn’t cut out for startup work. Does he panic every time something takes longer than it should? Does he demand an outlandish salary? Does he analyze every decision to death? Take care of partner mismatches as soon as possible! The pain of fixing the problem only gets worse when you bring in outside capital. There’s nothing more damaging to a relationship than having to side with an investor when she demands you fire your college roommate.

5 – Don’t be timid

The meek may one day inherit the earth, but the present belongs to those who are decisive and assertive. If you need help or advice don’t beat around the bush: just come out and ask. Plenty of people are willing to give guidance, but chances are that they’re not going to come to you without being asked, and you’ll never get anywhere unless you make a conscious decision every day to actively pursue what you need.

Don’t even know where to start? It’s easy – you just need to pick up the phone and start dialing. Looking for someone to help you write a column for your new women’s fashion site? Go out and buy every fashion magazine and start calling every name on the masthead to see if the editors or writers will spend a few minutes answering your questions. Most likely, they will. Looking for that first reference customer? Go to the industry trade shows and strike up conversations with people you meet on the floor. If you have your pitch down, you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help or get involved. It takes guts at every step to be an entrepreneur, and if you’re skittish about asking for advice and guidance today, chances are you’re not going to be very successful when you have to start asking professional investors for money.

Got Another Pitfall We Should Add to the List?

After reading that, do you think that there is another major pitfall that should be added to the list? Leave a comment.

Not Everything That Can Be Counted Counts

September 1st, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

Albert Einstein was known to keep, and quote, a sign on his wall: “Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts.”

This got me thinking about the obsessive search for a Return On Investment, or ROI, in Social Media. This is mainly sought after by either people, or companies, wanting a quick fix to their marketing pains or the executives/manager who only know that you should track every marketing initiative to the Nth Degree.

I have watched as social media halted midway are abandoned and social media tools are abandoned, because there hasn’t been the immediate gratification of a high number of a return. I listen as these seekers of the magical silver bullet of marketing success cry when they only have 100 followers on Twitter, 250 Facebook Page fans, and insert a fairly conservative number of followers with a social media tool and this could go on and on. “Our competitors have [insert number far greater] followers on [insert social media tool]” is often the cry. “How are these tools effective if we can’t amass a large number of followers to do our bidding and pass on our one directional message?” Ok, that last one was overly dramatic, but it’s far more an honest question than the ones that are often asked.

Social media tools, and campaigns, take time to grow organically, because what is truly viral is lightning in a bottle. What those of us who use social media tools want is honesty in your intentions of the tools, a conversation, and to grow to trust your message if we have never heard of you before. If we have heard of you, this is your chance to shine and show us that we can/should believe in your product/services/etc. In my previous post “10 Ways To Get More Followers Using Social Media”, I gave some good tips for using social media tools effectively to get results. I invite you to take a minute and read it.

I come back to Einstein’s sign. Ok, maybe you only have a very small number of followers, but I have a question for you. If you’ve gained passionate small group of followers who believe in your message and want to help you get it out…is that less valuable than four times that many people who don’t care nearly as much about your goal/product/message/service/etc.? Using social media tools, you have the ability to grow long term connections that could reap you great rewards down the road, but may take nurturing and patience before you see the results from traditional media.

Now don’t misread what I’m saying. I am in no way saying you should track your social media tools, but I am asking you to be realistic about what you’re seeing. If you find that you are getting quality results out of a low number of followers then you are having thousands of followers who lurk around your blog, facebook, twitter feed, and etc., but never interact with your brand or share your message…why would you ignore these few, but faithful, followers?

It comes down to the age old question, is it quantity over quality?

I would love to hear which it is for you.

Thank you for reading and, as all ways, stay wicked.

SUCCESS STORY OF THE WEEK: Entrepreneur Matthew Mandell Uses Analytics and Innovation to Deliver Food, Drinks, and Customer Service

August 13th, 2009 :: Rachel Claremon

This is the first in our series of small business Success Stories that we will be featuring weekly leading up to the inaugural GrowSmallBiz Conference on Tuesday, September 29, in Washington, D.C.

Matthew Mandell, owner of DC Snacks, is a lifelong entrepreneur who started his first company at the age of thirteen. Today, his late-night delivery business serves up over 1000 snack and personal items to customers across northwest Washington, D.C. Since opening on the George Washington University campus in 2002 under the name CollegeSnacks, DC Snacks has relied on technology and online tools to expand the business into a city-wide service.

Earlier this year, the Small Business Success Index study found that the most “plugged-in” small businesses were more competitive and successful than small businesses that shied away from technology, particularly in the areas of marketing and innovation. Matt’s success with DC Snacks is evidence of his embracing Internet business solutions in order to build the customer base, streamline operations, and grow both the product line and the company’s marketing reach. Even though DC Snacks operates strictly within Washington, D.C., city limits, the business is driven by web-based tools like online ordering, inventory management, and search engine marketing, which Matt can manage remotely.

According to Matt, “I created this business with one goal in mind: to serve people in DC late at night, any way possible. While we have had some name changes from CollegeSnacks to CampusSnacks to DCSnacks, the one thing that hasn’t changed is our desire to keep everything focused on the customer. Starting with less than 100 products from Costco, me and three friends started knocking on dorm room doors late at night. Now we are in our third location, six times the original space, and send bike deliveries out across the city 7 nights a week. It has been a wild ride and DC Snacks continues to evolve as we are always looking to improve and do better each and every night.”

From the beginning, Matt has embraced technology for DC Snacks. “We only accept online orders – no phone calls – which allows us to automate the order processing and inventory management, and reduce overhead costs, but more importantly provides a wealth of transaction information. This gives me the ability to constantly analyze our product mix, evaluate which products are paying the bills and which are simply taking up space in the stock room, and manage my weekly orders with suppliers. Instead of just taking orders and reacting, I can be proactive about adding new products and partnering with other local small businesses, since I have a lot of insight into my customers and what they want. Using Google Analytics also lets me take a close look at how people are navigating through the site and where they are dropping out, so I can constantly improve the purchase process.”

“Since the delivery area is so condensed, my online marketing is really concentrated on hyper-local search engine optimization and marketing strategies. I use GoogleAdwords, but I am able to make it extremely targeted so that I get really high conversions rates with a minimal monthly spend.”

While DC Snacks continues to flourish, satisfying the late-night cravings of college students and young professionals around the city, Matt’s entrepreneurial wheels keep spinning. In 2008 Matt sold another of his small businesses, Store4Summer.com, to the Allied Van Lines franchisee. Today, in addition to working on his MBA part-time at GW, Matt is working on starting up another venture that will provide cleaning services in the city. He already owns the URL for that, and about a dozen other companies that are currently just ideas forming in his head.

Matt’s driving goal in all his entrepreneurial ventures is customer satisfaction: “My passion is putting the customer experience first and making people’s lives easier in simple ways. Once I come up with an idea that meets these goals, I can’t wait to run with it.”

Now tell us your story! As a small business owner, you put your heart and soul into your work, but that effort often goes largely unnoticed. This is your chance to tell everyone about your company and brag about what you have done to make it a success. We will be publishing one story each week leading up to the big event and giving the business owner a free ticket to the GrowSmartBiz Conference on Tuesday, September 29, in Washington, D.C. The next selection will take place on Monday, August 17.

Please submit all entries to [email protected] by Monday, September 21, 2009. All entries have a 500-word maximum and should include the challenges you have faced, especially given the recent economic downturn, and innovative ways you have overcome them. The earlier you submit an entry, the more opportunities you have to be chosen! All entrants not selected will receive a discounted admission to the GrowSmartBiz Conference.

Disclaimer: All winners will be informed by a Network Solutions representative prior to their story being published on the GrowSmartBiz Blog. Network Solutions is not responsible for the winners’ travel accommodations. If contest winners are unable to attend the GrowSmartBiz Conference for any reason, tickets are not redeemable for cash, merchandise, or any other item of value. In the event the winner cannot attend, ticket can be transferred to another party.

Introducing the Grow Smart Business Small Business Expert Network

August 10th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

Over the last month we have been reaching out to some very talented experts in small business many of them owners of their own small business. We began with leveraging our network on Facebook through the Grow Smart Business Club and asking some very smart people to contribute once a month and impart their expertise to you our Grow Smart Business blog.

We have about 20 contributors writing about topics such as capital access, small business marketing, technology and small business, marketing, pr, social media, customer service, accounting, taxes, business writing etiquette, health and wellness, generational marketing, business coaching and human resources to start. All of these contributors are experts have volunteered their time once a month to impart their wisdom and experience so you can build the best small business possible.

Starting today we will be publishing these guest contributors in addition to our staff writers and we would like to give you a preview of the upcoming week and future contributors.

Contributors for the Upcoming Week

Email Marketing and You: So Happy Together by Monika Jansen
Social Media: 10 Tips on Jumping In Feet-First Without Drowning by Michelle Riggen-Ransom
Evian babies in your face. Just like their GenX parents by Jessie Newburn
What to do if you are downsized by Lorne Epstein
The apple pie bakery that could teach you a thing or two about making a sale and loyal fans by Mayra Ruiz

Contributors Coming to the Blog in the Coming Weeks

Barry Moltz – Small Business Technology

Carla Briceno – Marketing to the Hispanic Markeplace

Carlos Diggs – Selling for Small Businesses

David McGillivray – Small Business Coach – “Coaches Corner”

Debbie Weil – Corporate Blogging

Toby Bray – Small Business Sales and Marketing

Jimmy Gardner – Small Business Technology

Erica Knoch – Small Business Marketing

Gary Honig – Raising Capital for Small Businesses

Harry Lalor – Small Business Strategy

Kristin King – Effective Business Communications

Liz Strauss – Social Media for Small Business

Pamela O’Hara – Small Business CRM

Would you like to be a contributor?

If you would like to be considered as a contributor, we would love to see if there is a fit so reach out to [email protected] and point us to your blog or send a few samples of your writing and your bio.