Is Brick and Mortar Retail Making a Rebound?

If you have been paying any attention to the headlines coming out of the retail industry over the last few months, you may think that off-line retail is going the way of the dinosaur. In the first half of 2016 alone, the industry has been flooded with unfavorable news, such as that poor sales are to blame for the closing of numerous Kmart, Macy’s, Target, Walmart and Sears stores throughout the country. Then there was Nordstrom’s embarrassing stock downgrade. Later, reports came out that Sports Authority and Aéropostale are filing for bankruptcy

Few would argue that the dismal performance of both big box and small, mom-and-pop retailers is not being affected by the growing prevalence and preference for ecommerce. Platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and Paypal, as well as the emergence of mobile technology has forever changed the way we make purchases. But that change need not be a death knell for brick and mortar retailers. In fact, over the past year or so, behind all the doom and gloom, the retail industry has actually been showing some signs of healthy growth and expansion.

According to Douglas Hope, of GlobalShop, in his session at the Microsoft Envision 2016 conference, some corners of the retail industry appear to be going strong. In 2015, retailers spent some $62 billion on in-store “shoppers’ experiences,” and it seems that at least some of this investment is making an impact. Even as several big box retailers began pairing down their operations, retail revenues hit $5 trillion last year- that represents a 72% increase in sales since the year 2000. Plus, there are currently 3.8 million storefronts in the U.S.- which represents an increase of 190,000 within two years. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener of all: about 90% of those storefronts are small, independent shops.

So, what could be driving this resurgence of off-line commerce? The retailers that are expanding in this age of digital commerce tend to have a couple of things in common:

1. They are very focused on providing a good customer experience. For example, consider the case of hunting and sporting goods chain Cabela’s. Stores feature in-door rock climbing, and an in-store cafe, animal and cave exhibits and a wide selection of products. The chain is now building two new 70,000-square-foot retail locations, one in Georgia and one in Missouri.

2. They don’t ignore their digital footprint. Successful retailers today work to seamlessly blend their online presence with their off-line one. In fact, many bring the two together. Some great examples of this in action include: Geo-Targeting and Proximity Marketing as well as in-store virtual dressing rooms.

While it may seem like the sky is falling when it comes to “real world” retail, the industry is going through an evolution and it is one that will likely include physical storefronts for a long time to come. Those who adapt now will be the ones in the best position to survive.

You Can Outsource Your Operations; But Avoid These Pitfalls

As you go through the process of growing your small business, there will come a point where you will have to decide whether or not to take on additional full time or part time employees. On one hand, the added human input can help you scale up your operations. But on the other hand, taking on employees can be a very costly and time-consuming process. Plus there is always the risk that your new hires won’t end up working out.

One way to overcome this dilemma is to outsource some of your business’ operations to another individual or business. Doing this will allow you to expand while reducing the risk of a costly bad hire or even a good hire made at the wrong time.

But, outsourcing parts of your business comes with its own set of challenges. After all, who says that this outside entity will properly “get” your company and its unique culture. How well will they be able to relate to your customers, and how do you ensure that there is enough motivation on their end to do a good job?

Outsourcing can truly make or break a company depending on how it is approached. So before you outsource anything- especially those front-line positions, such as customer service and sales- make sure you consider the following five pitfalls:

Businesses don’t consider the scope of their needs. This is the very first, critical step to successfully outsourcing your business’ operations. Before you start the process of looking for an outside company to take over, you should figure out exactly what it is you need from them. Not only will this help to make your search process easier, but it will help you avoid some of the other pitfalls mentioned below.

Businesses don’t allocate enough money. You really do get what you pay for, so beware of prices that seem too good to be true. While many small businesses are working with tight budgets, price shouldn’t be your only consideration when hiring a service provider. If you discover a company that offers the same basic services yet they are charging much less, then it could be a indicative of the kind of work quality you can expect from them.

There is not enough due diligence. Don’t just fall for a company because they have a flashy-looking website. You need to dig into this company’s reputation as well as the amount of time they have been in business. You should also research customer reviews and seriously consider trying to contact previous clients to see how satisfied they were. During the research process, pay attention to any red flags that could signal potential problems or mis-representation. For example, if it takes a long time for you to speak to a real person when you try contacting the service provider or if customer representatives are unfriendly and not knowledgable, then it may be sign to take your business elsewhere.

Businesses forget about cultural fit. Just as you should hire people based on their cultural fit with your company, not just the skills and experiences listed on their resumes, the same is true for any business partnership- whether that partnership is contractual or a joint venture or a full, working partnership.

There is no system to monitor performance. Outsourcing vital operations is not a set-it-and-forget-it process. There needs to be a system in place to monitor and review the company’s performance as well as the ROI that the setup is supposed to be achieving. By doing this, you will be able to quickly spot problem areas and then decide whether or not the partnership is a good one. One of the biggest factors to successful outsourcing is knowing when to walk away from a bad setup.

In short, outsourcing business operations can be a very reasonable and profitable method for expanding a business- but only if it is approached in the right way. In order for such as setup to have the best chance of success, the company needs to consider it as an important investment. With a bit of time, effort, and money upfront, they have the best chances of watching that investment grow.

(Image source)

7 Ways to Quickly Re-Set a Bad Business Day

It happens to the best of us. You get up in the morning and hit your head, or you kid throws a tantrum, or you don’t feel well, or, perhaps you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We all have those “off days.” While there is a certain level of acceptance to that fact that some days will just be harder than others, at the same time you don’t have to let any erstwhile negativity rule the next 24 hours.

how to turn around a bad business dayHere are 7 simple things you can do to quickly turn a bad business day around for the better:

1. Laugh or smile… even if you’re faking it. Various studies have found that the act of laughing can positively influence one’s mood and outlook. The same is true for smiling– even if the smile itself is fake.

2. Listen to upbeat music. Recent research has highlighted the connection between mood and music. Not only that, but some researchers even suggest that the music you listen to can also affect the way you perceive the world. So, turn the volume up, and if you’re feeling inspired, sing along. It may also help to lighten your mood.

3. Clean out the clutter. Want to regain your focus so you can concentrate on running your business and push those negative thoughts aside? Why not start the day cleaning off and organizing your desk? Even if you spend a mere half an hour on the task, the effect can be significant. In a recent study, scientists found a connection between clutter and a person’s ability to focus and process information.

4. Reach out to a friend. A few years ago, researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends, while others made the climb alone. The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill, and the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.

5. Help someone out. Focusing on a giving to another person releases a hormone called Oxycontin that can soothe and calm even the most frazzled nerves. So, start your day by giving a little money to your favorite charity, answering another person’s question, or hugging someone you love.

6. Go for a walk. Need a fresh perspective on your day? Make time for a 30 minute walk. There is a growing body of research that suggests even moderate exercise, such as walking, can significantly boost your mood and general feelings of well-being.

7. Make a schedule change. Is there some task you have to do today that’s making you feel anxious and blue? Make sure you do that task first and maybe reward yourself with a short workday or a longer than usual break afterward. Not only will you feel relief having completed the unpleasant job, but the time off can also help clear out your mind.

So, there you have it. Seven quick ways to boost your mood and brighten up the gloomiest days. Have you tried any of the above strategies or have some of your own? Let us know in the comment section below.

Image credit:

How to Cheaply Ship Delicate Items with the 2015 Shipping Price Changes

If your business involves the shipment of delicate items, such as electronics, art work, glass pieces, or fragile antiques, then the new shipping price changes that went into effect this year may result in higher shipping costs. But with a little know how, there are several things that you can do to help keep these costs to a minimum.

2015 Shipping Price ChangesBeginning this year, both UPS and FedEx, the two biggest shipping carriers in the US, officially changed the way they charge customers for lightweight shipments in large boxes. The change involves utilizing dimensional weight to calculate the billable weight of a shipment among ground and freight delivery services in order to promote packaging efficiency.

Why does this matter? The reality is that parcel carriers are increasingly challenged to maximize the space in their cargo planes and delivery vehicles. By focusing on the dimensional weight of the package, they hope to retain profitability, while encouraging shippers to evaluate the way their shipments are packaged and protected.

So what can you do to ensure that you are paying the least amount possible on shipping, yet still adequately protecting your shipped items? Here are some key points to consider:

First, make sure you understand the details of these shipping price changes. The change in dimensional weight pricing targets the biggest culprit of capacity inefficiency: lightweight shipments in comparatively large boxes. Parcel carriers have always applied a dimensional weight calculation to all air shipments and to ground shipments with a cubic capacity over 5,184 inches (3 cubic feet), so the change isn’t a revolutionary one. The dimensional weight formula for domestic Air and Ground shipments is: L x W x H / 166. In order to find out if your shipping costs will go up this year, you need to consider your most frequently used boxes and apply this formula. If the dimensional weight of that box exceeds the actual weight of the box plus packaging material and the weight of the product, then you will be paying more to ship that product.

Re-Evaluate your boxes and packing material. Are your boxes the right size for your product? What kind of packaging material are you using to protect your product, and how much of this material is being used? Ideally, your shipping box should have enough room for additional padding, but not be too big. Parcel carriers suggest that there be about 3 inches of space on each side between the wrapped, padded item and the walls of the box. Knowing how to properly pad the item is also important. FedEx has posted several packing tips with video that demonstrate the proper way to pad delicate items. You can see them here.

Take the time to research shipping options. Once you know the dimensional weight of your item, you can then go online and research various shipping arrangements to see which of the major carriers, FedEx, UPS, and the USPS, has the cheapest option. To get an idea of how much prices can vary depending on your shipping needs, take a look at this post over at My Wife Quit Her Job. Your best bet would be to use the shipping cost calculator provided on each carrier’s site or a shipping cost comparison tool.

Bottom line, if you put in the effort to accommodate these shipping changes, you may ultimately enjoy considerable savings instead of a price increase since you can save money by using the right shipping materials. Just be sure to do your research.

3 Business Trends That Will Revolutionize Small Business in 2015

Around this time of the year, an assortment of small business experts take out their crystal balls and make predictions about what the next twelve months or so will bring. While many of the these potential future trends are important to be aware of, sometimes events come together to create a literal transformation in the way we do things.

Business Trends in 2015The following three business trends promise to totally revolutionize the way that small businesses operate. They don’t just represent popular movements or tendencies, but rather a paradigm shift in the way business is conducted.

1. The merging of online identity and the off-line world. After the launch of Apple Pay last October, many people were quick to suggest that mobile payments will see a surge in prevalence and popularity. While that may be true, the move by Apple is actually ushering in a more important trend. Apple has over 800 million accounts tied to credit cards, a loyal customer following, and data on users’ browsing behaviors as well as app usage. Every time an Apple customer uses Apple Pay to make a purchase, he or she is providing valuable data to Apple that can then be used to provide a personalized online user experience. We’re not just talking about mobile payments, but a merging of consumers’ online identity and habits with their off-line behavior and purchases.

2. The rise of dynamic pricing. With dynamic pricing, your prices on products or services change based on several factors including: demand, customer location, competition, and seasonality. Dynamic pricing as a practice is not a new concept. Airlines, event venues and hotels have been using dynamic pricing models for decades, and many big online retailers, such as, Target, and Walmart, rely on sophisticated applications and algorithms to instantly make personalized price changes.

What has changed is the number of vendors offering dynamic pricing solutions to small businesses- especially those that conduct business online. As mobile payments become more prevalent and online identities merge with offline purchases, even brick and mortar businesses could benefit from an app-based dynamic pricing solution to experiment with the market, spur demand during slow periods and maximize profits.  There is also plenty of room for creativity. Consider what this San Diego bar did to engage customers while learning about their buying habits and maximizing profits.

3. Alternative business financing will make great leaps towards becoming the “new traditional.” Like dynamic pricing above, alternative, non-bank lending is far from a new concept. In fact, the practice of factoring in particular has actually been around for centuries.

Ever since the Great Recession hit a few years ago, and banks and most traditional commercial lenders basically closed the door on small business lending, a wave of alternative lenders have come on the scene to fill in the funding gap. But, the industry as a whole has got a bad rap, mostly due to a small pool of predatory lenders and fly by night operations, and it has yet to gain main stream appeal.

All of this is set to change, however, given the number of high-profile IPOs in the alternative lending space that have been taking shape over the last few months. This includes the likes of OnDeck Capital and peer-to-peer lending platform The Lending Club. Many have suggested that these IPOs are not really about raising money, but more about raising public awareness. Given that banks are still being reluctant to lend to the nation’s smallest businesses, even with real signs of an economic recovery, alternative lending, such as business cash advances, invoice factoring, and micro loans, will only grow forcing small business owners to think more in terms of short-term financing rather than long term funding.

So, what do you think? Do you see how each of these business trends is poised to make a big splash in the coming year for smaller companies? Let us know in the comments below.

(Image Credit:

How to Increase The Lifetime Value of Your Customers

Do you know what the lifetime value of your customers is? If you haven’t heard of it, then it’s time to start learning. Knowing how to manipulate and increase this value can make all the difference between the ultimate success or failure of your business.

dollar-signAccording to a recent Marketing Metrics study, the probability of successfully selling a product to your existing customers is around 60 to 70%, while the probability of selling to a new customer is only 5% to 20%.  It is thus more likely that you’ll be successful re-marketing your products to existing customers than it is trying to gain new ones. Existing customers have already demonstrated their interest in your products or services and are already engaged with your brand. Moreover, you probably already have crucial customer data to work with, such as contact information and buyer history, that you can pair up with your product/service life cycle and industry trends.

If you know how to actualize this potential source of sales, you can uncover a very lucrative goldmine. This process begins and ends with your customer’s lifetime value, or the prediction of the net profit attributed to the entire future relationship you will have with a customer. Knowing how to calculate your customer’s lifetime value (LTV) is thus a vital measurement of your business’ health and a predictor of long term success. But, it doesn’t stop there. You also need to know how to act on this information

To see the LTV equation in action, check out this great infographic over at Kissmetrics that attempts to break down the lifetime value of a Starbucks customer and how this may affect their business decisions.

So, how can you improve the LTV within your own business? Here are three areas to consider:

1. What is the current level of customer satisfaction? In order to increase your LTV, you need to be focused on customer retention, and this means your customer satisfaction has to be strong. So, make an effort to get feedback from customers about their experiences doing business with your company. You can conduct surveys, look at user-generated customer reviews, and pay attention to who mentions your company online and in what context.

2. How many paths of communication are open? Do you create opportunities for current and future communication with your customers? Do you have their email addresses, social media profiles, or mobile phone numbers? When previous and current customers land on your website, do they see personalized content or offers? All of these channels can be used to bring customers back into the sales funnel.

3. Where can you create additional value? Look for ways to add complimentary products or services, upgrades, or any elements that add perceived value to your basic products and services. If your brand is very clearly defined, even just providing customers the opportunity to further identify with its ideals can part of the perceived value as well.

In short, the LTV of your customer is one of the fundamental elements of your business. But, unlike many assets or sales figures, this number is not static. If you go in with a focus on customer retention, keep the lines of communication open, and constantly seek to provide value that “grows” with the customer, then this amount can be maximized to the fullest and significantly help your bottom line- now and over the long term

5 Quick, Effective Ways to Do Market Research

Conducting effective market research has always been an essential part of business start-up, development, and growth, but these days it’s even more so. It’s hard to deny that the pace of business has been turned up several notches. There is this unspoken rush to get from concept to market in lightning speed (i.e. before anyone else does or anything changes). Moreover, countless young entrepreneurs and their Icarus moments are often being turned into public spectacles, heavily glorified and even praised by the media.

compassThe high stakes business crash and burn is has become a badge of honor.

In short, a kind of recklessness has emerged in the business world, and at the risk of sounding like a parent, it’s not the most positive of influences.

If you really want to get your new business idea off on the right foot- whether this idea is for a start-up or an established business- you’ve got to put in the time and the effort to be very clear about the current market demand and conditions.

Often, you don’t have to spend much money on this process. Here are five quick things that you can do to test out the efficacy of a new idea:

1. Get on the phone. Call up a few potential customers, the ones that best fit your ideal customer profile, and ask them if they would be interested in your product or service. This is a good way to initially gauge demand.

2. Get on social media…for research. Social media platforms are a great source of information and market research. Many of these platforms have their own built-in search functions that will help you to spot certain trends. Just a note here: don’t just focus on the trends themselves, but also pay attention to how people and businesses talk about them. What words and phrases keep coming up? What is the tone behind it?

3. Test with content. One relatively easy way to test the market waters is to create a piece of content that touches on the problem you are trying to solve and hints to the solution. You then need to post it in a place where many of your potential customers will see it and wait to see what the response is. If it generates a lot of activity and engagement from people then it’s a good sign that you are on to something.

4. Snoop out your competition. What is your closest competition doing in these space? What is working and what isn’t? What are customers’ reactions?

5. See what already works. Even if another company is not operating in your niche, you may be able to draw on their successful marketing, promotional strategies, and even products and services as examples of what you can do in your own company. Just make sure that there is some overlap in the target market.

In short, good market research is and always will be an important foundation in any business, and these days it doesn’t require a major drain on resources to do it properly. So, do yourself a favor, and don’t jump the gun in the implementation of a new business idea. Take the time and make the effort to ensure that you’ll have a profitable customer-base waiting for you at the finish line.

How to Properly Outsource Your Content Marketing

Marketing a business today takes so much more time and effort than it used to. Your target audience is being bombarded with messages both online and off, and as technology becomes a bigger part of the marketing equation, the rules just keep changing.

ID-100146171Content marketing in particular has become an enigma to many small business owners who are still trying to figure out how to set up their websites and use social media properly. Yet content marketing, done well, can really help you to build brand awareness and create an online audience of current and potential customers. Doing content marketing properly, though takes a great deal of time, effort, and skill.

For this reason, many small business owners choose to outsource some or all of their content creation and marketing. But for a significant amount of these business owners, their efforts don’t work out. The truth is outsourcing your content marketing is not so easy to apply effectively nor does it make sense in all situations.

If you are thinking of outsourcing your content marketing, here are some important points to keep in mind:

Make sure you understand what content marketing can accomplish. Even if you will not be creating the content yourself, you still need to have an understanding of what effective content marketing allows you to do across different mediums and platforms.

You need to be actively involved in the process. You also need to be actively directing and analyzing the content marketing process from beginning to end if you want it to be effective. Don’t be tempted to just leave it to your outsourcing providers. It’s the biggest mistake you can make! Don’t forget that the content you promote as how you promote it will directly reflect on your business.

Choose your hired content marketers wisely. It’s very easy for a company to claim they they are content marketing experts; it’s much harder to prove it. Therefore, you really need to exercise your full due diligence before deciding on a company. Get a list of previous customers and make it a point to contact them. Request to see a sample of a documented content marketing strategy they have developed and implemented. Also, pay attention to any promises or claims they are making. Content marketing is a long-term strategy, and specific results may be hard to guarantee- especially over the short-term.

In short, outsourcing your content marketing can help your business get its name out there while freeing up your time. But you have to approach it correctly or else it can get out of hand taking your business’ brand and money with it.

Image Credit

The Workplace is Changing; Is Your Business Ready?

For the past ten years or so, as cloud-based devices and platforms have become more ubiquitous, and a growing population of working age people have become accustomed to working on the go, there’s has been a very noticeable shift away from traditional workplace attitudes and setups.

home bizBusinesses are increasingly looking for ways to work smarter and more innovatively, relying on a new generation of workers who have literally grown up with the digital age. These people are more accustomed to flexible, collaborative work environments that often involve working outside of the office. This means more co-working spaces instead of the traditional office and cubicle set up. It means work schedules that incorporate a significant amount of flextime, and it often means allowing employees to work outside of the office. Finally, there is much more collaboration and the sharing of knowledge among employees of different departments and different functions. So, cross-training is becoming more and more prevalent

These trends aren’t something that small businesses should just push away since they can have a significant impact on worker productivity and job satisfaction, as well as the ability to attract competent employees and keep them from leaving the company.

Here is a more detailed rundown of the benefits of incorporating these trends into the way your business operates:

Attracting qualified workers. Surprisingly, approximately 30% of small businesses have job openings that they can’t fill because they can’t find qualified workers. How can this be? The truth is, these workers do exist, they are just not ready to compromise on their career development and their work attitudes to even apply for a position at company that doesn’t respect the new workplace reality. Small businesses need to recognize that maximum flexibility and mobility have to be essential parts of the workplace, or else younger workers will look elsewhere.

Increase productivity. It has been well documented that flextime improves both employee job satisfaction and productivity. It also is more in line with the lifestyle embraced by today’s workers. This means, it will not only help you get better outputs from your employees, but they’ll also be more likely to stick around as mentioned above.

Increase innovation. Creating a workspace that encourages collaboration and flexibility can actually help fuel innovation. At a time when ideas and intellectual capital are at a premium, this is no small thing. If your business involves constantly changing consumer trends, technologies, and services, then creating a collaborative works space just makes sense.

In short, the rules of work are already changing. The question is, are you positioning your business in accordance with them? In many cases, those that ignore these trends may find their businesses have fallen far behind, and it may not be so easy to catch up at that point.

What’s the Difference Between B2B and B2C Marketing?

As the Internet, mobile technology, and media continue to evolve at lighting speed, it has created a lot of confusion about what it takes to effectively market a business these days, and as time goes on, more and more questions just keep surfacing.

handshake-616726-mWhat social media platforms should you use and how? Should you opt for free traffic generation or paid online advertisements? Should your business use mobile marketing? What keywords should you aim for? Should you even worry about keywords? In-bound marketing or out-bound marketing? Self-promotion or paid promotion? On and on…

One common question among small business owners is whether differences exist between B2B and B2C marketing. Looking into the matter, however, reveals a pretty straight-forward answer. Though the basic principles of marketing may be similar, the paths to conversion for a B2C sale versus a B2B one are often very different.

In a B2C sale, you are communicating directly with the potential buyer, so the steps of the sales cycle are typically concentrated into a relatively short time frame. Because you are usually only convincing one person, instead of having to deal with multiple people, committees, or other levels of business bureaucracy, as in a B2B transaction, you can move through the process much quicker.

With B2C sales, you need to be focused on and fully understand your ideal customer profile, and work on making all of your communications and marketing specific to that persona. The goal would be to get potential leads to engage in a series of actions that will lead them through a carefully crafted sales funnel. An example of this in action would be writing a guest post on a site that many of your potential customers read, making a desirable and valuable free offer in exchange for readers’ email addresses, continuing to provide valuable content via email, and eventually sending a sales pitch or affiliate offer. This whole process from start to finish could take a few days or even a few weeks.

With almost all B2B products and services, however, there is a long sales cycle that can take a month, to several months, to even a few years. Plus, the bigger the business being pitched, the more people you may need to deal with and the more hoops you may need to jump through, as mentioned above.

Successful B2B marketing often requires doing a significant amount of research on the industry and the companies being targeted and being ready to field any questions that business owners and their management may have. Referrals also play a much more significant role then they do in a B2C transaction. Finally, you need to research the most effective ways to reach the purchasing decision makers within a given business. These people may not hang out in an approachable way in the same places that a consumer would. This can include online communities such as LinkedIn or off-line events, such as trade shows and conferences.

In short, though there are some similarities between B2C and B2B sales, knowing the differences between them as well as how to approach each kind of buyer can help to make you marketing efforts more appropriate, more targeted, and ultimately, more successful.