Direct messaging feature on social media platforms is something I am utilizing more and more lately. Turns out, businesses and influencers on all platforms actually want to connect with other businesses and work deals. A lot of the time all you have to do is ask. I try and DM about 3 or 4 influencers a day as a general rule ( a lot of the time I just do a bunch in my spare time on Sundays). When I say influencer, I mean someone that has a following of any size that is putting out valuable content for their users. When reaching out via DM to someone on Instagram to promote my business I say something like “Hey there, my name is Ethan. I am the owner of a soda shop called Thirst. I follow your page and really enjoy your content (I usually name a specific thing that I like). I was wondering if you would like to work together to do some collaboration! I think I could bring some real value to your page. I have a lot of loyal and engaged followers that I know would really love to follow your page. I would love the chance to chat with you more about some tag team marketing that I think could really benefit us both!”. It is as simple as that. About 65% of the time, they don’t respond. But when they do respond, it is of the most importance that I capitalize. I truly believe the following: In my opinion, the most under-priced and most effective form of marketing on this day today is Instagram influencers. I do not only thing DM is good for business to business or business to influencer communication. DM is AWESOME and CRUCIAL to engaging with customers. When someone mentions you on their story on Instagram, it is so important to first like their message and then respond (same goes for comments on your post obviously). Even if the message or comment seems like it is something that doesn’t imply that they want or need a response, I ALWAYS RESPOND. How many brands respond to every comment? Not a whole lot of them do. When a brand or business or heavy influencer responds to its followers comment or DM’s EVERY TIME, they create personal connection with the consumer. But perhaps more importantly, they remind the consumer that their is ACTUALLY A HUMAN behind the iphone of that instagram. It reminds consumers that no matter how big my company may get, they will always get the same home town feel of customer service because we truly care about them.
I read in a book once that it costs 1/10 the amount to market to an established customer as it does to a prospect. I tried to put this in perspective of my particular situation and came up with the following logic: If I focus my marketing on the customers that are already loyal to my company, and either up-sell them or give them an exceptional experience of value and service it will pay off just as much or more. I know what you’re thinking: “how does it make any sense that just trying to market to customers that would’ve come to your business anyways rather than focus on new potential customers?”. My answer is that marketing to customers pays off both in the short and long term. In the short term it pays off because I am up-selling these customers. So now instead of buying their typical Monday morning drink from me, they are also adding a special new treat or feature on to their order. Thus the average revenue per customer increases and thus the total amount in sales increases. In the long term, marketing to customers pays off because they are being provided with the most exceptional customer experience and becoming aware of our products so much that in return they do something for my company that I believe to be more powerful than anything: spread by word of mouth. Sally, who is a regular at my soda shop, is just so impressed and amazed by the continued value and exciting products and features she is getting from my company each day that she just HAS to tell her friend Cynthia. Cynthia then becomes a regular. We then market to Cynthia. Cynthia then tells Margaret…and so on and so forth. I believe the highest return on investment (short term and long term) comes from marketing to established customers as opposed to prospects.
With recent on-boarding of a new partner in my company that now oversees the general management and operations side of things, the majority of my time has shifted to marketing and communication. Recently I have made huge emphasis on social media marketing as I am a firm believer that it is the current state of the internet. With 101 different lessons already learned when it comes to social media marketing, perhaps the most important one is posting content that brings true value to your consumers. In my company, where my main consumer demographic is 30-50 year old mothers, it is truly in my best interest to post relevant and valuable content pertaining to them rather than just using the platforms to advertise my products. I believe in this concept so much that I started a mom tv vlog and aired it through our social media outlets. On these 60 second vlogs, we do not mention our business or products at all, we simply highlight a local attraction that we believe can bring value to mothers, highlight and review a motherly product, and last we pose a topic of conversation for our followers (specifically the mothers) to engage in in the comment section. Other mothers may come to our page to now view this mom tv vlog that they are being tagged in, but they may stay on the page because they are intrigued by the delicious looking treats as well. It seems that if you lure them in with content that they actually find value in, they will come for the value and leave wanting your product. I have made it a goal to only advertise my business or product once every FIVE POSTS. I am not sure if I am going to carry on with this consistently, but I am going to try it for at least a month.
Recently at my shop I have noticed a trend with my team members when delivering bad news to customers. When a customer asks if we have a certain product and we are sold out, or if we are running a certain promo and that particular promo is now over, I have been frustrated by the delivery of the news. When asked if they can please have some popcorn, I would hear my team say something like “Our popcorn machine is broken.”. That’s it. Nothing following. Just a long period of silence after delivering the negative news.
After hearing this, I implemented a new strategy called Bad News Taglines. Anytime we deliver any bad news at all, we are required to follow it with a tag line. In the popcorn instance, the correct way to respond to request would have been: “I am so sorry but unfortunately our popcorn machine is broken right now. HOWEVER, we have ordered the parts to fix the machine and they should be here by middle of the week. But we just got a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies!…”.
I think that adding in a tagline such as this is something that comes natural to some, but for others it is important to remind them that all negative news needs to be accompanied and redirected by positive news.
I have been racking my brain and coming up with all kinds of in depth campaigns as to how I can increase my presence and following on social media. We do all kinds of promos with things such as “tag three friends and be entered to win___…”. These campaigns are great but were not giving me the results I wanted. One big thing when it comes to social media is time. I can’t expect my social media following to blow up overnight (or even in a year in a half in the case of my business). One thing I can do that I have completely overlooked up until this point is ASK! Ask for people to follow us on social media. I was looking on my point of sale software and saw data that showed over five thousand repeat customers. These are customers that are very aware of my business and obviously very big fans as they are regulars with us. I realized that had I presented the opportunity for them to follow us on social media, they would have done so and therefore would have been informed and aware of any new products, promos or updates that I can give to them that would in turn drive sales. Asking a customer to follow you on social media does not have to be direct or pushy. What I did was simply put together a small graphic on my drive-thru window and in my dine-in that said “Want to stay in the loop for all of our updates, promotions, new products, giveaways and more? Follow us @_____” and I included a picture of our three main social media platforms. My social media following increased by 24% in the first three weeks. Sometimes it seems that all you have to do is ask. People love your business and want to follow you on social media! You just have to present the opportunity to them.
As a business owner, the sad truth is that every single worry, concern, or problem that arises within the business is yours to deal with. In other words, you absolutely never get to clock out. I got reminded of this today when I came into the shop early morning excited to work on some new marketing materials I had an idea for. I walked into a hot shop and found that the swamp cooler had stopped working. As we are on an extremely tight budget and have absolutely no money for something like calling the swamp cooler repair man, I climbed up on the roof and gave it a look. Two or three trips to Home Depot, and three and a half hours later, I sat satisfied in the dine-in and pulled out my computer as the swamp cooler blew cold air on me. It was about five minutes in, when I had just pulled my email up that a nasty sound came through the vent and I came to find out that a new part on the swamp cooler had broken yet again. The rest of my day and well into the night was devoted to working on this swamp cooler (I imagine a good portion of tomorrow will be too).
I came to realize that this is just sort of how it goes when it comes to owning a business. Sometimes what you want to get done isn’t what you get done, because stuff happens and problems arise, but that’s just how it goes.
One cool method I have found to drive business at a low cost is seeking out local outlets that have a large pool of prospects, or potential new customers, and giving them free product in hopes to win them over! To apply this to my situation, each week (or every other week) I choose one or two local businesses to bring a free drink delivery to. This can be an office, a bank, a print shop, a school or anything! I go down to the office, introduce myself and tell all the staff about my new business that is just down the road from them, and then I go around and take orders (using my take out menus) from all of the staff! They get to try some of our awesome product, they get to meet and interact with the owner, and it adds some happiness to their day! My cost per drink is generally very low so to do an order for an entire staff of an office is not very expensive and yet it makes a deep impression on every one of them. The reason I say deep impression is because they didn’t just see Thirst or hear about it, they got to meet the owner, hear the first hand story about the business and try some product for FREE! This is the definition of guerilla marketing because it aggressive and takes more work than the typical advertisement but it is cheaper and pays off ten fold! When we first opened for business I did a free drink order for every single one of the teachers at a school just down the road from my shop. I went around to about 80 different classrooms in an hour and a half and took everybody’s orders. I took these order back to the shop, filled them all myself and delivered them. The whole order cost me about $83 dollars. Today the teachers and faculty of the school are about 20 percent of our total daily sales, not to mention that the teachers tell their students, who tell their parents, who then make up a large portion of our sales each day as well. Creative, aggressive, and CHEAP marketing continues to drive our sales because of efforts such as these free drink orders.
I had a brilliant idea of cutting costs about a month ago. We pay a linen service about fifty bucks a week to come swap out all of our rags, mops, mats, etc for clean ones. In an effort to do away with this cost, I figured I would install a washer and dryer in the storage area of my soda shop and do it all in house. Brilliant right? Well yeah it actually is a good idea. So I got a used washer and dryer, installed water lines, the necessary power outlets, and drainage and got them all hooked up and ready to go. The investment was probably around three to four hundred bucks (I got them used) after all the utilities hook ups and such. The cost didn’t really bother me because I figured I would make my money back in about eight weeks at most after doing away with the linen service that is costing me fifty bucks a week.
Well here’s where it gets awesome. Once I spent all of the time and money to get my washer and dryer hooked up, I went ahead and called the linen service to cancel our account. Come to find out, in the hustle and rush of opening a year ago, I signed a contract locking us in for service for the next five years. Regardless of if this was my arrogance, or a detail that the salesman “forgot” to mention, if I want out of that contract I am forced to pay about $1700.
Shortly after this frustrating (and expensive) situation, I went ahead and tried to change my garbage service to a cheaper company and realized I also signed a contract with them locking me into their expensive services. I really just don’t want to know how many other contracts I signed that are going to continue to cost me money, but one thing I know for sure is that I will be reading the entirety of service contracts before signing them in the future!
As I’ve previously mentioned, my business partner and mentor taught me early on to refer to people that work for you as “team members” rather than “employees”. This is because team members that work together to build upon the vision of a company work harder and more dedicated than employees that just work for the man, put in their hours and head home.
I learned last night that small moments of connection are what makes relationships with team members strong. I was closing up shop with one of my team members after a busy night of drink making. We were doing the usual cleaning procedures and chatting about our music taste. We both agreed that an Disney song from many years prior was our jam and so we had to turn it on. We cranked up the music and had a dance party to old time Disney songs while cleaning up shop that night.
It seems like a small and meaningless moment, but it is the small connections a manager builds with their team members that makes them work harder, be more dedicated, and care about the business. This small moment with my team member improved our relationship and I specifically noticed an improvement in this team member’s performance since that night. To such a degree that this team member was specifically mentioned in an online review for their superior customer service while working the drive-thru window. Use small moments to connect with your team members. When team members buy into a manager, they buy into the manager’s dedication to the business.
At my soda shop we have something called “battle ready”. The idea behind battle ready is that when the shop is slow or before opening, you must prep the shop, procedures and stock to accommodate a line of customers a mile long. We always tell our team members that “a battle (rush) is coming, and if you are not ready, you will not be able to provide a superior customer experience”. I think there is a sick, twisted god of business up there somewhere testing your systems in the most annoying way by sending every customer at the exact same time. The reason I say this is because at my current and past business ventures, everyone always seems to come at once. We could be slow (and I’m talking dead slow) for two to three hours and then all of the sudden we have a line down the road! It is not a thing that has happened once or twice, this is actually a fact. For the past couple years I have been trying to put some reasoning behind this fact. I have come up with a few reasons such as: people see other people in line and therefore it reminds them that they also want our products or that some type of synchronization of scheduling happens between traffic and work that brings people to a business at the same time, or maybe it is just fate, I have no idea. One thing I have taken from this unfortunate fact about business is that you can never let your guard down, a storm is coming and you must be prepared. I think the idea of “staying battle ready” applies to business as a whole and your system of operations. Your business may be slow or maybe has yet to have taken off and gain a large customer base, but stay faithful in your focused and diligent business plan and marketing and they will come, and you must be ready. Perfect systems and operations to accommodate the largest crowds possible. It may seem silly while you are slow or small, but the customers will come with time. Use the time when your business has yet to take off to prepare for the time when it does because when it does take off and you are not ready, you will not be able to accommodate the large amount of business that you have always dreamed of.