Running an independent business is like having a child. The birthing process for a business is as strenuous as any labor I have experienced. Once born, a child requires 24/7 care, just as a business does. And like a business, while our day-to-day duties as parents change as the child matures, our responsibility is always there.
It’s often said about raising children that it takes a village. This is because a parent by him/herself can’t possibly know everything or have every answer. I believe the same holds true for your business.
Many businesses dedicate time to writing a newsletter, sending emails, attending to social media, and blogging. This takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to create all these forms of customer interaction. Personally, I do not blog or tweet. I barely have time to routinely add to my store’s Facebook account. However, I make time to see what others are doing in these areas and glean ideas and information from their labors.
An abundance of blogs, newsletters, social media, and websites is available these days. You could spend hours just reading what other people are doing and get inspiration for how you can adapt some of those ideas to your business. The internet offers small business owners a plethora of opportunities to gather knowledge, learn techniques, and come up with creative strategies to grow their businesses.
Knowing where to look makes the biggest difference in the time you spend and the return on that investment. Broadening your internet horizons can bring you great opportunities for growing your business, no matter what developmental stage you find yourself in.
By using the bookmark function found on most Web browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox), you can keep a ready file of store websites that you have visited, found memorable for some reason, and might reference in the future. I constantly refer to other store websites to see how they present their material, what their bestsellers are, and the variety of workshops they offer. I often get ideas on events that might work for my area and programs that would interest my customers. Be sure to bookmark any stores you admire or that you have heard about through a trade show or magazine.
I find interesting sites through the recommendation of others, online advertisements, Google searches, or magazine articles. I also have begun tracking several “mainstream” independent stores—even those with an entirely different product mix—to find new possibilities for promotion and merchandise. For example, while I don’t need to know about pet supplies, I have seen a few promotions offered by a pet store that I’ve been able to adapt to my business. So cast a wide net. You never know when you might find just the idea or solution you’ve been looking for.
Online newsletters have just about put print newsletters into the history books. Some businesses produce a full-fledged newsletter on a regular schedule, while others simply use periodic email notices for sales, special events, and updates. Most of the websites you have found attractive, interesting, or just plain cool will have a newsletter. One of the goals of my website is to get people to join our customer list and receive my newsletter. This is one of the major vehicles for building my customer base.
Sign up for store newsletters and announcements from websites you have earmarked as being interesting. Be sure to subscribe to other New Age store newsletters. It is always helpful to see what others are doing. Set up a special email account just for this correspondence so your inbox isn’t overrun with information. You can then read the correspondence at your leisure. Anything I find interesting enough to want to remember or possibly use myself I copy into a Word document that I can easily reference.
I receive newsletters from many different types of businesses, not just retail stores. Companies that offer marketing resources are probably the best source of information on how to grow your business. I subscribe to several online marketing newsletters, and it’s exciting when I see a new one in my inbox because there is usually at least one idea that can be adapted to my business. I also find a lot of food for thought about retail business in general, which is perfect fodder for future events and promotions.
Warning: Many marketing newsletters serve as a vehicle for the writer to sell their material. That’s how they make a living. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take what’s useful and throw out the rest. Many newsletters do a mixture of both information and selling. You will recognize the ones with enough educational material to weed through the occasional sales pitch.
Many wholesale companies and rep groups are producing newsletters that contain marvelous information about products, merchandising, and marketing. Probably the best one available right now is OneCoast. Their newsletter always offers great advice for any kind of retail store, including New Age and conscious-living stores. They also have several advisors who have their own websites and newsletters, which becomes a way to add to your core list of material.
Blogs are the most recent addition to the list of reading I am doing for my business. I have not started a blog yet because I do not have the time to keep it updated with new material. The best blogs have consistent entries and are short, sweet, and to the point. How do you find good ones to check out? Often, you’ll find them mentioned on websites and more so through social media. Many bloggers announce a new entry on their Facebook or Twitter pages.
Blogs tend to be a little more personal in nature but still can give insights and ideas about running a business. On several occasions, a blog entry has kept me going another day. People will often share their struggles as well as their triumphs in a blog, and it is comforting to know other business owners are going through situations similar to your own.
I have found a number of wonderful retail businesses through friends on Facebook. Check the accounts of people who are friends of your business and see what other businesses they “like.” This is a wonderful learning experience to see what, besides your store, your customers are interested in, and it can lead you to sites you didn’t know about.
I have come to see the amount of time I spend looking at websites and reading newsletters, blogs, and Facebook updates as a form of continuing education. Many professions require their members to maintain their experience by attending workshops and seminars. This accumulation of continuing education is a non-negotiable standard. Why should retail not have the same requirements? Coming up with a regular schedule for reading websites, newsletters, and blogs will give you the education and support to grow your business beyond your wildest dreams.
With services such as Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) and iContact (www.icontact.com), an e-newsletter could not be easier to produce. For a low monthly fee (starting around $9), you can design your newsletter with easy-to-use templates and send the emails to your subscriber list. Most services base their rates on the number of subscribers, so be sure to sign up for a plan that fits your needs.
Retail store sites
Marketing websites (which lead to newsletters and blogs)
First published in Vol. 25 No. 1 of Retailing Insight. © 2011 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.