In late May of this year, I walked into the bookstore Indigo intent on buying a novel that I had wanted to read for a long time. I had some much needed time off coming up and was looking forward to curling up with my new book. To my surprise and delight when I got to the cashier to pay, she offered me a beach lounger, of all things to go along with my purchase. I was receiving this bonus gift because of the amount I spent. The timing was perfect! It had been a long cold winter, and the idea of relaxing at my local beach with my bestseller protected from the sand by my new lounger made me look forward to my vacation even more. What made this experience even better was the element of surprise.
I always appreciate those moments when a product or service I love unexpectedly comes with a special offer! Major brands have undoubtedly caught on to this practice, and we see loyalty programs popping up all around us. Most notably, companies like Amazon, Netflix, and retails like shoe brand DSW and cosmetics giant Sephora have used this trend to their advantage.
For small business owners looking to get on the loyalty train, weighing the value of rewarding customers against keeping costs low presents a challenge. Without the budget of a large corporate marketing department, how can smaller shops compete? Building a loyalty program that excites and engages your customers on a much smaller scale than a major corporation or retailer is possible. Buzz phrases like “customer journey” or “voice of the customer” are sometimes useful, but at its core, what we are talking about is treating people as you would wish to be treated and this includes the very human need to feel recognized and valued. As was the case with my bookstore experience, there are timeless principles for keeping customers happy and engaged. When we pair these fundamental principles with innovative new technologies and creative planning, you will see how small businesses can get in on the loyalty program action on a budget. Below I discuss how to build your program by looking first at types and characteristics of loyalty programs that work then I explore the benefits and best practices used by big brands, finally, I layout creative ideas and resources to inspire you to implement your loyalty program without breaking the bank.
Although cost constraints exist for entrepreneurs trying to design their own customer loyalty programs, the benefits are convincing and well documented.
Before you decide which type of Loyalty program you want to implement, Outline your goals, plan for data protection, understand your audience and evaluate customer reward programs of best-in-class organizations. Document short term and long term goals, tracking requirements, deliverables and launch timing, as well as how you will track program results and impact. Listed below are a few of the possible goals you could be wanting to achieve:
As the list of well-publicized data breaches grows, consumers become increasingly wary of providing personal information to business owners. A survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Wilbur shows that 76 percent of Americans are more likely to join a program that collects only their name and phone number. As you design your Loyalty program keeping your customer’s data safe should be top of mind. Put the same stringent rules and protections in place for your customers as you would want for yourself. Only collect information necessary for your particular offer and be open about the security programs used. If your customer base grows, have a clear strategy and understanding of your need for increased data protection. For customers to feel comfortable providing you with even minimal personal information, they should be opting in and have a clear way to opt-out. Make sure your customers know that your loyalty program is not just a data grab.
Be prepared to figure out who your top customers are. What are their pain points and preferences? Design rewards that will excite and inspire your biggest fans.
Don’t focus too much on giving everything away for free. While freebies may seem like the best way to appeal to your potential clients, promising exclusivity can be more effective than giving things away. Business owners run the risk of devaluing products and services with too many giveaways.
Typical Loyalty programs do not work for some entrepreneurs or small and medium-sized businesses. If for example you are selling services like training courses or coaching you may need a unique program that takes parts of traditional models that we looked at earlier but allow for customization. The beauty of having a smaller customer base is that you can offer personalized experiences as part of your loyalty program. Consider any of the following out of the box ideas:
Have you decided to plan a virtual conference or webinar for a product launch or to bring your expertise to a group of your stakeholders? If so do you know where to begin? Smart entrepreneurs and business leaders design products and services with a laser focus on how they can improve people’s lives and solve their biggest pain points. What do clients struggle with and what will make their lives easier? This problem-solving approach and attention to detail should be followed when designing events. Whether your goal is to inspire, motivate or educate, your events should be infused with the same desire to meet customer needs as all other aspects of your business.
With this in mind, I have gathered the top tools to help you identify key steps in the event planning process. Use this as your go-to survival kit for planning events. These tips and tools mostly focus on virtual events, meetings and conferences but take into consideration hybrid events that may require some on the ground/live aspects. The explosion of cloud technology apps built to simplify the planning workflow means that more memorable and seamlessly organized virtual events are at your fingertips. Of course, you should keep in mind that there is no substitute for adding a personalized human touch so that you are providing a memorable and useful experience for your audience. I have created some resources I am calling Virtual Event Planners Survival Kit. First take stock of your planning needs by checking out my infographics Conference Event Timeline and Automating Event Planning: Hosted Vs. Custom Online Event Planning Tools, then download the bonus Virtual Event Design Checklists to get advice on what to track as you go through the planning process. Happy Planning!
Many of the technology struggles entrepreneurs have as they build a new venture involves finding tools to automate processes and save time and money. They ask themselves questions similar to those I have had executives ask me in my career as an Executive Assistant, “Can you work your magic?”, “Can this be done in the next few hours?” and, the ever-popular “I know what I want but do we have something that does that?”. Business leaders naturally often lean toward the latest and shiniest and most impressive services or features. At times it was as if they were describing music or fashion from an era long past. “I heard that so and so in sales has a spiffy new macro” or “the new HR Director created a neat interactive brochure.” A manager I worked for often asked me to “jazz up” our weekly internal communications email to staff. With the explosion of cloud technology leading to more automated and impressive business processes for every office task, who can blame executives for their desire to have the next cool productivity tool?
If you are getting started, you have probably been on this merry go round of hearing through the grapevine about useful cloud productivity apps or services and wondering if they could make your life easier. Marketing/CRM, Note-taking, Task Management, Point of Sale, Accounting, Competitor Research, Content Creation, Social Media Tracking…the list goes on. Wow, there is just so much to absorb. As a new business owner, it’s natural for you to want to get on-board with anything that will make your operations run more smoothly despite the mind-boggling amount of choices. So how can you parse all this information to select the right solutions for your particular needs? Well, I think a valuable approach is to think of yourself in the process as a matchmaker weeding out the tools not useful to you and letting the most valuable ones rise to the top. For example, if one of your main goals is to get things done, a good task tracking app can quickly summarize your projects, create alerts to critical business conditions and reminders for important dates. On the other hand, if you operate virtually with clients and staff geographically dispersed and that task app does not allow you to collaborate with your team in real-time, that’s a terrible match that is sure to end badly.
Most productivity cloud apps are not perfectly tailor-made out of the box solutions. Use them in your business without proper vetting or planning, and it is like running a PC with only an operating system and no applications. Powerful but not very useful. You have to match the technology to your specific business needs so that you and your team will use the most efficient and powerful features.
You can’t be everywhere, and you only have so many hours in a day. That’s why the 8 productivity cloud App integrations described in the chart below can help you find the right match for you. Here I focus on how the latest apps integrate to give you more value for your dollar. I’ve merged advice on evaluating your needs with resources from small business reviews of technology especially useful for smaller shops. At the beginning of each integration suggestion, I identify one common issue for small business owners. If any of these scenarios below describe your issue, check out the “Suggested App Integrations“ below for more information.
My criteria for selecting the tools and services I recommend are based on:
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