eCommerce and Point of Sale Basics for Retail Small Business (Archived Webinar recording)

eCommerce and Point of Sale Basics for Retail Small Business (Archived Webinar recording)

Point of Sale – eCommerce – mCommerce solutions for Small Business

Selling online today is seemingly easier than ever! You hear the advertising online and in television ads on how easy it is to setup an eCommerce website and sell to your customers 24/7. Then, you go to actually do it and it’s another story. We hear this over and over again when clients have attempted eCommerce without knowing the right steps to get started. The aim of a cohesive retail system is to push retail traffic to your Loudoun County-based business. This is something frequently overlooked by business owners starting out or starting out online with selling and marketing their products online. Yes, the opportunity to sell your products to remote locations around the world is great, but the ability to direct walk-in traffic to your local business is greater. In this Web-based presentation, we covered the basics needed to understand what you need to get started in eCommerce, and the tools available to get you there successfully as a local, Loudoun County-based retail shop…the first time!

In this Webinar, we covered:
– Best-practices for planning a Web-connected Point of Sale system;
– Best-practices for planning and implementing an eCommerce or mCommerce solution for your Small Business; and,
– Tools that can help you build out the above effectively for marketing and operational success, and that fits a Small Business budget.

Want to Satisfy your Customers and Convert New Prospects? Get to Know Them Really Well!

Want to Satisfy your Customers and Convert New Prospects? Get to Know Them Really Well!

“Don’t you know who I am?” Yes, that’s the cry of the indignant celebrity when the host refuses to seat his party at the trendy, overcrowded restaurant.  And inevitably, he knows lots of really, really important people, and he’s going to tell them all about how he was treated.  No one will ever eat there again when he’s through, he screams at the top of his lungs.  According to him, his words carry so much weight, the place might as well shut the doors right now!

It’s kind of a funny scene to picture, the apoplectic, self-important politician, news personality, or actor berating the poor, lowly restaurant employee, eyes bulging out of his head and veins pulsing as though he’s about to burst.  We can laugh at the thought, primarily because the likelihood of encountering such a situation as local small business owners is rather small (If it happened to us, though, we probably wouldn’t find it so funny).

There’s a serious question for us in this little scenario, however.  Just who is walking through our doors? What do we know about our customers? When they get inside, are they getting what they want? After all, people do talk, even if their networks don’t comprise the most influential people in the world.  Their connections are potential customers, and what they say (or don’t say) matters.  It’s critical that when our customers come in, we’re delivering.

We can use things like customer satisfaction cards, but they don’t tell us much, and they’re largely reactive – they help us address problems after the fact.  If we’re concerned about delivering the first time, and every time, we need to be detailed and, to the extent possible, proactive.  We need to understand exactly who’s likely to come to us, what they want, and what will keep them coming back, and design an experience that ensures their demands are satisfied.

How do we do this? We can’t rightly sit down and have a cup of coffee with everyone who might one day be a customer, and cater to every single whim of a diverse audience.  What we can do is develop profiles (“personas”) describing the attributes of the people we serve, creating detailed pictures representative of the primary groups that comprise clientele—both current and future.  We can also map their “journeys” from contact to conversion to return.

If we can “personalize” our customers, we can find out who they are, what they’re interested in, how they make decisions, their preferences, and so much more.  This is a wealth of information, and we can use it to communicate who we are and what we do, reach the right audiences, customize the products and services we offer, and tailor the customer experience once they’re interacting with us.  We can get more people in the door, and give them what they want.

Creating personas and journey maps is therefore highly useful for both marketing and delivering, from contact to conversion to retention.  It gets us away from the “one-offs” of resolving customer complaints, and positions us to build a satisfied clientele that keeps coming back.  And remember, even if they’re not famous, people talk… today, there are more ways than ever to communicate with their peers.  When we get it right, we gain critical “reputation points.”

All of this may sound great, but how? Well, it requires a little bit of market research—an investment, to be sure, but one that pays off handsomely.  We can start with our current customers, collecting demographic data, using surveys from our mailing lists, or convening focus groups.  And, we can expand these efforts to larger portions of the public, which can help us both better understand prospects find untapped market potential.

If you want to consolidate your business and expand it, be smart about it.  You can know who you’re catering to, what it will take to get them in the proverbial door, how to get them to pull out the credit card or click “buy,” and how to deliver so they’re satisfied, they return, and they tell their friends.  It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have—everyone can get “cozy” with their markets, and meet them “where they’re at.”

Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

If you’d like to learn more about “personalizing your market,” contact Snowflake.  We’ll be happy to talk about your situation and offer our perspectives, risk free.  Refer to this blog and get a one-hour consultation at no cost.

When Small Business Opportunity Knocks

When Small Business Opportunity Knocks

You’ve got big plans.  Your small business is staying afloat—maybe even thriving—and you’re starting to look ahead.  Maybe you’ve reaped the benefits of a government small business support like the 8(a) program, or maybe you’ve done it all on your own.  Everyone’s back story is different, but at this point it doesn’t matter, things are good, and you’re looking ahead. You want to succeed, and you’ve got aggressive goals.

It’s time to start putting your vision into action, but how are you going to get where you want to go?

Part of this question is “where’s the money going to come from to meet my financial goals?” That’s obviously critical, and it means you have to think about questions such as:

  • How are you going to maintain your current sales?
  • What new products and/or services are you going to offer?
  • What new markets are you going to pursue to get more customers?
  • How are you going to let people know about your new ideas?
  • How will you translate “I’m interested” into “I’m going to buy what you’re selling?”

Equally crucial, though, is how you are going to deliver once the business arrives. If you don’t, growth will be short-lived, and you won’t achieve your vision—even worse, your brand could suffer, and you could lose what you already have.  Reputation is key to small business growth (especially if you’re detaching from government help), but it’s also absolutely essential to sustainability.  You don’t want to become just another “failed small business.”

Successful small businesses invest in their futures. Their owners take hold of their visions, and they think ahead—“What will we need to look like in order to accelerate and accommodate growth?” The key words here are “accelerate” and “accommodate”—that’s the essence of the challenge.  What strategies and resources are needed to grow the business, and what structures, processes, etc. are going to ensure that customers are getting what they expect when they buy?

Understanding the strategic “journey” is a great first step for small businesses with growth designs.  The “easy part” is setting your sales targets, and breaking them down into milestones. It’s a little harder to figure out the composition—what’s going to drive the numbers? It gets even more difficult to understand what it all means operationally—there are a lot of questions to be answered about what growth means, beyond the bare sales and profit metrics.

  • What’s the best delivery structure at each milestone?
  • What skills will you need to get from Point A to Point D, and Points B and C in between?
  • What kind of infrastructure will be required?
  • What cultural attributes will encourage growth and sustain the results?
  • What information will I need to make smart decisions, are where will I get it?

Once you lay out the essentials, the devil’s in the details.  As a small business, for example, you may have “multi-taskers,” but with growth comes a greater need for specialization.  It makes sense to think about the roles you’ll need to be cost-effective.  How will you design useful roles that you can fill with qualified people? How are you going to recruit the right candidates? What becomes of the people who have loyally accompanied you on your journey this far?

And then there are the challenges you didn’t get into business to solve—human resources administration, technology infrastructure, facilities, etc.  There are many complexities, and too many small businesses don’t deal with them until it’s too late.  Part of the reason is they don’t know what questions to ask and, when they do, they don’t always know the right answers.  Either way, growth is a huge opportunity—but it’s also a huge risk, and not everyone makes the leap.

Why not “wing it,” cross that bridge when you come to it? That’s less costly than getting a business adviser, and you may be wary of the investment it takes to plan ahead.  Simply put, you won’t accelerate growth to the extent that you can, and you’ll certainly have a ton of headaches trying to accommodate it if it happens—headaches that often also cost money and carry significant—even existential—risk.

The decision whether to really plan your future beyond the numbers, and the confidence to start transitioning before the results come in, may make or break your business. To be successful, you need to push the right buttons, and make sure you’re ready for what happens next.  You’ve invested a lot of time and energy into your small business. You’ve taken risks to get this far. Now it’s time to ask yourself, “How committed am I to taking this to the next level?”

Don’t let growth control you.  Look first, plan and act smartly, and take control of your future.  You can make it a success.

Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

For more information on planning ahead for small business success, contact Snowflake.  We’ll be happy to talk about your situation and offer our perspectives, risk free.  Refer to this blog and get a one-hour consultation at no cost.

Small Business Lessons from the Bike Trail

Small Business Lessons from the Bike Trail

Submitted by Robin Suomi, MBA, founder of Startup to Growth, LLC. (C) 2016.  All rights reserved.

Top 10 Small Business Lessons

I Learned on the Bike Trail

(Part 1 of 2)

I began biking on a local railroad trial this summer to get back into shape. While on the trail enjoying nature, pushing myself to my limit, taking longer and longer rides, renewing my biking skills and reaching my personal goals, I was struck by how much the lessons I was learning on the trail mirrored the small business lessons I have learned and regularly share with my clients as they 1) launch or 2) grow their businesses.  It is no surprise that they all surround planning – either planning my bike outings or small business planning.

Here are the Top 10 Small Business Lessons I learned on the Bike Trail this past summer while reaching my goal – biking 30 miles despite 98 degree weather in Northern Virginia.

1.      Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

BIKE:  When you are biking in the summer, water means survival.  In 98+ degree summer weather around our nation’s capital, you can get in physical trouble pretty quickly without water.  Always take frequent hydration breaks while biking, carry extra water, and never pass up a trail water fountain.

BUSINESS:  In your business, cash equals water. You’ve heard the phrase, Cash is King.  Well, it is.  You must make sure you have enough startup capital to launch your business and enough working capital to keep your doors open, paying your expenses and yourself until your sales are steady, your company is profitable and you can take a regular paycheck or draw.  Make it part of your financial projections in your business plan!

As a startup, it is not easy to get a loan. You will likely fund your business from your savings, use a crowd-funding platform, charge items to your credit card or maybe even borrow from friends and family. Be very, very careful of each one of these sources of cash.  If you are like many small business owners, you will start your business “on the side,” keeping your steady paycheck until one day when you can quit your day job.  Or you will start your business more slowly and more carefully than you would if you had, say, an open spigot of free-flowing cash.

MEGA TIP:  An open spigot of cash often makes you careless in your business, and can actually cost you a lot of time/money down the line. Start lean and learn your lessons as you grow.

2.      Snacks are your energy

BIKE:  Once your water is taken care of, make sure you have snacks for a steady supply of energy on a long ride.  Find out what snacks travel best on the trail, are easy to eat, carry a big punch of energy, don’t spoil, etc.  And make sure they’re things you like because then you will enjoy them! Snacks help ensure you will finish your long rides in good health and reach your goal.

BUSINESS:  Your customers are your business’s energy supply. Just land a new client? Huge, huge burst of energy!  Is it a customer you really enjoy working with and is squarely within your target market? Even more energy!  Potential long-term customer?  Woo-hoo!  If you don’t have enough customers over time you won’t have a business.  Make sure you have a business plan that identifies your target customer and outlines a plan to get them through the door and their money into your bank account!

MEGA TIP:  If you’re low on customers, you will take on customers who are very difficult to work with, are never (ever) satisfied, don’t pay their bills, and who make your business life harder than you ever thought possible. As quickly as possible, create a plan to get rid of those customers and replace them with better customers.

PARALLEL MEGA TIP FOR HR:  I remember discussing this point with one client.  After thinking about it, he fired about 80% of his part-time staff, and began raking in the money.  He got rid of the nonperformers.

3.      Watch out for snakes

BIKE:  Yes, there are snakes on the bike trail.  Some you recognize as snakes, and some you don’t.  Some you will see, and most you won’t.  Some are poisonous, and some are not.  No matter.  In my book, snakes are snakes.  If I see one, I get the heck out of there because I rarely see any good coming from a snake.

BUSINESS:  Yes, there are snakes in business, too.  Some you recognize as snakes, and some you don’t.  Some you recognize instantly as “poisonous,” and some you don’t.  Examples of “poisonous snakes” in business might be people who have questionable ethics, play “politics” and have a personal goal to hurt you or your business, knowingly infringe on your trademark, try to steal your clients, copy your ideas, or spread insidious lies or half-truths around about you or your company.  No matter.  In business, when you recognize a “snake,” your steps are clear.

  • First, decide if you must (must, not simply want to, but must) protect your flank against the snake.
  • Second, if you must, then protect it, whatever that means legally, ethically and morally in your specific situation.
  • But third, if you don’t need to protect your flank, then simply bike away as quickly as possible! If you concentrate so much on the snake that you take your eyes off your goals, the snake wins.

Consider consulting your mastermind group to help you identify and decide what to do with your snakes.  We get emotionally engaged with our snakes, and that is usually not a good thing.  Take the emotion out of it.  Just deal with the snakes.

I don’t know about you, but I hate to lose to a snake, and I rarely do.

MEGA TIP:  Snakes are more scared of you than you are of them.  With “business snakes,” it is typically THEIR insecurity, jealousy, fear, missteps in the past, repercussions, etc. — things they have experienced and carried with them — that makes them want to take it out on you.  Again, it’s a snake, regardless of what’s behind it.  Seek an outside perspective if you are too close to it, continue to be the best you can be at what you are doing,  and move on.

4.      Out-bike the gnats

BIKE:  Now and again you bike into a swarm of gnats.  They are annoying and slightly bothersome, but not a real threat.  Just out-bike them and leave them in your wake!

BUSINESS:  In business, gnats are those annoying competitors who are constantly swarming, nipping, or even (ineffectually) trying to draw blood.  No worries.  They are gnats.  Focus on YOUR goals and out-compete them!  Again, a solid business plan will keep you focused on YOUR goals and guide you here!

5.      It’s amazing what happens when you ride a unicycle!

BIKE:  On the trail in Northern Virginia, you see tons and tons of the typical, two-wheeled, 18-speed bikes.  What stands out are the rare unicycles, or occasional horse, or even the motor propelled go-carts.  Note to self:  Actually the motorized go-cart is illegal, so don’t go there.

BUSINESS:  In business, are you a unicycle or are you a two-wheeler?  Are you impressively standing out through your marketing, excellent products/services, community engagement and business practices, or are you simply in the middle of the pack, jumping up and down, wildly waving your hands and shouting “me, too! me, too!”?  The “unicycle” approach might mean you are king or queen of a narrow, focused and specialized niche.  Assuming your business foundation is rock solid, then with the proper SEO and online marketing techniques this can be a more lucrative approach than jumping up and down, waving wildly, shouting “me, too!”  Honestly, that is exhausting.

Be different.  Find your unicycle.

My next blog post will cover the final five lessons learned from the trail.


Robin Suomi, MBA, founder of Startup to Growth, LLC has helped thousands of small business owners over the past 10+ years launch and/or grow their small businesses through 1-1 counseling/coaching, small business mastermind groups, seminars and workshops. In addition to designing her signature Business Plan Boot Camp course, she has taught Business 101 and Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management courses as an adjunct professor. Startup to Growth, LLC also writes business plans for their clients through customized coaching/business planning packages.  Contact Robin for specific details and current pricing at [email protected]

Executive Director of the Loudoun Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Inc. for 9+ years, Robin’s complete bio is available at