Reward Programs. 1.8 Billion Memberships and Climbing. Will They Work for Your Business?

Have you noticed that just about every other television or radio commercial has something to do with rewards or discounts these days? The reward industry seems to be on fire. Does it really work for the businesses that offer rewards? Does it really save money in the long run for the consumer?Who started the Reward trend?

Reward programs have been around since the early seventies. Mostly offered by the airlines and later joined by the credit card and banking industry. Until 2001, more than 80% of individual reward memberships in the U.S. were registered by these two industries or a combination of both with the creation of credit card airline miles.

Sept 11th Changed Everything

What happened to the economy after 9-11 is another article altogether. The result was the American consumer was scared and holding on to their cash. The retail, service, restaurant and other industries were scrambling to figure out a way to get the consumer to break out of their caves and start spending money.

If it worked for the Airlines, Would it work for other industries?

Airline miles brought billions of dollars of revenue to their industry. Now faced with certain economic death, businesses other than airline and banking, were forced to take example and offer incentives in a last ditch effort to survive

Is it working?

You tell me. Here are some stats. Prior to 9-11 there were about 800 million individual reward memberships registered in the United States? Just 8 years later there are 1.8 Billion, which is approximately 14 registered reward memberships per U.S. household. The quantity of reward memberships has more than doubled in just 8 years. It is obvious that the consumer sees a great value in these types of programs. I cannot tell you what will be the stimulus 20 years from now but I can tell you that businesses that offer rewards today are seeing results.

If you are a business considering a Reward program consider the following

Rewards verses Coupons.

Coupons specifically in any type of food industry are a life source to get people to walk in the door for the first time. The intent of the coupon was to get them to your establishment and then woo them with your product. Unfortunately that’s just not enough anymore. Typically when this does not reveal the incoming crowd that the propietier was expecting he or she will offer more coupons, more often. This is a mistake. Coupons are great for getting someone to your establishment for the first time, however a poor choice of marketing for customer retention or repeat business. My advice is to get them there with the coupon and then sign them up to a solid rewards program. A customer that leaves after using a coupon left with much of your profit, a lesser value of your product (why should they come back and pay $50 for what they just got for $35) and without leaving any contact info for you to remind them later of a great offer. When a rewards card member leaves your establishment they walk out the door with points on their card (nearing them to a great reward) they still value your product for what it actually cost and feel smart for earning the points towards a discount. The reward member looks forward to your email specifically if it reminds them of how many points they are away from being able to redeem their reward. Don’t let your customer walk out your door without a reason and reminder to return? Coupons do neither.

Don’t let your program back fire

If you are a business considering a reward program, consider the unfortunate fact that some programs have already given Rewards a bad name. The consumer wants a simple, monetary and immediate reward. The programs that are fading are the ones that make your customer jump through hoops to get their reward. By the time they are redeemed they have wasted an hour of their time registering on-line, their spam folder is full of unwanted advertisements and they are probably so aggravated that it has actual detoured them from returning to your establishment altogether. The exact opposite of what you want.

The secret to offering a successful Reward program

If you want this to work, you must follow these simple steps

  1. Keep it simple
  1. The most sought after rewards are discounts
  1. The reward must be on the spot. If they have spent the required money to earn their discount, then give it to them. Although tempted, don’t make your customer return to get their reward later. A discount on the spot will get them to return.
  1. Establish email contact relationship with your reward member however don’t abuse them. No more than twice a week and that’s pushing it.
  1. Let them know you will not share their email address and then follow through with that promise.

The Entrepreneur Mistake

If you are an entrepanuer that owns a business don’t be fooled by your own personal perspective. Most entrepreneurs don’t carry a single rewards card in there wallet or purse. They don’t personally see the value in these types of programs. The reason is that most entrepreneurs have more money yet less time. Saving a buck here and there is not a big deal and spending the time digging for the card or tracking their rewards is just not worth it. They just don’t need the money that bad. The unfortunate result of this is that same entrepreneur will probably not offer a reward program in his or her establishment because of their not seeing a value personally. This is a mistake. Don’t base the need of a program by whether or not an entrepreneur sees value. Entrepreneurs only make up around 4% of the population. My advice would be to consider what the other 96% of the consumers want, and waive your personal view.

If you are a Consumer, consider the following

You can shrug off the rewards cards and pass them off as a gimmick if you want. The truth is that consumers are saving billions of dollars with these programs. To keep it simple and reduce the amount of cards in your wallet, first seek out programs of establishments that you frequent. Make sure the program is simple, the rewards are worthy and they won’t share your information. An important question to ask the establishment is “Will you automatically give me my rewards when they are due or will I need to track and pursue them myself?”I usually walk away from those. A great program is one that rewards you on the spot when you’re not expecting it, and more importantly didn’t have to ask for it. A good program will send you an update of how many points you have and how many you need to get your next reward. Figure out how to view your points on-line and then save it to your favorites. You will find that it’s not that difficult or time consuming after you are all dialed in.

In a Nutshell,

Like anything you need to weed through the not so good programs to find the one that fits you or your business. Overall if worked correctly, Rewards programs can be a benefit to consumers and establishments alike.

Tips for Small Business Success: Setting Up an E-Commerce Website to Sell Internationally

One of the key features of the Internet is that it opens up a world wide market for buying and selling. This means that with very little in the way of extra effort, a company can reach a massive market place that at one time would have been almost impossible with out significant time spent in travel and planning.

Planning an E-Commerce Website to Reach International Customers

While this is a great opportunity for small companies and individuals to enter the world wide market, there are some key elements that often get overlooked. Selling internationally is not simply a case of setting up an ecommerce website and sitting back and waiting for the orders to come rolling in. There are some important pieces of planning and preparation that need to take place first. This is as applicable to the company selling high end and high value products as it is to an individual looking to make a few dollars by selling handmade items through a small ecommerce site. Getting the foundations right will help to build a good, sound international business. One such example of a successful focused site is the United States based Iceland in 8 days, a travel site based on Iceland travel, focusing on in-depth reports on everything from the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck to the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge.

Reduce Any Barriers to Purchase

Anything that makes the purchase decision complicated or protracted is putting a barrier in front of the potential customer. In addition to sorting out obvious features such as whether or how to take international payments, there are some other key aspects of setting up an ecommerce web site to sell internationally.

Language

Even if the target customer base is solely English speaking, understanding language differences is an important part of the planning process. It is important that the website is clear and concise with any product descriptions and that there is no room for any misunderstandings. The saying, ‘divided by a common language’, is as relevant today as it has always been . Many countries outside of the US call ´Diapers‘ by the name ‘Nappies‘. A website selling baby products would need to know this so international visitors to the site could find what they require quickly. This is also important for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes to ensure that the website is actually found by prospective international customers.

Measurements

Many countries use different measurements values and as such providing decimal or imperial equivalent measurements will be a service to prospective customers. While it is tempting to think that a customer can easily find out the information themselves, when building a successful international ecommerce website it is important to make it as easy as possible for the customer. At the very least, when building the website a conversion feature should be included so the customer can make their own conversions.

Delivery

Unless it is absolutely necessary, telling a customer to ’email for a delivery cost’ should be avoided. Not only does this mean that the customer may go elsewhere while they are waiting for an answer, it also means that somebody needs to be on hand to give an answer. Many products are a standard weight and giving a delivery options and costs is a significant benefit to international customers.

Start a Small Business in Document Storage: Back up and Restoration of Antique Photographs and Documents

When it comes to document storage of old documents and photos, many older folk still use an old shoe box, resulting in stained, torn and faded images.

Paper products or loose photos stored in antique albums, envelopes or boxes can suffer the effects of acid, turning the photos or documents yellow and brittle. Dampness, mold and insect damage can destroy documents.

Document Storage and Restoration

Hard copies of photos and documents may need to be professionally restored. However, for electronic document storage and backup, all that is needed is a good quality scanner and photo editing software to enhance images if necessary. Gimp is a free Linux resource or Photoshop can be purchased. Copying old negatives is possible using special camera equipment.

Online Sharing

Online backup software can be downloaded to a computer at home. Once installed the software automatically backs up selected files and folders to, for example, the Mozy online storage site. The user is then able to grant access to the online storage facility enabling others to access and view images and documents from their computers.

Storage Solutions, Scanner, Back up to Disk – Costs Involved

Set up an attractive website with contact details, information and references and/or links that will be appealing to the client. Consider sending out regular e-mails with some document storage information which will serve the purpose of advertising and reminding the client of the ongoing need for such a service.

It must be emphasized that if a scanner is purchased, it must be the best quality possible in order to get a good job done, since cheap scanners will make work time consuming and will possibly wear out quickly if the workload increases.

The cost of an online backup solution such as Mozy needs to be factored in to the price that will be charged clients.

Compile a portfolio, with professional photographs of work done so far. Add to this as time goes on along with references.

Do an excellent job and be reliable. Referrals will follow and satisfied clients will do the advertising for the business owner.

Free Business Software for Small Businesses: No Cost Office Programs are Ideal for a Home Based Business

Starting a new business can be stressful and costly. Luckily, there are several reliable free business software programs available for entrepreneurs to use. From managing e-mail to creating sales presentations, home based business owners can look professional and build their business with these free business software options.

Free Business Software for Presentations and Word Processing

From presentations to sales letters, the free business software suite from Open Office provides a good basic collection of tools for business owners to use. This free office program includes a complete collection of programs including word processing, spreadsheets, database, and presentation programs.

Each of the Open Office programs is comparable to those offered in other office suites and is easy for even beginners to use. Another benefit of this free business software is the compatibility with other office programs including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Home based businesses utilizing presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint or other presentation software that can save files as .ppt files can convert their original presentations into Flash files with the free business software AuthorPoint Lite by AuthorGen. Flash files are ideal for using on a web site to add animation and interest to existing web pages.

There are also a few no cost office programs available to help home based businesses manage their leads and projects effectively. Office programs like Top Sales Basic 6.60 by Ceek Software, help entrepreneurs manage sales prospects, contacts and leads. It is a useful tool for individuals utilizing internet marketing to promote and grow their business. Or for offices trying to go paperless, the Stickies 6.7a by Zhorn Software allows individuals to post virtual sticky notes on their computer complete with alarm options to keep important reminders available at all times.

Free Business Software for Making PDF Files

The industry standard for making PDF files is Adobe Acrobat. However, for businesses just starting out there are a few different free PDF software versions to try that allow individuals to make their own PDF files out of documents. A few of the free PDF maker software programs to try include: PDFill PDF and Image Writer by PlotSoft, Cute PDF Writer by Acro Software and PrimoPDF by Nitro PDF Software. Each of these free business software programs work with the Windows Vista or Windows XP operating systems.

Business owners can save on some of the initial start-up costs by utilizing several of the free business software programs available for download. The CNET web site offers software reviews as well as downloads for these and several other free business software programs.

Market Surveys for Small Business: How and Why to Carry out your own DIY Consumer Surveys

Marketing is widely seen as a complex science whose practitioners’ services – and fees – are beyond the reach of small business.

In practice many marketing techniques and practices are no more than applied common sense, and are essential tools in building and running a successful small business. One of the most useful marketing tools is the market survey, or consumer survey.

Why use a Market Survey?

A generalised market survey or customer survey of existing cutomers, can provide the answers to the four central questions which any business needs to ask:

  • Who are our core customers or clients?
  • What do they want?
  • How can we best provide it?
  • How can we tell them about it?

However, market surveys can also be used to answer more specific questions:

  1. How is a projected new product likely to be received?
  2. How do customers perceive the value of our product? Is our pricing right?
  3. Where should we place our advertising?
  4. Is our advertising cost effective?
  5. How do customers/clients perceive our business’s strengths and weaknesses?

Market or customer surveys can also be used to build up a customer database or mailing list, but this is likely to create legal obligations under Data Protection legislation, which should be checked.

Preparing a Market Survey Questionaire

Producing your own Market Survey Questionaire is quite easy if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Decide at the outset the key questions which you seek to answer.
  • Keep it short. Ten or a dozen questions on one A4 sheet should produce a useful result without testing the responder’s patience.
  • Avoid questions requiring a narrative answer. Best is a simple “yes” or “no” reply. Where you ask for gradings of approval, “smiley faces” may provide a simple, light hearted option – JKL. Answers can then be given a numerical value, making computer analysis easy.
  • Beware questions drawing on the responder’s memory. Questions like “Where did you hear about us?” often produce very unreliable results.
  • Any request for the responder’s name and address, is best made optional; anonymous answers often include some uncomfortably truthful but helpful criticism!

Completing the Market Survey Questionaire

Many people regard a request to take part in a market survey as an imposition on their time and privacy. These are the customers whose answers are often most useful and it’s important to encourage them to participate.

Offering a small reward for their time and trouble – a free gift, a money off offer, or entry in a prize draw – often helps.

How the survey is carried out may also help; options include:

  1. By completing a written form.
  2. On line on the internet.
  3. In a telephone conversation.
  4. In a face to face conversation.

Options 1 and 2 are generally the most successful provided the questions are simple and well framed, as responders feel less pressure and can choose when and where to answer.

Obtaining a Balanced Market Survey Sample

For a simple business with a homogeneous customer base a hundred or so responses may be enough to achieve a useful result.

For businesses with a more diverse customer base, for example with geographical or seasonal variations, a larger number of responses may be necessary to give a reliable result, and care is needed to reflect these variations in the survey sample.

Analysing the Results of A Market Survey

Provide the questions are simple, allowing the answers to be given a numerical value, anyone with basic computer skills can enter the results in a simple DIY database and draw useful conclusions.

Where you use computer analysis always check the Data Protection legislation implications.

Start a Successful Small Business: Business Advice is a Critical Component in Starting a Business

People start up small business enterprises for a wide variety of reasons and with an equally wide range of personal motivators. Regardless of the reasons and motivations behind any small business startup, setting up a new, small business venture, is a personally dangerous endeavour, especially if sound business advice is not sought, and then acted upon.

Whilst many who do start small business enterprises go in with their eyes wide open, based upon;

  • successful previous business experience,
  • extensive knowledge of the nature of the small business environment,
  • a good understanding of the capital requirements of a small business,
  • a clear understanding of the market in which they intend to compete, and
  • the possession of appropriate skill sets to run and operate a small business,others unfortunately, tend to go in blind.

Major Causes of Small Business Failure in Early Years

Four common causes of small business failure in the startup phase are;

  • Ignorance of the complexities of owning and operating a small business,
  • unrealistic views of the competitive nature of the small business environment,
  • a lack of perception of the myriad of skill sets that are necessary to successfully operate a small business, and
  • insufficient understanding of the capital requirement of supporting a small business until it experiences positive cash flows.

All of these reasons for failure are preventable, and can either be overcome with appropriate business advice and ongoing support, or the understanding of these reasons may assist in the making of a wise decision that perhaps, the risks associated with a particular individual starting a small business, are unacceptably high, and the individual will thereby avoid making a costly mistake.

Business Advice is a Critical Component of a Small Business Startup

In a majority of instances the decision to start up a small business is also a decision which places the financial future of the individual(s) involved, fairly and squarely on the table. Often the decision is one of necessity, or last resort, without careful consideration of the consequences to those concerned, if the small business fails.

Regardless of the reasons and motivation behind the decision to become a small business owner, any potential small business owner takes an immense risk in going it alone, without seeking appropriate business advice. The types of advice that should be sought before any decision is made, include;

  • Legal advice on the appropriate structures to put in place for the proposed business,
  • Accounting advice on taxation implications and record keeping requirements,
  • Financial advice on minimum funding requirements and appropriate sources of funds,
  • Management advice on planning and skill sets required to operate the proposed business, and
  • Marketing advice on the level of demand for the product or service offering and appropriate marketing methods for the target market.

The fact that much of the necessary advice is freely available, and to a certain extent actually free to the individual(s) seeking the advice, means that there really is no excuse for anyone not to take advantage of what is on offer, and use the information available, to give their new small business venture the greatest chance of avoiding the pitfalls, which cause many startup failures.

Sources of Business Advice

Intending small business proprietors can seek business advice from a multitude of sources including;

  • National, State and Local Government Business Advisory Bodies,
  • Local Chambers of Commerce,
  • Not for Profit Mentoring Organisations,
  • Friends and family already operating successful businesses,
  • Banking and other business specific Service Provider websites,
  • Education Institutions,
  • Legal Practitioners,
  • Accounting and finance professionals, and
  • Management and Business Consultants

It is important to seek advice from more than one source, and carefully evaluate the advice received, before rushing to implement any such advice. Acting in this manner will ensure that the full benefits of appropriate advice are gained.

Benefits of Seeking Business Advice Before Starting a Small Business

The are numerous benefits available to an intending small business owner, who seeks sound business advice, before embarking on the challenging path to starting a small business. The key benefits include;

  • Ensuring that the business opportunity is a real opportunity and the right opportunity for the market in which the business will operate,
  • Ensuring that the proposed business structure provides the right level of personal protection,
  • Ensuring that sufficient financial resources are available to get the business through its start up phase and past the break even point,
  • Ensuring that all legislative, regulatory and governance requirements are met and a clear understanding of what is required on an ongoing basis is understood,
  • Ensuring that any deficiencies in management skills are clearly identified and a plan for overcoming these before the business commences are developed, and
  • Ensuring that family and other social support mechanisms are strong enough to assist the business owner to survive the challenges inherent in starting a small business in a competitive environment.

Starting a new small business without seeking appropriate business advice is akin to gambling your life on the toss of a coin. Given the clear benefits of seeking advice on how to start a business, it is almost recklessness to proceed otherwise, as any business failure will impact severely on all directly concerned, and will probably also impact negatively on others, less directly concerned.

Green Ideas for Small Businesses: Tips for Making a Small Business Green

With all the emphasis on being green in today’s culture, many small business owners would like to be more eco-friendly. However, it is a challenge to try to make green choices and stay within the limited budget that most small businesses have. Try some of these low or no cost options for showing customers that for this small business, the emphasis is on green.

Recycle

Recycling is such a simple thing to do. The key is to never recycle confidential information. Shred anything that has customer addresses or financial information on it. Packing material, printing mistakes and outdated flyers are fair game. Let customers know that recycling is being practiced by placing a bin labeled with a recycling symbol in an area that they can access. It is a free public relations move that can help cut down on clean up, since customers will be more apt to put receipts or flyers they don’t want in the bin instead of dropping them on the floor as they head out the door.

Sell Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable shopping bags are not just green; they are a great marketing tool. Every time a customer carries that shopping bag, whether it is filled with library books or has just made another trip to and from the business where it was originally purchased, the bag’s logo is being seen by other people. Sturdy canvas bags with flat bottoms are a big favorite with most people. Additional features, such as the ability to fold up into a zippered pouch or a pocket in the bag for small items, will make the bags a favorite with customers.

Change the Light Bulbs

Some small businesses and even large businesses decide to save energy by turning off lights or using dimmers. While this is a fine idea for storage areas, it isn’t as great for parts of the building that customers are in or for areas where employees are working. Instead, switch traditional bulbs for energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are a great way to help the environment and help a business save money at the same time because they use much less energy. While they cost as much as four times more than regular light bulbs, Energy Star says that these CFL bulbs can provide substantial savings on electric bills. In addition, they provide a much cooler type of light, which can mean additional savings on summer cooling costs.

Advantages of Having a Small Business Brochure

Every small business should have a brochure. The brochure helps your small business to become better known in the market place. It helps the customer get a detailed account of your company or service. Brochures are not just for large corporations, but for small businesses and consultants also.

Here are some advantages of having a brochure.

A Brochure Gives Credibility to a Small Business.

The brochure lets prospects know that your small business is reputable and that they can take you seriously. Your company is here and ready to compete. “Anyone can spend $50 on letterhead and business cards and call themselves a corporation. But a brochure proves you are in business and shows you’re more than a fly-by-night operation,” according to Mr. Bly’s book titled, The Copywriter’s Handbook.

 The Brochure Tells

This is the perfect way to tell the customer everything in detail about your small business. This may sound obvious but there are many small business brochures that I have read that are merely just a long list of items, giving no details about the company, the service, or how it works. According to Ms. Maas’s book, Better Brochures, Catalogs and Mailing Pieces, “Tell customers what is included, what are the costs, what are the hours. Graphic devices can help to spotlight important information.” Another example of this is the Lincoln 210 MP brochure that popular MIG welding website Tool Guides Hub put out.

A Brochure Can Help to Sell Your Business

A small business brochure can help to sell your business and make a big difference, when prospects ask for more information. Customers want to read about your business or product, especially if they are about to spend a lot of money. They want to make sure they are making the right decision.

The Brochure Can Support Your Advertisement

It can be used along with direct mail; after the sales letter the prospect wants more information. The brochure is another sales tool. The brochure is designed to fit into a standard envelope and can be mailed along with the sales letter. It provides information about your sales points, list features and contains photos about your product or service. They are used by salespeople to leave behind after a presentation. Brochures are great to take along when networking.

Keep in mind that people will read the brochure as long as it informs and positions your product or service as the solution. The brochure for your small business is a great way to give your customers enough information about your product or service.

Benefits of Opening a Small Business in the United States

Opening a small business provides several advantages for the owner. It gives an individual the opportunity to control how he makes his living and to spend his time doing so. Small businesses also provide a way for owners to help their communities grow by offering jobs and paying taxes. The income potential of running a small business is also a great advantage.

Control of Your Business

Becoming a ‘boss’ is one of the main reasons for opening a small business. An owner has the authority to set their own rules and hire and train employees and staff. He has the power to choose a business location, set prices for his services or products and pick the company’s name. One of the intangible factors that make an individual open a small business is that it gives him the opportunity to make money doing something he wants to do. Having total control over a business also allows the owner to work the hours he wants so he can spend more time with his family on his schedule.

Income Potential

A person goes into business for herself to increase her money-making potential. A small business owner reaps the profits of the successful business. The difference in salary between a small business owner and a worker in the United States is significant. According to PayScale, the average salary of a small business owner was $70,447 per year ($39,540-$101,354). In 2015, the average worker’s salary in the United States for all occupations was $43,460 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 The Ability to Put Americans To Work

Small businesses make the United States economy strong. According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, 99.9 percent of all employers were considered small firms (companies with less than 500 employees) in 2017. Small businesses operate in all communities across the country, providing jobs to millions of Americans. Examples of small businesses include physician and dental offices, retail and grocery stores, restaurants, car repair shops and web design, online and other home-based businesses. The Department of Commerce also reported that small businesses employed over half (60.7 million) of all workers in the United States (120.6 million).

Time Management Software for Small Business: How to Choose the Best Time Management Software Package

Implementing and using a quality time management software package can reduce stress and increase productivity for a small business owner. With so many comprehensive time management software products available on the market, it is challenging for a small business owner to make an informed purchase decision without feeling overwhelmed. Here are some basic things to consider to simplify the shopping process:

Time Management Software Must be Easy to Use

A time management software system that is difficult to install, overly challenging to learn, or cumbersome to maintain will likely be abandoned before any real benefits are realized. When comparing time management software options, consider the learning curve. Look for products which include short video tutorials, quick-start materials, and a comprehensive “help” menu.

Time Management Software Should Integrate and Synchronize with Other Small Business Tools

The ideal time management software system will integrate and synchronize with other productivity and communication tools. Some time management software products integrate with popular time management systems, such as GTD (Getting Things Done) or FranklinCovey. Look for time management software that synchronizes with the Microsoft Outlook calendar and task folders. Since Outlook synchronizes to most PDAs, Blackberries, and Smartphones, this allows for portability of the time management system.

Look for Flexibility and Features That Best Serve the Small Business

There are no one-size-fits-all time management or productivity solutions for small businesses. Depending on the nature of the small business, some small business owners may be able to plan for a few months a time, while others work in a rapidly changing environment and must plan on the go. When shopping for time management software, make sure the system offers the flexibility and features needed for the specific small business. While functions such as pop-up reminders, importing of motivational images, search capability, color-coding prioritization, and time management training all have their place, there is no point in paying extra for features if they will not be used.

Find Out How the Time Management Software is Reviewed, Supported, and Guaranteed

Look for and study independent consumer reviews on the internet. How do customers review the functionality and support of the time management software product? Some products also offer user forums which are open to the public, so review these to monitor user satisfaction and product support. Ideally, the product will come with a 30-day or longer trial period and a money-back guarantee.

The optimal time management software system will offer the small business owner ease of use, integration and synchronization capabilities, flexibility, useful features, and reliable product support. By being a wise consumer, the small business owner can feel confident in the purchase decision and enjoy the rewards that come with using quality time management software.