The Federal Reserve is conducting a national survey of small businesses. This survey amplifies the voices of small businesses and provides timely economic data to policymakers who are weighing decisions that affect small businesses. The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed and those about to launch. All responses are confidential and survey results will be shared with participants. Make your voice heard and take the 10-minute survey today! The survey closes October 31, 2020.

TAKE THE SURVEY HERE

 

The Business Resilience Task Force recently surveyed the community to find out how they feel about a variety of topics related to public health and what influences the decisions they make about the places they visit and patron. These valuable insights into customer attitudes and preferences during Phase 3 of Virginia’s reopening can help small businesses understand best practices for responding to customer concerns moving forward.

Key takeaways:

▪ Customers want businesses to make public health a priority. They want businesses to continue taking precautions that keep both employees and customers safe, and they want these precautious to be posted or shared, physically or virtually (Q1, Q11, Q12).

▪ There was a 21.9% increase in the number of survey respondents who said “employees wearing facemasks” impacted their level of comfort patronizing a business (Q1).

▪ Customers wish to touch as few common surfaces as possible (Q5, Q8, Q10).

▪ The number of people inside could impact customers’ desire to enter or stay (Q1, Q7).

▪ Many respondents indicated they have already started patronizing retail businesses and restaurants that offer outdoor dining; however, people show much more uncertainty when it comes to dining indoors and engaging in recreational activities (Q2).

▪ Buffet-style restaurants and other self-service options will make people uncomfortable for a long time, as evidenced by both the previous and current survey results (Q2).

▪ The majority of respondents do not feel comfortable attending events or gatherings – indoors or outdoors – despite adherence to social distancing guidelines (Q3).

▪ Moving forward, roughly 60% of respondents indicated interest in business and social networking events that are held either virtually or in small outdoor gatherings (Q4).

▪ Over 76% of respondents said locally owned businesses capture their attention with products, services, and specials using Facebook or word of mouth. 55% indicated that google search results are influential (Q6).

▪ Many intend to frequently or occasionally shop online with locally owned retailers and restaurants that have e-commerce options available for pick-up or delivery (Q9).

How could businesses respond?

▪ Follow CDC/VDH guidelines; regularly check for new information and adapt.

▪ Frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces, such as handles and card machines. Do this in front of customers.

▪ Post signs explaining precautions outside and inside the establishment as well as on social media pages. Ensure all employees and customers are following what is posted.

▪ Continue using e-commerce systems; implement e-commerce if not already in place.

▪ Use Facebook and Instagram to enhance your marketing – highlighting actual products, menu, items and detailed descriptions that encourage people to make a purchase. Use google adwords as part of your marketing strategy so your website can get “found” more easily.

▪ Explore “touchless” and low-contact systems for your business, such as: disposable paper or QR Code menus, posted chalk board menus, touchless payment, and other strategies.

▪ Limit the number of patrons inside establishments. If it is feasible with the type of business or establishment, consider taking reservations (using free online tools) or making appointments.

▪ Install automatic hand sanitizer dispensers.

▪ Continue offering curbside pick-up and delivery options.

▪ Continue offering or try implementing “senior hours” for older customers.

▪ Use social media and e-newsletter lists to engage customers and ask for feedback on plans. Ask customers what you can do to retain their business through this time.

▪ Share positive Google/Facebook/Yelp reviews that recognize your efforts to keep your staff and customers safe on social media & let your customers speak for you!

VIEW ENTIRE SURVEY RESULTS

Re-opening Small Business: What Customers Want

Harrisonburg-Rockingham, Virginia

From April 23 to May 3, 2020, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham COVID-19 Business Assistance Taskforce distributed a “Customer Feedback Survey on Businesses Reopening” in advance of restrictions on small businesses and mass gatherings lifting in a phased approach in Virginia. This survey intended to learn how area customers feel about a variety of topics related to public health and what influences the decisions they make about the places they go.

The anonymous survey was shared with residents in the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County by the COVID-19 Business Assistance Taskforce members. The team received feedback from 1,677 survey respondents. The results are being shared with Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County small businesses in order to prepare them for welcoming customers back this spring in a way that promotes public health and safety,

“It is clear from the survey responses that people very much want to feel like businesses are making the health of their employees and customers a priority and will continuing following multiple sanitary protocols for quite some time,” says Andrea Dono, executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. “Regardless of when restrictions will be lifted, customers made it known that they will still have concerns about protecting themselves and trusting that a space is safe. The success of businesses will hinge on their ability to respond to those concerns and build their confidence in coming back.”

COVID-19 Business Assistance Taskforce Harrisonburg-Rockingham Business Support Taskforce members include representatives from the City of Harrisonburg Economic Development; Rockingham Department of Economic Development and Tourism; the Shenandoah Valley Partnership; the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SVSBDC); Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance; the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce; the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council; and JMU’s Professional and Continuing Education.

Survey Key Takeaways:

  • Customers want businesses to make public health a priority and they want them to continue taking precautions that help keep employees and customers safe.
  • Customers want precautions to be posted and shared so they know in advance which precautions are being taken.
  • Many people do not expect to go back to normal routines immediately following stay-at-home order being lifted, and may take a few months or longer to resume normal shopping, dining, and entertainment activity. They expect to see extra precautions being taken for a few months or longer as well.
  • Seeing staff wear masks was more important to respondents than gloves, which elicited mixed responses due to concerns about improper usage.
  • People wish to touch as few common surfaces as possible.
  • The number of people already inside establishments will impact some customers’ desire to enter as well.
  • Confidence in patronizing businesses seems to come from knowing what the businesses are doing to protect people in their establishments as well as knowing that multiple strategies are being used.
  • Making purchases online and curbside pickup have become very popular options that many wish to see continued.
  • While responses varied according to type of business, for the most part, many people will be slower to venture inside businesses immediately following the lifting of the order.
  • Large, indoor events, concerts, conferences, and tradeshows are activities that people wish to avoid in the coming months.
  • People seem slightly more comfortable attending large, outdoor events
  • Buffet or self-service food set ups will make many people uncomfortable for quite some time.
  • Restaurants: Most people stated they would wait a month, two months, or more before dining in (@54%) while 24% said they are ready now and 19% didn’t know or weren’t comfortable with the idea.
  • Retailers: 33% of respondents said they are ready to shop in stores. But, nearly half of the group surveyed indicated they would wait either one month or two months or more before visiting shops and boutiques.
  • Museums, galleries, yoga studios, gyms and fitness centers, and hotels: Most people indicated they would wait 2 months or longer to visit these places.
  • Religious Institutions: 44% of those who attend religious service would wait either one month or two or more months to rejoin in-person religious services. About 38% of those who attend religious services indicated they would be comfortable attending service in-person immediately following the lifting of the stay-at-home order.

How could businesses respond?

  • Follow industry-specific guidelines on re-opening businesses and which precautions to take as they become available.
  • Place automatic hand sanitizer dispensers inside the business.
  • Post signs explaining precautions outside the door and inside the establishment, as well as post online and on social media pages. Ensure all staff are following what is posted.
  • Continue requiring staff to wear masks, including “back-of-the-house” employees.
  • Continue using e-commerce systems and implement e-commerce if you don’t have systems in place.
  • Continue offering curbside pick up and delivery options.
  • Limit the number of patrons inside establishments.
  • Explore “touchless” and no- to low-contact systems for your business, which may include disposable paper menus or posted chalk board menus in restaurants, touchless payment options, door handles that can be operated by foot, and other strategies.
  • Frequently disinfect surfaces, handles, credit card machines, etc.
  • Find alternatives to self-serve food and buffets.
  • Prepare to accommodate a smaller number of patrons or crowds inside establishments while the region continues to flatten the curve. Take reservations or appointments.
  • Use your social media and e-newsletter list to engage your own patrons and ask for feedback on your plans. Many respondents used open answers to say they want to support small businesses as much as they can. Ask them what you specifically can do to get them back.
  • If you made changes during the pandemic that achieved a favorable response, consider continuing those practices or operations (social media sales, videos, family-style meals, etc., video or social media engagement).

The following details share more information and specific responses to each survey question:

1. Which of the following factors do you feel impacts your level of comfort regarding which businesses you would go into? (Select all that apply)

    1. 84% said employees disinfecting surfaces
    2. 67.7% said employees wearing facemasks
    3. 67.7% said how many customers are already inside the business
    4. 54.4% said plexiglass barriers where appropriate
    5. 51.1% said type type of business (bank vs. yoga studio vs. restaurant)
    6. 50.6% said posted practices aimed at preventing the spread of the virus
    7. 46.4% said confidence in the business owner
    8. 36.2% said “foot” door openers
    9. 33.8% said employees wearing gloves
    10. 32.3% said the size of the business
    11. ~<10% said other, none of these, or gave their own responses

2. Once the stay-at-home order is lifted, how long will you wait before feeling comfortable going into the following places?

Restaurants: The majority of respondents indicated that they would “wait a month or so,” or will wait “2 months or more” before patronizing dine-in restaurants (about 32.8% and 21.8%, respectively). 23.8% said they would feel comfortable dining-in immediately following the lift of the stay-at-home order. 19.4% of respondents indicated they “didn’t know” when they would feel comfortable, or characterized themselves as generally uncomfortable patronizing dine-in restaurants.

For buffet style restaurants and self-service food stations, in particular, 56.5% of respondents indicated they would be uncomfortable with the idea of buffet style dining, or would not be comfortable dining from a buffet for 2 months or more.

Retail: In contrast, those surveyed seem slightly more comfortable with the idea of patronizing retail locations immediately following the conclusion of the stay-at-home order (32.6%). Still, nearly half of the group surveyed indicated they would wait either one month or two months or more before visiting shops and boutiques.

Museums, galleries, yoga studios, gyms and fitness centers, and hotels: Survey takers indicated they would wait longer to visit these places. The most common response across these categories was “2 months or longer.”

Religious Institutions: 44% of those who attend religious service would wait either one month or two or more months to rejoin in-person religious services. About 38% of those who attend religious services indicated they would be comfortable attending service in-person immediately following the lifting of the stay-at-home order.

3. Would you prefer to see curbside options continue?

More than half of the respondents want to use curbside pickup until the pandemic is over and almost 38% would be interested in permanent curbside pickup.

4. Do the following public health practices make you feel MORE COMFORTABLE or LESS COMFORTABLE patronizing a business?

More people feel more comfortable when businesses take certain precautions. “Hand sanitizer dispensers for customers” was the most popular precaution, followed by “employees wearing masks,” “plexiglass barriers,” and posted prevention practices. Customer attitudes towards employees wearing gloves are a bit more complicated; of those who responded, 59% indicated that they either feel uncomfortable or have a neutral response to employees wearing gloves.

5. Are you willing to pay more for goods & services in a business that implements increased safety precautions?

It is not definitive whether customers would pay more for goods and services. At least 43.3% said they would be willing to pay more, while approximately 35% may be willing to pay more. About 20% of survey takers indicated that they would not tolerate higher prices. Open answers also indicated that public safety shouldn’t be turned into a commodity or become something that only some people can afford.

6 & 7: Are you comfortable patronizing restaurants with fewer tables or limits on the number of dine-in customers? Are you more comfortable going into shops and other non-restaurant businesses that limit the number of patrons inside at one time?

The majority of survey respondents indicated that they are (or would be) comfortable dining at restaurants with fewer tables/fewer customers seated (58.2%), while approx 67% would feel comfortable in shops/retail spaces in which the number of patrons allowed inside at one time is limited.

8. Would you like to see more “touch-free” payment options?

75% of those surveyed are interested in using “touch-free” payment options.

9. While adhering to appropriate social distancing guidelines (however they might evolve), how comfortable might you be in the coming months with the following:

Overwhelmingly, survey takers are not comfortable attending large indoor events, concerts, or conferences in the coming months.

An exception is found in reactions towards attending indoor religious services: 741 of 1,349 applicable respondents indicated they would be very comfortable or somewhat comfortable attending religious services. 342 people said they wouldn’t feel comfortable attending services, while 50 people didn’t know.

Perceptions towards large, outdoor events are harder to gauge; 23% are comfortable attending events; 31% are somewhat comfortable, 13% are neutral, while approximately 28% are uncomfortable attending outdoor events.

Attitudes are also mixed when it comes to smaller gatherings, like yoga classes, workshops, and trainings. 62% say they are either very comfortable, somewhat comfortable or neutral in their attitudes towards these smaller gatherings. Just over 25% say they’d be uncomfortable participating.

10. Think about your ONLINE shopping habits pre-COVID-19. After social distancing restrictions are lifted, how frequently do you expect to shop online with the following businesses:

Survey takers indicate they plan to continue shopping online, even following the conclusion of social distancing guidelines. 832 respondents anticipate that they will shop online “frequently,” and 630 will “occasionally.”

590 respondents anticipate they will frequently shop with locally owned retailers with e-commerce and pickup/delivery options; 733 anticipate they will occasionally shop locally.

700 respondents anticipate they will frequently dine with restaurants that offer online ordering and pickup or delivery. Almost the same amount, 684, indicated they would use e-commerce occasionally.

Across all categories above, only 13% said they rarely or never shop/purchase online.

11. Since COVID-19, have there been any safety precautions or business operations that have made you feel UNCOMFORTABLE? 972 responses.

Survey participants are generally uncomfortable when businesses do not follow CDC/VDH recommendations, particularly misuse of gloves. Other practices customers surveyed were uncomfortable with: customers and/or staff not wearing facemasks, having to sign receipts during touchless payment, too many people in indoor spaces/lack of social distancing, other customers’ behaviors.

We’ve pulled a few sample responses below:

“We have ordered food out a decent amount of times, but we have always been a little nervous about how food was being handled.”

“Gloves, as someone who does biological wet work I see most people and employees using gloves improperly, which actually increases the spread due to cross contamination. Instead of trusting that gloves are being used as they are supposed to I’d rather see hand sanitizer or soap and water used.”

“I feel like people are doing their best. We did get take out one night and the person bringing it to the car had a mask but no gloves. Part of cubside is you don’t see what protocols are happening inside, so maybe they were sanitizing hands between each car. Some of it is simply public perception where the public never cared before.”

“all workers should wear [facemasks] (properly, provided by the employer as safety equipment, and cleaned by the employer)”

“Inability to pass people in stores with 6 feet of distance. Some aisles are just too small and it doesn’t matter that they are limiting number of people when space is still an issue.”

“The precautions that are “over-the-top” and make you feel like you’re walking into a hospital is what makes me most uncomfortable.  It still needs to feel like a store/restaurant establishment so there can be “too much” precaution taken in my opinion.  Also any establishments requiring patrons to wear a mask or gloves before entering is not ok with me.”

“Businesses not outlining what to do over the phone when I order. PLEASE TELL ME what you expect of me when I pick up.”

“Seeing photos online where employees are not socially distancing inside the business”

“Having to sign credit card slip after touch less transaction”

“Not the businesses themselves, just other people in the businesses who do not-so-smart stuff.”

12. Since COVID-19, have there been any safety precautions or business operations that have made you feel COMFORTABLE?

Out of the 1,077 responses, the most common were: employees wearing masks, hand sanitizer for customers, plexi-glass barriers, employees visibly cleaning, curbside pick up, and paying ahead/online.

13. As a consumer, we appreciate your loyalty to local businesses. Please share with us any other ideas and suggestions that you feel would make your shopping/dining/service experiences more comfortable as we all navigate our new normal.

There were 524 responses that mirrored the overall survey. It is worth noting there is no one single sentiment and for every comment that said businesses should open there was an opposing comment that said it was too soon to reopen. We’ve pulled a few sample responses below.

“I appreciate when businesses share what they’re doing, they’re empathetic to people being weary while still appreciative of peoples business.”

“I live in Massanutten, along with 1000s of others who patronize Harrisonburg establishments, and NO ONE delivers out here (except for Romanos and Dominos). Many of us feel there’s a market that’s being missed. Really wish that Harrisonburg restaurants would reconsider.”

“To promote saving local businesses, but not promote it over practical safety measures either, as hard as that may be to see the businesses suffer. Maybe one central hub can safely bag up and curbside deliver to-go food for all the downtown restaurants so the measures are consistent and dependable, kind of like the farmers market where you can preorder and there is a time to drive through and pick up from multiple vendors and everyone it taking the utmost precautions. Thank you for doing this survey!!!!”

“I’ve found it very helpful when businesses post pictures or even videos on their social media of whatever COVID abatement practices they’re employing and how to properly navigate them…having a heads up as to what’s in store when customers arrive in the store is helpful to successfully navigate whatever system is in place. “

“The following would be my short list:

-Sneeze guards where appropriate

-Doors that can be opened with feet

-Requirement of masks when out in public – This is a no-brainer. All establishments should have their employees wearing masks when they re-open. Patrons should be required to wear masks as well.

-Clearly displayed sanitizing protocols.

-Strong use of curbside pick-up or in-house delivery services. The third party delivery services have not proven to be following adequate sanitizing or safety protocols.

-I feel that any business using any sort of delivery service, in-house or third party, should have to keep meticulous records of each transaction. This would allow for very easy contact tracing. Things to enter into a “delivery database” would be date, time, identity of cook/chef, delivery personnel.”

“No suggestions, just want to iterate that everyone in my house loves our small local businesses. We were shopping local in 2019 and will be shopping local in 2020, 2021, and on. We will continue to purchase things online + use curbside pick up. That’s a promise. “

“Connect with patrons and provide reassurance when possible. People are missing each other but are afraid of each other. If this can be addressed, it will be powerful. “

“Temp check all employees before work”

“If workers went the extra half mile to make their cleaning/precautions visible to the customer, i.e. watching the ABC employee sanitize the pen after I handed it back made me walk out thinking “this is a place I trust” whereas other stores you don’t  “see” the cleaning (which isn’t a critique as long as the cleaning is happening) but for me it’s a mental shortcut to think “I saw them cleaning, it must be clean, I’m comfortable returning there” whereas I do not plan on returning to the previously mentioned business with the improper glove wearing. “

“Proving hand sanitizer for customers and employees and accessible and convenient locations, use of scheduling appointments to provide a way for customers to work shopping/dinning/etc into their schedule- similar to how SPCA limits number of appointments per hour and you have to pre-register online to get a spot. Knowing that employees are taken care of and given paid time off when sick so as not to come into work and spread it to customers because they still need to make money and pay bills. I would be more willing to shop at places I know value their employees like that.”

“Would love to see some of the safety measures and shopping options remain in place until we are somewhat confident that we won’t experience a second surge of this virus. I really appreciate all the measures that local businesses have taken to continue serving the public in a safe manner! I’d also like to see local government promote the fact that supporting local business ALL THE TIME leads to a strong local economy that helps our entire community weather storms like the one we are experiencing now. Thanks for reading! “

“Gift cards! I’d love to have a central place to purchase gift cards to help restaurants get cash now. Also most apps aren’t accepting gift cards now so please add that feature.”

“It is nice when businesses with curbside service have their phone numbers posted in a way it’s easily seen from the curb.”

“The ability to have someone bring out my purchase will absolutely increase local shopping versus online/Amazon/WalMart. I really want to use local/small businesses. If I have a child or dog in the car, it’s not so easy to run in and grab an item. In determining who has the best price, I factor in the customer service. It’s not only about the cash.”

“I wish restaurants would offer more family package meals, so stressful picking stuff for everyone for a big family.”

“I like to see businesses supporting their workers — provide them masks, hand sanitizer, time on the clock to clean and disinfect, etc;  AND increase the pay or working hours for shelf stockers and cleaning staff. Tell me how much of my dollar is going into those people’s pockets and I’ll gladly pay more for your goods or services, patronize your store instead of another.”

“Continuing the combination of curb-side pickup and contactless payment is crucial. We also appreciate when businesses use social media to communicate their actions, new/evolving processes, and options available – this inspires confidence and trust.”

“Improved and easier online checkout process for businesses that offer curbside pickup or delivery. Some are great but others are clunky and difficult to use, and I have been nervous about web security regarding payments with a few. More outdoor dining options at restaurants when weather is nice. Sadly, for the time being, eliminate option for bringing your own cup/container/growler to coffee shops, breweries, etc to reduce cross contamination potential. Offer training and some sort of safety audit for small businesses looking to adapt to this new normal.”

# #  #

Recovery Resources for Small Business This checklist is meant to help guide you through those important questions as you look to reimagine your business and find success in the post-crisis world. Wherever your business may be currently, we suggest starting at the very beginning of the checklist and working your way through.

We close out our successful 2014 Business Smarts series on Jan 9, so we’re building the agenda for 2015!

The theme this year is Tools and Tips for Busy Businesses

We are seeking professionals and/or entrepreneurs to present at the February-December sessions on topics that address simple and effective ways of dealing with the many challenges of business management and ownership.

Presentations could include topics such as customer support, human resource issues, accounting & finance, marketing, operations, technology, sales, competition, etc.

A goal of every Business Smarts session is that attendees leave with information they can put to use immediately in their business or organization.

Business Smarts sessions are held on the 2nd Friday of every month at American National University (1515 Country Club Road, Harrisonburg) from 7:30-9:00am.  Sessions are structured to allow networking opportunities and lots of interaction.  Presentations should be of value to owners, managers, and staff.

Submit your proposal to Joyce Krech at the SBDC (krechjh@jmu.edu) or Sheena Armentrout at the HR Chamber (sheena@hrchamber.org)   Include the following:

  • Brief description of the content and desired outcomes
  • Your name, title, and business affiliation
  • Your email address, daytime phone number, and Web address
  • A few sentences about your professional experiences, education, etc that is appropriate to the topic (Why are YOU the one to speak in this topic?)
  • Availability: topics will be scheduled based on several factors; please indicate if there is a month Feb-Dec 2015 that you cannot be available.

 

Note: We do not allow presentations to be used as “infomercials” for a specific business, product, or service. We present your credentials as part of the session promotion, and you may share business cards at the end of the session, but please do not use this forum for solicitations.  Believe us when we say, the attendees will not respond favorably!

For millions of people, their biggest hobbies also double as a source of income. For example, some may buy and sell collectible coins, while others take their handmade crafts to trade shows. If you make an income from your hobby, however, you still must report this on your tax return. Much like a business, there are special rules and limits for tax deductions that you can claim for your hobby.

This is why the IRS Small Business blog created an easy list of ‘Five Basic Tax Tips about Hobbies

1. Determine whether it is a business or a hobby

The rules for how you report income and expenses will depend on whether your income activity is actually a hobby or a business. There are nine factors to consider when determining the difference, including whether you make a profit, how often you engage in the hobby for sport or recreation, etc. These are the full 9 factors to consider.

2. Allow hobby deductions

While there are some limitations, you should be able to deduct some ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense refers to expenses that are expected for that activity, while a necessary expense is one that is appropriate for the activity, but may not be as common.

e Hobby Show_Bruno Cordioli

e Hobby Show_Bruno Cordioli

3. Limits on hobby expenses

Generally, you can only deduct hobby expenses up to the amount of hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, that is considered a loss from the activity. You cannot deduct the loss from your other income.

4. How to deduct hobby expenses

It is necessary to itemize any deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your expenses may fall into one of three types of deductions, with special rules applying to each. See Publication 535, Section A for the rules about how you claim them for each.

5. Use IRS Free File

While hobby rules can be complex, IRS Free File can make filing your tax return easier and available free until October 15th. If your hobby makes %58,000 or less, you can use this brand-name tax software. If  you earn more, you can use Free Fire Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms.

A title like that may raise a few eyebrows as nobody likes to see the goods and services they buy spike in price. From a business standpoint, however, there is no harm in selling what a product for what is worth. Millions of businesses fail to balance boosting competitive prices and actually making a profit. As Grant Cardone,  contributor of Entrepreneur.com, noted in his article ‘3 Strategies for Raising Your Prices,’ “the number one reason business fail is, simply, their prices are too low.”

Grant Cardone, Entrepreneur – ‘3 Strategies for Raising Your Prices

Even if your industry is competitive, trying to offer the absolute lowest prices in business suicide. While you don’t want to be known for outrageous prices, as a business your focus should be on value. That means even if the price is a little higher than the competition, your business gives people a reason to come to you and pay a little extra.

Your business needs to make money to expand and best serve customers, simple as that. If you are afraid to nudge your prices up a little bit, here are a few tips from Cardone on how to increase prices.

1. Offer alternatives

For each of your products or services, give your customers a few choices and allow them to make sense of the prices. For example, offer a range of services and prices that reflect those services. This also applies to products, with the higher priced items having more features or being made of better materials, etc.

Photo Credit: David Goehring

Photo Credit: David Goehring

2. Menu Pricing

Write out your products or services in a menu format that ranges from highest to lowest prices. This simple trick of ordering goods in a hierarchy leads customers to realize that the “highest price is the better deal.” This should be true of your products anyway, this simply helps customers visualize the value.

3. Just do it

To be honest, you don’t need a reason or justification to raise prices. You should sell your products and services for what you think they are worth, despite the competition. Try slightly increasing the prices see if it works. You can even bundle products and services together to increase the average sales price.

Don’t be afraid to raise your prices

Regardless of whether you are selling luxury products or cheap novelties, these strategies work to help your business make money. Remember that prices are not what make a customer more loyal. As long as you make the experience for customers worth the price, that is what will keep them coming back.

As search engines and smartphones continue to make researching businesses even easier, it should come as no surprise that what other people write about your business online is extremely important. Whenever anyone is going to try a new restaurant or store, for example, chances are they’re going to look up reviews before ever entering the establishment. With that in mind, we cannot stress enough how much more weight customers are going to put on online comments (particular negative ones!) compared to your business’ messages.

That is why it is so important to handle any online comments in a professional manner. Even if you believe negative comments are completely unfounded, that does not mean you should simply ignore them, or worse try to call out the customer as irrational. Rather, you want to respond to complaints in a public manner that both maintains your reputation and increases customer loyalty.

The following 3 techniques come from Gina Watkins of the American SBDC’ Biz Blog’s steps on ‘How to Handle Negative Online Comments’ –

1. Don’t Remove Negative Comments

Photo Credit: RonPloof

Photo Credit: RonPloof

More often than not, removing a negative comment from a review site or social media is even worse than ignoring it. The thing about the internet is that there never truly is a delete button; people who have seen the comment will recognize that it’s gone. In the end, this technique will only raise suspicions and ill-will towards your business.

Rather than delete it, respond to it! A recent Harris Interactive survey actually found that around 1/3 of the people who received a response from a company after leaving a negative comment ended up both deleting the original complaint and writing a positive review. It is also okay to ask an individual to simply update their original comment after an issue has been resolved.

2. Acknowledge the Complaint

Even if you don’t like or agree with what people are saying, let them vent and acknowledge their side before presenting your own. For example, you can start your response with “I understand why you may feel that way,” before apologizing, giving your side, or asking how to improve. Remember, most customers will do business with you again if you reach a solution with them quickly!

3. Focus on the facts and be grateful

Even if you feel a person is being rude or harsh in their delivery of a comment, look past HOW they are writing the message and focus on WHAT they are saying. If you separate the delivery from the facts, you will be left with just the problem that you can hopefully fix. Without complaints, how will you ever know why that customer and possibly others choose not to return?

As Watkins put it “while it’s impossible to please everybody, you can learn to appreciate complaints as warning signs and opportunities to build even stronger ties to your customers.”

 

In the comedic words of MarketingProfs’  Karol Król, “trying to be the best email marketer possible is just too mainstream. Why not aim to be the worst instead?” Sometimes realizing you are making mistakes is best understood through lighthearted sarcasm, a technique wonderfully utilized in Król’s article ‘How to be the Worst Email Marketing in 10 Easy Steps.’

Even if it’s easy to accidentally follow Król’s “tips” to being a horrible email marketer, try not to be guilty of falling into those habits! Here are 8 Steps to Being a Horrible Email Marketer and why you should NOT follow them: 

1. Send only promotional emails

“To be the worst email market on the planet,” explains Król, “you absolutely have to be sending promotional emails only.” While an occasional promotional email is okay, remember that content is king. Even if it is more time consuming or even expensive, your content should actually have a purpose for the reader. Otherwise, people will ignore every email you send.  

2. Send emails twice a day

Because everyone loves to be spammed, right? Even if you’re the one guy who loves getting their inbox filled with nonstop emails all day, the people on your mailing list probably won’t feel the same way. Try to only send emails out to people when you actually have something important to say. Less is more!

Photo Credit: OTA Photos

Photo Credit: OTA Photos

3. Only use pitchy subject lines

Regardless of whether you want to be a great email marketer or a horrible one, your subject line is extremely important in determining whether a person will click your message or not. If you don’t want to be a horrible marketer, however, try to avoid those “pitchy” subject lines like “BAD NEWS, CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT WHY!” These simply try to spark curiosity without giving any valuable information. Has a useless subject line ever made you open an email? Probably not.

4. Write only essay-long emails

When you open an email only to find it is a wall of text, what do you think will be your first reaction; meticulously read it all or just ignore it? No business person has the time or patience to sift through that much information, especially from an email. At best, a person may simply scan your email to pick out bits of information. Keep your emails concise and includes links to your longer content when appropriate.

5. Trick people into taking action

“Being honest is so overrated,” explains Król, “If you’re honest, you’re lowering your sales.” While some business like to pull tricks on their customers, such as free trials that automatically start charging money after a set time without any notifications, these shady techniques will only come back to bite you in the end. Being honest and upfront with people is the best path both for you and your customers. 

6. Don’t care about what you promote

People are usually pretty good at telling when a writer really doesn’t care about what they’re writing. This certainly applies to marketing too. You need to not only personally test out what you are trying to sell, but also be passionate about it. If you don’t care about what you’re promoting, why should anyone else?

7. Don’t use a quality email service provider

Photo Credit: Nicholas Tart

Photo Credit: Nicholas Tart

Do you want to have all of your emails marked as spam and never even reach the mailboxes of the people you are trying to promote to? Well then sorry, bud, you actually need to pay for a decent email service provider. Making a free Gmail account simply isn’t going to cut it.

8. Send Attachments

People do not like attachments on emails unless they specifically ask for them. They take time to download and read, often have little to do with the email, and people are weary of downloading virus’. Put the content on the email, not on a PDF.

Don’t be a horrible email marketer!

At some point or another, we have all been guilty of following at least one of these “tips”, whether it be due to saving time and money or just plain laziness. Learning how to stop being a horrible email marketer, however, is the first step in learning to be a great one. Avoid these marketing mistakes and you will be well on your way to getting the most out of your email marketing campaign!

To learn more about going from good email marketing to great, check out Henneke of CopyBlogger’s 37 Tips for Writing Emails That Get Opened, Read, and Clicked

Among the top social networking platforms used by businesses, one of the more valuable yet strangely underutilized remains to be Reddit. For those who are not aware of this platform, Reddit is a social forum site that fairly accurately describes itself as “the front page of the internet.” With a slogan like that, it’s a wonder why more business don’t want to be there on the “front page.” Reddit, however, does not operate like other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and getting the most out of this platform requires understanding the community and their etiquette (also known as Reddiquette).

These tips and strategies are based on Ben Beck of Social Media Examiner’s 6 Ways to Use Reddit to Grow Your Business.

What is Reddit? 

Credit - NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Dr. John Mather before his “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) post on Reddit. Photo Credit – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

As a forum-based website, Reddit works by allowing it’s users, or “Redditors”, to share content like posts, links, or photos onto one of it’s many categorized boards, or “subreddits.” Each subreddit has a specific topic that members will talk about, such as news, religion, video games, or even juggling. Each subreddit essentially acts as a kind of subcommunity within the overall Reddit community. When users subscribe to a Subreddit, popular posts from that thread will end up on their home page, like a news feed on Facebook.

When users like the content you’ve posted, or at least find it interesting, they will “upvote it,” similar to “likes” on Facebook or Twitter. The difference, however, is that when people do not like what you have posted, they will downvote your post into oblivion. With this description in mind, we will discuss how to use Reddit for your business

Encourage Interaction

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a company on Reddit is trying to use it as place to sell your stuff through spam advertising. These self-promoting posts break the rules, or Reddiquette, and will be immediately downvoted and ignored. Rather, use Reddit as a place to interact with people. Go to subreddits relevant to your Small Business and ask questions, answer other user’s question, post neat photos or non-advertising news, and so on. As Beck put it, “this gives followers a sense of ownership in the community,” which helps build brand advocates.

As an example, the website our office assistant Daniel and his classmates created and promoted for their public relations writing course greatly benefited by simply asking Redditors on the Harrisonburg and Business subreddits if they had any suggestions for improving the site. They immediately got great feedback and ideas, all while raising awareness of the brand without “selling” it. They even got the opportunity to make a video interview with the booking agent for the local restaurant Blue Nile. Now that’s public relations!

Another way to take advantage of the interactive nature of Reddit is to take part in an “Ask Me Anything,” or AMA post. This is where you post about yourself and invite people to ask you questions in an informal manner. For example, you could say “I am a small business owner who financed my company completely through crowdfunding. Ask me anything.” Then other business owners and interested individuals will ask you about how you were successful. People are interested in people, so put a human face with your brand.

Customer Service

Photo Credit: Eva Blue

Photo Credit: Eva Blue

For companies popular enough to host their own subreddits, such as popular TV Show Top Gear or Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Reddit provides a great opportunity for people to talk about products and the business itself to answer questions. By better helping customers, you better keep customers.

For example, the Xbox 360 page funnels Microsoft customers with product questions into different channels to help answer them. Their forum is also a place for customers to share videos, photos, or experiences they have had with the product. It’s almost like people promoting you for you.

Reddit also provides a great place to input a calendar of events, as well as post about interesting upcoming company news. Clients who are invested in a brand want to keep up with the latest news and events.

Reddit and Your Business

As the “front page of the internet,” taking the time to experiment with Reddit can certainly be a worthwhile move for your small business. In a sense, Reddit is like the public relations of social media. It’s not about advertising yourself as much as it’s about making connections and learning from your customers.  Take these suggestions and get the most out of this dynamic social media website!

In the business world today, information and time have become the currency for success – but managing both is a challenge. Whether you’re considering custom solutions, seeking ready-made tools, or just looking for new ways to improve your workflow, mobile apps are worth considering. If you have a smartphone, why not use the power of this mini-computer you’re already carrying around?

We thank Ben Kilmer, co-founder of mobile technology developers GroMobi, for contributing this post to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC blog.

As a small business owner myself, I use a number of mobile apps to keep myself organized and effectively manage my work. Here are 11 smartphone apps that I use on a regular basis to help me operate efficiently and conveniently, with links so you can check them out for yourself.

1. Google Mail App

If you’re a fan of Gmail, this is the app for you.  It makes managing multiple email accounts, crafting quick messages, and staying on top of your email a breeze. For Apple users, the Apple Mail app is also effective.

Download for iOS
Download for Android  

2. Google Drive

If collaborative or live documents are beneficial for your business, the newly rebranded Google Drive is a great tool to use. Drive allows multiple people to work on online documents, much  like Microsoft’s Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, in real time. The app is a nice extension of this web tool, enabling you to access Drive on the go.

Download for iOS

Download for Android

3. LinkedIn

Almost regardless of industry, LinkedIn is becoming a powerful tool for anyone and everyone looking to do business. This business social media platform acts as both an online resume and a great way to connect with people. The app version is a great way to catch up with business colleagues and to instantly connect with people you have just met. Do it all quickly and on the go.

Download for iOS

Download for Android

4. Perch

Photo Credit: ABW Leibniz Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

Photo Credit: ABW Leibniz Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

Perch is a great app for the business owner who wears many hats by enabling you to keep tabs on what competitors are doing on Twitter. The app provides insights that allow your business to remain competitive and can give direction for your own social media strategies.

Download for iOS
Download for Android

5. Box

Box, or comparable alternative Dropbox, are great apps for the power user of cloud storage. These are for people who have a large number of files that they need to access while away from the computer.  Box’ cloud storage also acts as a great backup in case a computer malfunctions. Just like the desktop experience, the mobile Box app is smooth and easy to use.

Download for iOS
Download for Android

6. Calendar by Readdle

If you use Google Calendar for your business scheduling, this is a great addition to your app arsenal. Readdle’s Calendar app allows you to quickly and easily view any events you have in the upcoming day, week or month, with intuitive, easy to master controls.

Download for iOS
Unavailable on Android

7. Dashboard

Another great tool for the busy executive, Dashboard allows you quick access to Google Analytics while on the go or when you have a few spare moments here or there. Keeping up with your SEO is important, but it doesn’t need to take your whole day.

Download for iOS
A Different Google Analytics App for Android

8. Facebook Pages

Facebook pages allows you to manage your company’s Facebook presence with ease, making it quicker and easier to access when you have time to do so. With Pages you can schedule posts, manage your analytics, share photos and more without using valuable hours at your desk.

Download for iOS
Download for Android

9. Twitter

Photo Credit: Kev Shrine

Photo Credit: Kev Shrine

Much like Facebook Pages, Twitter is a good app to have on your phone, allowing you to work on your personal or business social media presence while on the go with just a few taps. Customers want to see the human side of your business, and your social media presence is your outlet!

Download for iOS
Download for Android

10. Redbooth

If you oversee a team, project management software is a great investment to take a look at. This type of software allows you to give your team members tasks, give and receive feedback, and track hours and progress all in one place. GroMobi uses Redbooth software, which has a great mobile app that allows us to stay connected to the team even when we are away.

Download for iOS
Download for Android

11. Salesforce 1

If you use Salesforce software with your business, downloading their app is a great way to access that information on the go with ease.  Salesforce 1 is the best app Salesforce has put out to date, and it is effective in enabling you to quickly drill down on the information you need.

Download for iOS
Download for Android

Smartphone and Your Business

Smartphones and apps have taken the business world by storm, making once time consuming tasks like sending messages, scheduling, team management, organizing and more, quick and at the touch of a finger. While these are just a few apps I use on a daily to weekly basis to help my productivity, every business owner should take the time to experiment and see what apps are the most effective for their business. Get the most out of your phone and leverage apps for your business today!

Have an idea or need for an application that you can’t find in the app store? Considering a custom app for your business?  Get in touch with us here at GroMobi – we can discuss your needs, review the options, and make recommendations.  GroMobi creates mobile apps for all platforms.

Ben Kilmer
Partner | Founder
GroMobi