Posts filed under ‘Money Makers’

5 Ways to Encourage Client Referrals

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Creative Commons License

This week, we are discussing how to generate sales with very little financial investment.  On Monday, we discussed different ways to network and I presented some ways to rethink your networking strategy.  Yesterday, we talked about fostering relationships with the people who refer business to you.  Today, we are specifically going to focus on the client referral.

In this industry, unfortunately, there is very little if any repeat business.  Sean Low recently wrote a post about this on his blog, The Business of Being Creative. The unfortunate thing is that we are constantly seeing our clients off and trying to drum up new ones.  In his post, he discussed the opportunity to create some repeat business through new product offerings beyond the wedding.  I also see an opportunity to create additional business in the way of client referrals.

Why a client referral is AWESOME…

When a client refers a friend of theirs to you, they have done the following FOR you:

  • Given a sales pitch that explains your service and/or product (this sales pitch is often loaded with enthusiasm for your product)
  • Given a testimonial for your business
  • By telling their friend about your business, your client may have removed any desire for that person to “shop around”; they have essentially removed your competitors from the equation
  • If your client is a Maven, their word may hold a heavy value in his or her circle of friends.  A small group may look up to this Maven and it may define what this group does. (According to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point a Maven is someone who is an “expert” within their circle of connections and is powerful in influencing people’s spending decisions.  Think of that bride who has referred all her friends to you and each one of them looked up to her as if she were a kind of trend-setting celebrity.)

When the friend comes in to meet you, your work is partly done.  They know about you; they know what you do.  And, you already have high marks in their book.  Your client has warmed the lead.  It’s your job to close the deal.  Does it get any easier than that?

How to encourage those AWESOME client referrals…

You’re probably sitting there, “THIS IS AWESOME!  I want more of those kinds of referrals!” 😉  Don’t we all!?!  While the work may not be done in the same way as a traditional sale (market, advertise, generate lead, introduce, pitch, match need/offering, educate, offer, sale) there still needs to be a considerable effort made to ensure that clients are referring you.  Here are some ways to do that:

Follow Up and Follow Through

I’m going to assume that everyone in this industry places a great value on customer service.  While an engaged couple is on their way to the altar we all do everything we can to ensure that customer’s needs are being met.  But, what are you doing after they’ve walked down the altar?  (Or, in my case, what is done after they’ve picked up their wedding invitations?)  How much follow up do you do to make sure their needs are being met after they’ve done business with you?

So, here’s an example… When a client picks up their wedding invitations from me, I always let them know I’ll follow up with them a week later.  This is to ensure that they are pleased with their order and to see if they need any additional wedding stationery.  But, it’s also an important time to continue building my relationship with them.  It’s an opportunity to see if I can help in any other way.  Maybe they have trouble with the post office?  Maybe they need more envelopes?  The sale continues long AFTER they’ve placed their order.

If you are a wedding planner, why not follow up with them a month after the wedding?  I know that once couples are married, they are sometimes ready to move on from the wedding.  But, as a planner, you have been by their side for months, maybe years.  That person sees you as a resource for services and products in their community.  By keeping that conversation going, you are on their mind the minute that a friend of theirs becomes engaged.

Keeping in touch

After that initial follow-up, it is going to be more difficult to keep in touch with previous clients through the years.  It would certainly be awkward to continually check in with a couple that has been married for some time.  (Hello, stalker!)  But, they invested in your business as much as you invested in their relationships.  I see this similar to the relationship you might have with a stock-holder.  Why not an annual update?

In the springtime, I usually do an anniversary letter of my business.  This is an opportunity to thank previous clients for supporting my business and letting them know of 5 fabulous years and what I’ve accomplished.  I make sure to include something (a business card, a coupon, a sample) that they can pass along to a friend.  Giving people something easy to pass along to a friend makes the referral all that much easier.

Share this…

On that note, the quicker someone can pass along information, the better.  And, this goes for your website too.  How easy is it to share information that can be found on your website?  Can someone quickly click a link and forward to a friend?  Something to think about next time you re-design your website.  (It’s also on my list of things to do!)

Encourage them to come to you first

As with all good things, there is also a potential down side to “word of mouth”.  What if your sweet client turns into a Bridezilla.  (It’s an unfortunate thing, but this does happen. 😉  And, next thing you know, there are horrible things being said about your business on every Yelp, Knot, and Wire out there.

Because people are more likely to express dissatisfaction publicly than they are to express satisfaction, you must make every attempt to prevent this from happening. It is important to EMPHASIZE to your client that if they have any problems with anything along the way that they come to you first.  You want the client to come to you so that you have the opportunity to fix the problem.

We hand make all of our invitations at mmm… paper.  While we review everything twice (and by two different people) there is a chance that something hand-made has an imperfection.  I give people 3 reminders that I want to know if there is a problem.  Their order comes with instructions on what to do if they find any flaws (Call me ASAP!).  Their order also comes with a survey in which I ask them to rate the service and the quality of our work.  And, one week after the sale I do a follow up email or phone call to see how they are doing with their invites. Not only will your client feel well taken care-of, he or she will have more reason to refer you to someone else.

Put your clients in your booth

I’ve heard from a few of you lately that you’ve used previous clients to sell for you at wedding shows.  BRILLIANT!  (Why didn’t I think of that?!)  We all have previous clients that are huge fans of what we do.  (Think of those Mavens that I mentioned earlier).  And, these people are usually really good at talking about our business.  (Sometimes they are even better than we are.)  We all have those clients who’ve told us, “I love what you do.  Let me know if you ever need any help.”  This is referral heaven in my book.  Invite those people to talk about your business, reward them with additional products or service (and a fancy dinner).

Today’s take-away…

My take-away for you is that a client relationship can be a lifelong thing.  We aren’t accustomed to thinking of it this way in the wedding industry.  And, surely we will not have that relationship with every client.  But by building the relationships with those that truly value our business we are putting a non-financial investment into something that will lead to greater sales in years to come.

July 15, 2009 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Fostering Relationships (Inexpensive Ways to Increase Sales)

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Creative Commons License

This week we are discussing inexpensive ways to increase sales. Yesterday’s post was about networking and how to rethink your networking strategy.  Today, we’re discussing how to foster those relationships.  If referrals are an important part of your sales plan, you must actively invest your time to nurture the source of those referrals.

How do you thank the people that refer you business?  Do you hand write them a note?  To me, this is a minimum requirement.  But why not take it a step further?

Make it public

A public acknowledgment of a vendor who passes business to you is a great way to give them a loud shout-out.  This gives them a little exposure in a public forum while showing others that you value referrals.  You can do this by posting something on your blog, or sending out a tweet on Twitter.

Non-contingent Thank Yous

Thank yous should be made to referrers regardless of whether the prospect ultimately does business with you or not.  You should show appreciation regardless of the end result.  It’s important to acknowledge a person’s thoughtfulness regardless of sale or no-sale.  This appreciation will result in continued referrals… and those referrals are bound to pan out.

Send a little something-something

I’m a stationery designer, so when someone refers business to mmm… paper I like to send some little paper goodie.  It’s a low cost way of saying, “I really and truly appreciate your good word about my business.”

Return the favor

If someone is good at referring you business, you should return the favor.  Sometimes, the match between client and referral doesn’t make itself immediately available.  But, remember to keep that person in mind.  They’ll appreciate the favor!  If the relationship of referral only goes one way, it is much like unrequited love and that love will soon fade.

Spend some time with them

If someone refers a lot of business to you, and you don’t feel that you’ve had an opportunity to return the favor, maybe you don’t know that person well enough.  Take the time to take them out to coffee and find out more about them.  Ask them how you can help their business.

Have a vendor and client appreciation event

This takes a little more financial investment (not the least costly of the “inexpensive ideas” of this week)… but for a few hundred dollars you can put together some bites and sips to say thank you to those that appreciate your business.  An open house at your office can be a great opportunity to thank vendors and clients who have referred business to you and it can be a great opportunity to share with them a little more about your business.  And, if you’re like me, wine and cheese is an easy way to my heart!

How do YOU show the love?

I’d love to know how YOU foster your relationships with other wedding vendors and clients.  How do you show appreciation for referred business?  (Post a comment below!)

July 14, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

Networking (and other Inexpensive Ways to Increase your Sales)

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In 2009, businesses have to work smarter and harder to achieve revenue.  People are still getting married, but they are spending less on their wedding.  So, what this means for us wedding professionals is that we have to book more jobs than in previous years.  (Oh boy!  How do I do this?)  What I see happening is that small business owners have more time and less money these days – not the most favorable of things.

“I’ve got more time, but less money these days.”
So, how do we turn this into an opportunity?

This week, I am going to focus on 4 things you can do to promote your business that are inexpensive and sometimes free.  They usually require an investment of your time.  This isn’t new information to many of you, but I’m hoping to give you a new spin on these tried-n-true tips.  Today’s tip is to: Maximize your Networking

Call another wedding professional and have a cup of coffee

A few years ago, after tracking my sales results, I determined that a growing percentage of my sales were coming from vendor referrals.  In setting my forecast for the upcoming year, I wanted to increase that number.  I knew that simply increasing that number in theory was great, but that I needed to have a plan to actually achieve results.  I committed myself to meeting with one person in my industry every two weeks.  And, so began my mmm… paper Seattle vendor tour.  And, I met some GREAT people!

What I started to see was that not only did people learn about my business, but more importantly I learned about their business.  I learned what THEIR client was all about.  I went in thinking that I would sell them on my business, but learned that it was more about finding a match in our clientele and finding a connection between their business and my business.  I was further able to define my niche and I was further able to provide them value for their business.  And, this in turn led to quality client referrals.

So, call someone up and ask them to meet up for a cup of coffee.  Learn about them, learn about their business.  Ask how you can help them. By sincerely extending yourself to them, they will naturally extend themselves to you.

Organize a casual mixer

When I moved to Seattle, I met with a wedding planner who I fell in love with.  She and I became close friends.  For months, we talked about putting together a gathering of wedding professionals.  Months turned into years.  I finally got my act together and started hosting Tuesday Toast.  Tuesday Toast is a very casual and informal cocktail hour that takes place monthly – on a Tuesday.  Barbie Hull has joined forces with me on this and helped take it to great lengths.  It’s so fun to get together with wedding folk every month to talk shop and toast the industry.  I meet new people and catch up with old friends.  And, it’s EASY to do.  Set up an evite and mail it off to your wedding peeps, start a facebook group, or a meetup group.

Expand your network

It’s easy to get comfortable.  I go to networking things and end up talking to all my favorite people that I know so well.  The problem with that can be that I’m not reaching out and meeting anyone new.  This can happen at wedding industry events (such as Tuesday Toast) or even on a more general level… not branching out beyond the wedding industry.

So, reach out to someone outside of the wedding industry.  Reach out to someone who does something completely different than you.  I myself don’t do graphic design in my wedding invitation business, so I love to have great designers to whom I can refer. If you are a photographer, why not reach out to someone who solely does baby portraits?  If you are a florist, why not reach out to the flower shop down the street that doesn’t do weddings?  If you are wedding planner, why not reach out to a corporate event planner?  These are great partners to have as they can refer business to someone who is an expert in something different that what they do.

Think outside the box

You’ve heard it all before… network, network, network.  This is nothing new.  But, rethink the way you network.  Rethink your strategy.  Rethink the way you are meeting people who can send business your way.  Take the time that you have now to invest in relationships.  These relationships are worth their weight in gold!

July 13, 2009 at 6:00 am 4 comments

The Plateau – If you’re at a Flat Point in your Business

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Last week and this week, we are addressing specific situations of small business owners.  Last week, we covered The Upstart, The Recessionista, the Mompreneur (or Papapreneur).  Today, we’ll be discussing “The Plateau”.  I like to describe businesses that are at a standstill as having reached a plateau.

What is a plateau?

A business that has stopped growing (no changes in profit) has reached a plateau.  This is a business that has “maxed out” its market and its ability, but profits continue to remain the same.  In my observation, a business in the wedding industry that is flat for 3 years has reached a plateau.

Some questions to ask yourself…

The following are some questions that can be helpful to determine whether you’ve really “maxed out” your business’ potential:

  • What percentage of market share does your business currently capture?  Is it a large enough share that you feel you’ve truly captured the market?
  • What have your patterns of profit been since the inception of your business?  Have their been ebbs and flows? Is this part of the cycle?
  • Have you made changes to your business in the last 2-3 years?  Have those changes resulted in additional profits, or does your business remain flat?

“Maxing out”

The issue of “maxing out” is a big one for businesses that are established.  After a few years in business, you will start itching for new ways to grow.  You may start seeking another market to enter.  You may start thinking of ways to increase profits by doing more of the same, but with a new sea of customers.

Sean Low, Consultant to those in the Business of Being Creative, recently wrote a post on his blog discussing the phenomena of “Growth vs. Expansion“.  In this article, he discusses expanding your core business beyond your current offering.  He emphasizes that by finding new lines of business, you will be expanding your business to the customer base that already knows and loves you.  Sean describes a high-end wedding stationer who expands into other design specialities: “graphic design, papery beyond life events (and life events beyond weddings), interior design fabrics (wallpaper, textiles, linens, etc.), and flooring (dance floors, tile, carpets).”

Many small businesses may feel like they’ve hit a plateau because they have maximized their current offering, but they haven’t even begun to touch the surface when it comes to offering a whole array of products, conceivably becoming a lifestyle brand of sorts.

The mindset of Plateau

In my opinion, businesses don’t typically (and truly) plateau.  It’s the business owner’s mindset that may be at a plateau.  I am guilty of this myself.  We start to feel like we can’t do anything more to grow the business.  We are stuck in our ways.  We are stuck in a pattern of success and are scared of change.  So, we stay the same.  So, how to get around this?

Overcoming the Plateau

Derek of Prevential.com wrote recently about ways to overcome a plateau.  These are my favorites of his recommendations and some of my own:

  • Seek Outside Consultation
    Consultants can give you a fresh perspective on your business.  They can see things you don’t.  They can give you insight into what works and what doesn’t.
  • Get a Mentor
    If you don’t yet have a mentor, or an advisor, now is the time to get one!  A mentor or advisor can be like a fairy godmother in helping some of your greater goals happen.
  • Take Some Risks
    Many business owners who reach a plateau, have stopped making changes and taking risks.  What’s holding you back?
  • Find Growth/Expansion Opportunities
    Like we discussed earlier, how can you expand your lines of business?  How can you broaden your brand?
  • Scale Business Down
    Instead of taking the offensive (growing income), how about taking the defensive (cutting expenses)?  Where can you cut the fat in your business?  If you can trim some of the inefficiencies and wasted costs, chances are you can maximize your profit to a whole new level.

And, if you find yourself in a plateau in 2009, it may be a case of economic slowdown.  Scaling your business down now may mean that you are more efficient when the economy picks up again.  In a few years, you’ll certainly start to see an upswing in your profits.

See you back here tomorrow for “The Shy One” for business owners whose own ambition scares them.

July 6, 2009 at 6:00 am 4 comments

The Recessionista ~ If you are having to cut back in your business

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Creative Commons License

Many many many businesses are finding themselves in a tough spot this year. I could sit down and write a bunch of money-saving tips for you, but you’ve probably heard them all!

I’m going to take it back to BASICS:

  • Know your numbers!
    You are going to hear me say this a million times in our relationships as blogger and reader. You must know the numbers to your business. Learn how cash travels in and out of your business. Study the patterns. Write it all down. Small businesses fail time and time again because business owners do not know their numbers. You can hire an accountant to do the dirty work, but know what your business is doing in $ and #. You’ll make better business decisions if you do.
  • Know what’s contributing to your income and how to maximize your promotions.
    During a down economy you must work harder to attract customers. This could mean ramping up your advertising, increasing your networking, or maximizing your level of service. You need to know what’s working for you by analyzing your promotional return on investment. Are you paying for ads that don’t lead to sales? Are you nurturing relationships that don’t cost anything but result in high income referrals? This is the time to maximize your money makers.
  • Take a look at wasted money.
    If you know your numbers, you’ll be able to determine where you are spending money that you don’t need to be spending. I did a series of posts to give you ideas on where you can cut some corners. Make a budget and stick to it. And, make sure that you aren’t cutting out on some the most important segments of your business: branding, service, and quality.

And, some words of inspiration…

  • You are not alone
    According to The Wedding Report the average cost of a wedding went down 30% from 2007 to 2008. I talk to small businesses every day that have had a drop in the number of customers this year and a drop in the dollar values per order.
  • Talk about it!
    If I’m having a slow week, it helps to talk with other businesses about their challenges. It helps to hear how they are making due with the troubles of a bad economy. (psstt… would love to know what you are doing about this! Post a comment below.)
  • And, if you really need inspiration…
    Hopefully, you are not facing bankruptcy (or anywhere close to it)… but if you need to feel pumped to learn that many successful geniuses have also faced failures, read this.
  • Freshen up your Branding
    If you have even just a few hundred dollars do something to freshen up your branding and website. When business is booming everyone in the industry will get a piece of the pie. But, in a down economy customers can be more choosy. If your branding is dated and hasn’t been updated in 4-5 years (or more!) it’s time for a facelift. You might love the designs you chose a few years ago, but trends change. What is the customer looking for? What does the customer expect? What is happening in the wedding market right now? Leila Kahlil of Be Inspired PR recently wrote a great post on Branding. In this post she discusses the branding of your company and the branding of yourself.
  • Be Creative
    Have fun with it! To me, this is an opportunity to do new things with my business. Find new ways to market yourself. Find new people to reach out to and network. Find new ways to promote your brand. Host an event. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Now more than ever is the time to be innovative. Here are few ways that you can spice things up.

And like everything… this too shall pass!

July 1, 2009 at 6:00 am 4 comments

3 Common Mistakes that Wedding Pros Make

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Creative Commons License

There are three common mistakes that wedding professionals make in their businesses.  These are mistakes that if not corrected will continue to plague your ability to succeed.  We’ll be discussing these mistakes this week:

  • Under-pricing your services
  • Paying for advertising that gives little or no returns
  • Not setting boundaries for balance between work and personal life

Let’s get into our first mistake…

The PRICING problem

Many entrepreneurs open their business with this thought:  “I’ll set my pricing low in order to compete in the industry and raise my pricing once I’m established.”  This can backfire in so many ways:

  • Clientele will become accustomed to your pricing and will come to expect it
  • People will begin to refer you as the “budget” vendor and you will be pigeon-holed
  • Potential clientele may not want to do business with you because they may see you as providing a less-than-valuable service (often a more expensive item is perceived to be of higher value; a less expensive item can be perceived as cheap or of poor value)
  • You won’t be able to turn a reasonable profit (eg: if your business expenses are greater than what you are charging, you will be operating at a loss)
  • It devalues the services of all of those in your profession

In setting your pricing, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can I provide exclusivity of certain products or services?
    This goes hand-in-hand with finding a market niche.  Find something that you are unique at and build on marketing that as something special.  Your pricing should reflect the exclusivity of what you offer.
  • How do I add value to my client?
    This is very important in understanding how you will service your client and add value to their wedding.  The value proposition gives your customer an understanding of the benefit you are exchanging for the price you have set on the product or service.
  • What does my brand say about my product and my level of service?
    Branding is extremely important in marketing a product or service that is of high-value and worth.  A brand that is synonymous with service and value is a brand is associated with the higher cost.

A few more thoughts…

Sean Low, President of Preston Bailey Designs, Inc. recently wrote a great post on pricing and gave some very strong recommendations on pricing strategies for creative types.  I recommend reading the post here.

A small business seminar I once attended mentioned that most small business owners under-price their goods and services.  Their recommendation was this:

price what you think you should charge,
and then add 10-20% for what people would actually pay.

The thought behind this is that people are usually willing to pay more for your services than you give yourself credit.  Don’t undersell your skills, value, products, and services.  You are worth it!

Tomorrow… we’ll be talking about advertising… and how to make sure it’s working for you!

April 13, 2009 at 6:00 am 5 comments

Shhhh… secrets of selling…

Today, we are going to break down easy and inexpensive things you can do to turn an inquiry or appointment into a sale.

Continue Reading March 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm 3 comments

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