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Business Growth

Risk Management and Business Growth

I recently came across this blurb by one of the executives who was involved in the release of New Coke on April 23, 1985. Sergio Zyman says that “he knew New Coke was going to be a disaster almost from the day of its launch”. In a summary of the fiasco at the thinking seems to be that this was a genuine mistake on the part of Coca-Cola executives.¬†There are no analyses that I could find where the risky decision to implement New Coke was put under a microscope from a business perspective, but Coca-Cola’s own description of the event shows that they were surprised by consumer reaction.

Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, my marketing mind says the whole thing was brilliant. They couldn’t lose! And in fact, they didn’t. Classic Coke was reintroduced and came back stronger than ever, subsequently leading to immense growth in the Coca-Cola company.   Read the rest…

March 18, 2013 No Comments

Key Customer Metrics for Growth

When I ask small business owners about their customers, I often get long pauses and even blank stares. Many business owners are so focused on their products or services that they forget to pay attention to their customer numbers. One of my first tasks is to shift that focus onto the customer. Without customers, there IS no business. Therefore, it is critical to every business to know precisely how they get and keep customers.

There are three key metrics every business owner needs to know about those customers:

  • Customer acquisition cost
  • Conversion rate of prospects to customers
  • Lifetime value of the customer (more…)

Filed under: Business, Customers, Growth, Small Business


February 15, 2013 No Comments

Choose Customer Service

In today’s news, Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees transit planning in the Greater Toronto Area, stated that it was considering charging for parking at the GO Transit parking lots.¬† Publishing this possible action is a clever move — it allows them to gauge customer reaction and get feedback before taking any action. If you’re planning a major change to how you to do business, finding out what customers think about it ahead of time is a sound idea.

As the comments to the news story show, customers are overwhelmingly against paying for parking at GO Transit lots. They feel they are already paying for parking in the price of the fare. Some have noted that ridership will go down as people seek to car pool instead of pay an additional $100 to $200 a month. Alternatively, some people will abandon public transit and drive their cars into the city, an activity GO Transit was designed to reduce.

While the 65,000 parking spaces at GO Transit lots can rightly be seen as an untapped business asset, instituting a parking fee for those spaces will hurt business growth. Customers see it as “double-dipping” into their pockets, and have clearly expressed that they don’t like the idea.

This is a case where the customer backlash will be far greater than any benefit from charging for those parking spaces. Business growth at the expense of customer satisfaction is false growth, and will not last. There are other ways of increasing revenue; choosing a course that turns your customers against you is never the correct one.

February 14, 2013 No Comments

Eliminate Barriers to Small Business Growth

In my analysis of the exotic furniture shop that felt it couldn’t compete with “the big boys”, I mentioned the concept of an “anti-USP”. This is any factor that works against your Unique Selling Proposition. Your USP is one of the most valuable aspects of your business. It clearly states why customers should choose to do business with you instead of your competitors, and it emphasizes the value you offer your customers.

When you have any anti-USPs, however, all the good work you do in your business can be negated by one or more simple things. For the exotic furniture store, the used look of their furniture negated the value of these high-priced pieces.

Sometimes even the business name can be an anti-USP, as in the case of a former client who had the word “Kwik” in his business name. That particular spelling of the word “quick” indicates a low-priced, lower value service so sets up a customer expectation that yes, they’ll get something fast, but it is going to be inexpensive. Sadly, that business owner’s services were not inexpensive at all. Potential customers who invited him to give them a quote got immediate sticker shock as the price far exceeded what they were expecting to pay. His business suffered accordingly. (more…)

February 7, 2013 2 Comments

When Small Business Fails to Grow – Part 3

Used FurnitureSo here’s the final word on what I think happened to this great little business. We’ve already established that the business owner was capable and knowledgeable, adept in most areas of running his store. The business was capitalizing on multiple marketing pillars and was taking advantage of many of its marketing assets such as owner expertise, location, publicity, unique product, and community relationships.

If so much was going right, what went wrong?

As I mentioned in Part 1, the owner felt that he was squeezed out because he could not compete with “the big boys”, notably Ikea.

Yes, the business could have had a more compelling USP (Unique Selling Proposition) but it was not far off. Most of the messaging about the store in some way captured how this shop was different from its competitors. It had a distinct advantage over competitors like impersonal big box furniture stores. When working with any small business client, our first step is to ensure they have a solid USP in place, because that is the foundation upon which all other aspects of the business can be built. (more…)

January 22, 2013 No Comments

When Small Business Fails to Grow – Part 2

Here’s more to the story about the small shop that had to close due to competition from “the big boys”. The shop in question sold exotic and “funky” furniture pieces, accents, and other decorative items. It had a good location in a heritage building on a main street, and an energetic, smart business owner who had experience in marketing in the fashion business. They were making good use of Facebook to post photos and other information about their products. They had received a number of excellent reviews via social media and had received some local publicity. They were listed in most of the local directories of shops and businesses. The business owner was committed to environmentally-responsible (sustainable) wood items, and he recognized the value of running the business “on the cheap”, without unnecessary expenditures. This is a great foundation for a thriving small business.

In fact, this business DID have a unique selling proposition. It carried one-of-a-kind, exotic, unique, different, and unusual furnishing items. Its location positioned it to cater to an upscale customer who had money to spend. While the business may have had to pay a fair bit to import these items, the customers wouldn’t have minded the necessary markup due to the uniqueness of the products. Also, there were ways the business could have lowered costs on those pieces. The neighborhood in which the store was located had undergone an urban revival, raising the demographic to people who had disposable income and who were looking for lifestyle enhancements. (more…)

Filed under: Uncategorized


January 22, 2013 1 Comment

When Small Business Fails to Grow – Part 1

Came across this note from a contact on Twitter: “My friend just had to close his small shop. He said true retail is dead and that one just can’t compete with the big boys.” This saddens me. This shop closure represents a loss in many ways: loss of capital, loss of jobs, loss of a dream. And it didn’t have to happen. My guess, and it’s probably a good one based on the person’s comment, is that this shop owner didn’t know how to leverage his marketing assets.

He didn’t have a USP — a unique selling proposition. That is the BEST way to compete with the “big boys”. A small shop can differentiate in ways that are beyond the big box stores. It can offer more personalized service, including stronger customer relationships. It can offer niche products that are unprofitable for mass market stores to carry. It can add complementary services that enhance the value to the customer. (more…)

January 20, 2013 1 Comment

Systematize your Business Growth

When I speak with clients about the Core Four marketing steps that every business should undertake when looking for growth, part of my job is to help them understand that making marketing part of their business systems is vital to make their business a going concern.

Crafting a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), integrating that USP into all your marketing activities, setting up processes for customer relationship management (CRM), and establishing processes for joint ventures and alliances all contribute to making a marketing system that is repeatable, measurable, and effective.

If you do not have systems in place in your business, you are at risk. Here’s why. If your sales processes depend upon the knowledge of the business owner or the top sales person, you need those individuals in order to make a sale. Customers may buy because they like you, or because you have a business relationship with them. But if those people are not available, no sale can be made. By writing down the USP and ensuring it is communicated during every customer contact, you take the sales process out of the head of the business owner and the top sales person and make it into a system that anyone can use. (more…)

January 15, 2013 No Comments

Hidden Marketing Assets

How much money are you leaving on the table by not fully utilizing all of your marketing assets? If you have a small- to medium-sized business, with revenue under $5 million annually, you probably have some hidden marketing assets that can be leveraged to increase profits, without spending additional money on advertising. These are assets in which you have already invested.

Advertising is a huge expense. If you know exactly how much business your advertising is bringing you, then that’s good! If you can point to the marketing activities that bring in the most revenue, then you’re doing a great job at targeting your market.

But if you have a sense that you could grow, or reverse a downward trend, then there’s probably money sitting on the table in the form of customer data and marketing strategies that are not being put to advantage.


January 6, 2013 No Comments

Grow your Business with an Up-Sell

A few simple words could be worth hundreds of dollars in increased revenue for your business. The most famous examples of up-selling, of course, are “Want fries with that?” from McDonald’s and in the movie theater “Do you want butter on your popcorn?”. Just asking if the customer wants another item gives them a chance to say Yes and adds money to that sale. Another obvious option is the up-size — “Would you like a Large for 25 cents more?”.

Nearly every type of business has the chance to offer an additional item. At the hair salon, if the customer is getting hair coloring, ask if they want their eyebrows and eyelashes colored as well. Salons already do a good job selling hair care products, but it works better if a similar item cannot be found elsewhere at a better price for comparable quality. If your car is in for maintenance, an oil change “while it’s on the hoist” is a good potential up-sell. It’s even more attractive if there is a discount from the normal price. (more…)