Starting fresh in your business is really important, yet really hard. What do you do? Where do you start? Why should you change? There are a few times of the year that I love reflecting on what I can change in my business, and then move forward with new, bold energy (like I did here). One of those times is the Spring, when everything around is literally coming out of dormancy and back to life. The second time for beginning again is September. That’s the traditional time for school to start, and as an adult, I’ve never lost that love for buying new school supplies and starting fresh in the school year. The third time to start fresh is the New Year. The days between the holidays and New Years quiet down for business, and its a time of reflection of the past year and what can be changed to rock out the new year. Now that we’re safely into the new year, we talked to businesses of all kinds and learned their stories of what they vowed to do differently, and how it changed their business for the better!
ENGAGING WITH STUDENTS IN ONLINE PROGRAMS VIA VIDEO
UNI-Prep Institute Canada is a private institute offering online courses in Business and TESOL courses. Their New Year Resolution was to engage more with their students and customers by creating videos that would be relevant and useful to them. They started with creating videos to answer some frequently asked questions in the form of an FAQ video and put that on their online courses page when registrants are evaluating purchasing classes. The school also requested that their instructors create short video podcasts each week which allow customers and graduates to follow along and get to know the instructors and teaching styles.
RESULT: Says Hasmik Petrosian, manager of UNI-Prep: “The result has been phenomenal! We immediately saw an increased number of inquiries as potential customers felt much more confident in choosing us as their training provider. Since most of our students are spread out across the world and cannot meet us in person, this allowed them to get a glimpse into what we offer and to have a more personal experience with us. We have also seen a spike in our registrants and we are slowly seeing that potential customers are following us through social media platforms because they are enjoying our videos. This experience has taught us that when your customers cannot meet you face to face, you need to offer them alternative easy ways to interact with you and give them visuals that will allow them to get a better sense of who you are and what you offer.”
STORYTELLING ON INSTAGRAM GETS SERIOUS
Danielle Romero is the owner and designer at NY to Nashville, a business that handcrafts accessories from vintage and reclaimed fabric. In 2015, Danielle made a push to utilize her company's Instgram in a new way. She had only started Instagram the previous year and had amazing results, but says Danielle, “I knew it was still my most under-used tool.” When she first started the account, she focused on connecting with potential and current customers. But for 2015, her focus has been honing her storytelling through Instagram.
RESULT: The goal for Danielle was for anyone who stumbles across the NY to Nashville Instagram stream to quickly "get" who they are and understand the stories told through the products. With this renewed focus on their brand story, Danielle has found a greater focus on how to grow as a company. “I feel confident about the way the world sees NY to Nashville.”
SWITCHING DATABASE SYSTEMS
Change is scary, but switching database platforms is really scary. Talk about a discomfort zone. Employees are leaving a world that tracks their day to day efforts with the hopes that a new system will capture this better. But if it doesn't, then total chaos reigns. Consultants 2 Go, a marketing firm serving Fortune 500 clients with the support from a network of over 800 marketing professionals, took on that challenge in 2015. They integrated two CRM systems - a resume database and a sales system. Their employees had to keep the two systems on their computers, and invariably, only one system got used. This year, Consultants 2 Go investigated integrating the two systems, and pulled the trigger.
RESULT: Says Sandi Webster, a principal at Consultants 2 Go: "It went fairly smoothly but there is a little panic when we need to find information in a rush and it is not in the familiar place, but that panic is starting to subside with usage of the new system." After only a few weeks of usage, they are seeing positive results. To help ease the transition, a database was left available to employees to share as they got used to the new system.
BLOGGING TO BUILD A COMMUNITY
Denise Roseland, PhD, founder of Change Maker Consulting, is a business strategist for busy, smart women entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their business on solid ground while leaving their mark on the world. Her website was fairly static, in that it didn't change much over time and served as an online brochure for potential clients to investigate before hiring her. In 2015, she vowed to change that by adding a weekly blog post to her company blog.
RESULTS: Says Denise: "I have posted weekly now for 7 weeks. The results have been positive in a number of ways. The amount of traffic to our website is up more than 75%. The number of followers we reach on our primary social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) is up more than 30% in the 7 weeks. The level of engagement with followers on Facebook has increased considerably. " I am so happy to learn of Denise's experience, as blogging is a strategy we recommend here at Tin Shingle for so many reasons (see a podcast Sabina and I recorded called How Your Business Blog Can Build Credibility, Buzz and Engagement).
TAKING ON AMAZON
Amazon is a tough beast to contend with. On the one hand, they make shopping very easy and have pretty much made free shipping the norm. For retailers who do wholesale sales through Amazon, the sales experience can be good here, with some retailers praising Amazon for their fulfillment and payment structure. But John Olson, CEO of Graystone Industries Inc., is not thrilled. In fact, his market share has been pinched by the cost cutting done at Amazon, and their frequent sales that drive down prices and hurt his bottom line.
John runs a series of web sites in the pond and fountain industry like this one in which he sells product directly to consumers. Unlike at Amazon, his company is a direct line of contact for the customer for when they have a question about how to use the product or questions about quality. What drives him every morning? "My family depends upon me to maintain our market share in this niche industry. I will not allow some faceless supersized corporation to decimate all that I have built up over the last 15 years while they sell low priced products to unknowing consumers without the slightest regard to whether those products will be of benefit or detriment to the customers water features." John says that his 2015 business resolution was not to go quietly into the night.
THE GOALS: John's goals are aggressive, and they take time to prove. So let's take a look at them and see how he has seen improvement thus far. We are rooting for you, John! Here's how he is wants to take his company past the $2 million mark this year:
1. Create combinations of products and offer them at slightly discounted prices.
Amazon can only sell one item at a time. According to John, customers have responded well to his combo packs on his websites, Ebay listings and surprisingly even on his own Amazon store.
2. Importing and creating his own private label items.
John feels he can capitalize on his standing in his industry to promote products that Amazon cannot purchase. These would be products he would not put on the Amazon platform so that he can "keep control of distribution and prevent prices from dropping to unsustainable levels."
3. To better inform customers, John also vows to write articles and create videos.
Says John: "Some people will always search for the lowest price regardless of how that product meets their needs. However most people buying more complex items prefer a company that can assist them before, during, and after the sale. Buying a $100-$1000 product off 4 or 5 bullet points on Amazon is a risky business that puts both customers and Amazon at a disadvantage. Knowledge is power and I want my customers armed and ready."
In summary, videos, blogging and Instagram are top on the lists of businesses this year to increase their bottom lines!