Before you react negatively to the idea that a customer can be, or even ought to be, trained or controlled in any way, please read the post. I’m not suggesting you are the master and your customers are slaves, guinea pigs, idiots, or robots. In fact, just the opposite.
The thought that customers can be trained seems manipulative and condescending. Believe me, it’s not – if done respectfully and wisely by a smart business owner.
What I’m suggesting, in fact, is that you interact with your customers from day one in such a way that they learn quickly to completely trust you, to know that you have their best interests in mind at all times, and that whatever you offer will be a valuable gem for them in your niche. Saying so doesn’t really cut it. You earn your trust by setting expectations high and meeting them on every front. By nurturing your subscribers, you will be turning them into “warm responders” rather than cold but potential leads. No, this is not a new approach, it’s how successful online businesses have learned to operate in the anonymous virtual world.
Very simply, I’m going to give you the what, why, and how of training your customers. Here it is:
WHAT are you going to train your customers on?
– Your business is different from every other online business in the niche – it is unique, friendly, responsive, and authoritative
– Doing business with you is safe, secure, and protective of the individual and his privacy
– Your business pledges to always put the needs of the customer first
– Your business will consistently provide top value. If you can only give top value in one thing, then just do that one thing and be the very best at it – not just in products but in everything you do
– Whatever you sell will be useful and a great bargain for the price
WHY you need to train your customers.
You have chosen to do business online and simply by association, your business is going to be lumped with all other online businesses – not for the great things you offer – but for the bad and troubling flaws that many consumers now have experienced first hand with online shopping:
– impersonal web sites which treat visitors like herding cattle,
– shoddy and imperfect protection of personal information,
– “takes forever” customer service that would be better called customer abuse,
– crappy useless re-hashed products that fail to deliver the goods, and
– a never-ending stream of spammy emails solely purposed to extract money from the subscriber!
You need to train your customers that your business is different, that coming to your web site or reading your emails can actually be a pleasant and useful experience, and that whatever you offer in the way of content, interaction, and products or advice will be top shelf, first class, with value oozing from every pore.
Here’s the bottom line of “why”: Customers that know you, like you, have great experiences with you, and trust you will spend more money with you. Isn’t that why you’re in business? To make a profitable living?
HOW – Here are ten simple things you can do to “train” your prospects and customers.
– Tell them what to expect from you and your business (set the standard high; commit to excellence and follow through).
– Give them the VIP treatment before they buy from you and every time you interact – don’t give in to the erroneous idea that more customers are always better – nurture and grow your customer base one happy fan at a time.
– Keep up contact – not with generic pleasantries – but with meaningful interactions and personalization whenever possible.
– Find out something unique about every customer – the mere action of asking is like extending a personal welcome, smile, and handshake.
– Ask for niche involvement, articles from customers, tips, helpful experiences, photos, share their biggest hurdles, acknowledge their successes in the niche.
– Treat them with respect and dignity, yes, even newbies – it’s not expert vs. wannabe or business vs. client.
– Constantly give value – expect to give more than you ever get from the individual in return. Give first and prove your business.
– Give something extra with every purchase (not including the bonuses you advertise). A happily surprised customer is a return customer and a billboard for your business. Make it meaningful and pertinent to the niche.
– Ask for personal input on your web site, your products, services, and ideas or suggestions that may not be a part of your current business.
– Acknowledge each person in some way (some call it “stroking” but I don’t like that term). Recognize the contributions and efforts of your customers by name. Get personal; get attached and connected; throw off the notion that online business is faceless and anonymous.
You now understand the intent of this training: to offer, entice, instruct, and educate the customer about your business . . . that it’s different . . . that your business is the only logical choice in the niche.
You can say those words all day long and it means nothing; but you can train your customers to believe and know it’s true if you consistently prove it through your business actions.
To your online business success!
What Should I Sell Online?
Many would-be entrepreneurs get stuck on the most basic of questions before they’re even out of the gate with a new business. They know they want to make money online but they have absolutely no idea how they’re going to do it.
Often these same entrepreneurs will have a list of niches and maybe business models that they’ve been thinking about trying but they’re not sure how to narrow that list down to the top choice that they’ll eventually focus on for their new business.
When you get right down to it, this same stumbling point and resulting paralysis is actually felt by most people when they contemplate going into business for themselves. They ask questions like:
- Am I getting into the right niche?
- Am I choosing the right business model?
- Is this something I am going to enjoy?
- What kind of income can I expect from this niche?
- How much competition is there going to be?
- How much time will I have to spend to reach my income goal?
- Will I be able to establish myself as an expert in this niche?
- How much is it going to cost to start my business?
These are fundamental questions that you’d better answer before you think about products to sell or you start building a web site or spending money on promoting your business idea.
So here are my suggestions to begin narrowing down the field if you haven’t decided on your business topic yet. These ideas aren’t new, they’re not secrets and they are not my original ideas . . . but they are universally effective:
1- Have you visualized what kind of business you want to create?
Are you going after a million dollar business or will you be happy making $5,000/month? Do you visualize having employees working with you or are you a committed solo entrepreneur? Do you see yourself working 50-60 hours per week in your business or do you want a lifestyle business that takes 20 hours per week or less to run? You see, the answers to these questions are going to allow you to cross some subject ideas off your list right now.
2- Have you done your niche research?
If you haven’t, you’re not starting in the right place. Some niches will support the kind of business you envision; other niches won’t. Some niches are extremely competitive and present a great challenge to entry. Others will be easier to break into. Again, the likelihood of success in any of the topics you’ve been considering will become more apparent as you thoroughly research the niche market. I would think a 30-minute dive into niche research in each of your subject markets would be time well spent and you will see where the best opportunity lies. After you’ve identified the one niche that you’re going to enter you should jump into the marketplace again and do more thorough research knowing that this is the place you’ll be setting up shop.
3- What do you really enjoy doing?
Could you be happy immersing yourself in every one of the topics you’ve included on your list? Surely, some of these topics hold your interest better than others. You see, entering a subject niche that you really enjoy will help you to focus on becoming an expert in that topic without feeling like it’s an agonizing drudgery. You will look forward to working in the niche every day. It’s critical that you keep up your spirits and enthusiasm for the subject … especially in the early lean times when the business isn’t producing much and as a new entrepreneur you are more likely to give up or question if this career is really for you!
4- Where does your past training, schooling, and work experience lead you?
One of the key elements of a great business is owner knowledge and expertise for his/her business subject. Granted, you can learn what you need to know in most niches in order to become an expert. But believe me, it really does help and give you a tremendous head start if you already know and understand the topic. Do you already speak the industry jargon? Do you have experiences and dealings in the niche that you can share with other? Do you have friends, contacts, sources of information in the niche that could be an advantage to you as a business owner? If so, the niche is a prime candidate for your consideration. But don’t be blinded by your mastery of the subject because lots of people have specialized knowledge in subjects that don’t monetize well.
5- Where does your passion lie?
This is related to #3 above, but a little different. Are you really jazzed up and excited to get going on a particular business? Is it something you like to delve into anyway (despite wanting to create a business in the topic)? The fact is this: business owners that really have a passion for what they do seem to be contagious. It’s easy for prospects to get excited about something if they see the genuine love and excitement that an owner has for what he/she does! Passion for your subject means you’ll willingly keep up with the latest news, events, changes, and happenings in the niche and want to share those with your like-minded customers and prospects.
6- What is the outlook and trend for each of your potential topics into the future?
You don’t want to sign on as the captain of the Titanic in your chosen niche! You don’t want to invest you time, energy, and resources into creating and running a business in a niche that is dying or even slowly drying up. If you’re really in business for the long haul, you need to understand that your efforts are going to be rewarded for years to come. Some niches are evergreen. Subjects like health, exercise, travel, relationships, dating and marriage, small business, self improvement, making money, etc, are always on people’s minds. A great resource for determining subject appeal to the masses is Google Trends.
7- What are the barriers to entry in these niches?
Finally, it’s critical to be aware of barriers that could potentially thwart your business creation hopes in particular niches. Are there licenses that need to be gained in order to become respected or qualified in the niche? Is the cost of entry for needed software or product creation going to be more than I can comfortably handle? Is the niche already saturated to the point that I can’t identify a unique position in which to place my business? Is the business subject seasonal, limited in any way (geographic, cultural, etc), or not socially acceptable? Is the business subject something that is blackhat, underground, sleazy, hateful, discriminatory or of bad taste? (I would caution everyone to stay far away from subjects like porn, gambling, lotteries, anything illegal, immoral, or in any way in poor taste.)
So I’ve given you seven “filters” to run your ideas through. If you are serious about starting a real business, apply each of these filters to your list of potential subjects and it will soon become quite apparent which topics you should eliminate and which you can confidently move to the top of your list.
After you finish this little exercise, you may still have two or three ideas that have risen to the top and pass all the tests. Don’t fret. It may be that any of them that you choose will lead you into a nice profitable business. What you’ll have confirmed is that any of these remaining topics can serve you well. Just choose one and be on with doing some detailed market research!
A word of caution: Don’t try to juggle two or more new businesses at the same time. Sure, you can add multiple streams of income later, but only focus on one until it is running profitably and giving you the income you want. Don’t dilute or water down your efforts at the outset. It’s very difficult to divide your attention and become profitable when you’re trying to figure out how online business works!
To your online business success!
Customers vs. Clients – Do You Know the Difference?
I’d like to talk about a way to conduct your solo business online that will bring you all the profits and business that you can handle.
What I’m speaking about has as much to do with your mindset as it does about your strategy or business system of operating.
If you will adopt an “MO” (a method of operating) that includes what I’m going to describe here, your business will automatically be differentiated from your marketplace competitors.
You will have a unique and wholly creative business that your clients will love and clamor for.
What I’m talking about has nothing to do with your chosen business niche, per se.
This model can be implemented in any niche market, with any product or any service.
In addition, anyone can adopt this business mindset as it is totally age, gender, culture, education, and experience independent.
Have you guessed yet what I’m talking about? Yes, the title of this post should have given the secret away.
First, let’s go to my huge Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and look up the definition of a customer.
Here it is:
cus-tom-er, n. 1. a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron. 2. a person one has to deal with; a tough customer; a cool customer.
It’s pretty easy to gain customers for your goods and services.
All you have to do is sell something – that’s it!
Once a person buys from you, they are automatically your customer.
Nothing else is needed.
No relationship exists, other than they have given money in exchange for a good they wanted.
Anyone can do this! Most businesses would prefer to have as many customers as they can generate.
It’s a simple and easy business principle.
Really nothing further is expected of customers.
Yes, your customer can buy from you over again if he decides to, but there are no further expectations or contracts to continue your relationship at this point.
Every one of your customers is free to keep purchasing from you or look elsewhere if he/she desires.
There are no strings attached.
Now, let’s focus on clients.
What is a client?
Here is Webster’s definition:
cli-ent, n. 1. a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc. 2. a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc. 3. anyone under the patronage of another; a dependent. 4. a person seeking the protection, guidance or influence of another more prosperous or powerful.
I hope the distinction between customers and clients is becoming abundantly clear.
If you take on clients, there is the expectation (understood by both parties or not) that you are going to develop a relationship with them that will be in their best interest. You are committing to protect, guide and influence them in whatever subject you are teaching.
So what does this distinction mean for the business owner?
Here is my take on it:
I want people who come to my business to see themselves as clients rather than customers.
I want my clients to know that I will do my best to give them advice, counsel, products and services that will be in their best interest – not necessarily mine.
I welcome my clients to open a dialogue with me – to enter into a personal relationship which includes open and frank discussions about the subject of my business.
I welcome their suggestions, ideas, experiences, and especially feedback in the niche.
I will give them my personality, wisdom, and experience as it applies to the subject so they can understand my passion and qualification for being their teacher, coach, and mentor.
I will never purposefully lead them astray and I will always give them the guidance that I feel will best help them become successful in the niche.
Can you understand how the customer/business owner model of small business is so different from the client/mentor (coach) model?
Now I’m not going to get caught up in semantics. You can call clients “customers” if you want.
Some will call them “friends of my business.” Clients could be called “students” or “pupils.”
The important point is, the folks that come to your business for help can be treated like faceless customers who buy and are never seen again . . . OR . . . you can use your effort and influence to treat them as clients – people who are there for tutoring, guidance, and coaching by one who has great influence, power, or experience in the niche.
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have or what you sell – you can develop the mindset that everyone who walks through your business door will be treated as a valued client.
One more thing . . . if you decide to take on clients, there is an expectation that you can deliver something to them that the general public doesn’t have – specialized knowledge and skill in the niche.
Yes, you can learn this quickly, you can find it in other people that you work with, or you can organize and present the accumulated knowledge of other experts on the subject.
But somehow, you have to be able to give credible guidance and advice to people that rely upon you for direction.
As the owner of a business, you have the choice to go after one time customers or loyal clients.
Certainly, the client/mentor model demands much more from the business owner – that’s why very, very few owners ever accept this role and business model.
But think about the significant advantages of this type of business:
– Wouldn’t this kind of “TLC” really set your business apart from every other competitor in your niche? Truthfully, how many businesses can you think of that are personally concerned with the customer/client?
– Wouldn’t you be able to charge much more for your products and time if you give this type of personalized assistance? By all means.
– Wouldn’t your clients be much more likely to buy your products without a lot of hard selling on your part? Of course they would.
– Wouldn’t it take far fewer clients in order to keep your business humming? Yes, most definitely!
The decision is yours, and yours alone. I would seriously encourage you to step outside the norm and consider this unique and fulfilling business strategy.
To your online business success,
How Well Do You Know Your Market?
Way too often I run into frustrated new entrepreneurs that understand very little about the marketplace they plan to enter.
Some may have a written business plan (although this important step is neglected way too often). Some may even have experience in a niche market but have not spent time researching that market in earnest given they want to do business in it. That’s a big mistake.
Part of the problem lies in the simple fact that business owners sometimes feel they are not capable of researching a market. They have never done it before and wouldn’t know where to begin or what to look for in their study.
Others don’t feel any need to delve into the market – they may have some experience in it already and figure “I’m a professional in the market and I know what my prospects and customers want.”
I can honestly tell you that the Internet superhighway is littered with products brought to market that no one wanted! Had market research been done in the first place, most such disasters could have been avoided.
The Internet is such a wonderful tool when it comes to researching a potential market and niche (and by the way, they are not synonymous).
Here are a few questions you can ask (and the answers are there online for you) prior to creating a business, product or web site that will help you to analyze whether your business hopes are realistic.
- Who are my perfect customers? I consider a perfect customer to be one that wants exactly what I have to offer and the ability to pay for it. Remember, you don’t typically create new demand for a product or service. The demand exists in the marketplace already and your charge is to find it and then sell into that existing demand. Yes, some persuasion may be needed in a sales letter … but if the prospect isn’t looking to buy what you are offering (or something very close) … well your conversions will not be good.
- What are the demographics and characteristics of that perfect customer? What is the customer gender, age, skill level for the product, where do they live, what is their education, income level, and past experience in the market? Understanding these things helps you to better target your product to meet the profile of your customer so that you can provide something that gives great benefit, solves existing problems, and is easy to understand and use. If your offering is not a good fit for the customer’s technical or skill level you risk a “one and done” customer buying experience which is never appropriate.
- Where do these perfect customers congregate? As you get into marketing your product or web site, it’s important to laser target your ads and even branding message to be seen by those most interested in what your are offering. You always seek a high ROI (return on investment) for your marketing dollars.
- How many, and what kind of competitors will I have? Understanding the direct competition is critical. It can be a daunting task to break into a market that is filled with heavy hitters who are already established and have a track record of success. It can be done, but most likely you will need a product or service that fills a different and important need in the niche.
- Another reason for understanding the competition is that you need to see what is currently available for your perfect customers. What other choices does your prospect audience have? When you know this, you can better position your business and products to address a unique need or a “gap” in the marketplace where the competition is non-existent or at least not so heavy. A great example is the retail book business. How will you ever compete with Amazon in that space? Local bookstores by the dozens have been put out of business because Amazon has become a consumer favorite in that marketplace. So one must ask the question, “What do my prospects want that they can’t get from Amazon?” Do they want some very deeply focused niche books? Do they want a more personalized buying experience? Do they want a physical place to hang out? Do they want book reviews from experts instead of average consumers? What else can I provide that Amazon (because of its size) can’t?
- Do my customers usually buy this kind of product online? Maybe there are reasons why you shouldn’t try to sell your product on the Internet. Maybe the cost to deliver the product is exorbitant. Maybe the exact product that you would sell is already online and selling well. Maybe the product is conveniently available in local physical locations.
- Is my product timely? Or did I just miss the “hay day” of my product and now the demand is petering out. You don’t want to be chasing fads or trying to sell out-dated information or technology. You want to be on the leading edge of the product wave … not floundering in the back wash.
- Have I incorrectly estimated the size of the market? This mistake can be a business breaker. A market too broad means there is too much competition and it will be difficult to differentiate your business brand and effectively target your customers. A market too small means you might find some saturation – too many competitors for the small amount of potential buying customers. If that’s the case, you can still compete in the market but you must position your business differently. Some suggest that the biggest markets are always the best because if you see there are lots of sellers you know there are lots of customers. I personally don’t buy that logic completely. I would prefer to have a unique product in a very targeted market – it means less competition. Most viable markets are larger than you think since online markets these days reach across the globe.
- Can I get repeat sales within my niche? Most business owners don’t make a living on a single product. You’ll be ahead of the curve if you choose a niche where multiple products can be created and sold to repeat customers. Selling a happy customer on another quality product in the same niche is almost always easier and less costly than finding a brand new customer. Build your business on repeat (back-end) sales.
- When my prospects are looking to buy a product like mine, where do they go? Understanding the places typical niche participants shop is important. It helps the business owner to focus advertising and it opens the door to knowing how best to make an offer that will work. Observe the best competition. Look for the authority sites in your marketplace.
- What are typical customers in the niche willing to spend on a product like mine? Pricing decisions can be very important to a business. I think the best approach is to understand the price points in the niche that are now working and then test and track price points for your own product before you roll it out in a major way. You can always ramp up marketing, but you should only do that after you understand where the best pricing points for your niche rest.
- How much support are my perfect customers going to need? Support requests for a solo business owner can get to be overwhelming. Time is money and if you get an avalanche of support inquiries it’s going to mean a lot of your day is taken in answering phone calls and emails. Many folks are lazy (or lack confidence in their own ability to figure something out) and will pick up the phone to get help even if simple, clear and plain instructions are sent with the product.
- Are my perfect customers candidates for a community? By that I mean, are they the type of people that like to get together and interact? If so, you have a perfect niche for a forum, a subscription or membership site, or even physical or webinar events. People like to meet and interact with like-minded enthusiasts. When I think about this phenomenon, the Harley Davidson brand comes to mind. Folks that buy Harleys seem to want to get together. The product brand is recognized and esteemed. Business owners can create a lot of recurring revenue if they can enhance the brand’s user experience and provide a community platform or infrastructure for their customers.
- Will the market prospects for my product or service also be candidates for another unrelated-niche? If so, a business owner can capitalize on affiliate offers in that other niche. In addition, there are joint ventures and cross-promoting that can generate a lot of new leads and additional revenue. Just as one example, a business owner with a bridal product might decide that brides are often candidates for printers (announcements), photographers (wedding pictures), and soon, baby supplies. All of these businesses could be potential partners in sharing leads, cross-promoted product offerings, and customer back end products.
- Finally, does my market share product or web site information? Certain kinds of businesses attract customers that tend to be social. If this is the case with your product, the use of social media in your marketing can be a huge advantage. Word of mouth advertising is very effective and if your customers have a great experience with your business and share their feelings about it with their friends, you are going to reap nice benefits in your business.
There you have it: fifteen questions to ask and resolve in order to better understand and analyze the potential of your marketplace for your online business. Initial market research is ignored by many entrepreneurs. Before you decide on a product to sell , or a web site to create, or even the business model you’re going to employ, you need to research the marketplace. It makes creating a profitable and lasting business so much easier and legitimate!
To your online business success!
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