Not Your Traditional Gift Basket

With all the competition in the gift basket industry, customers are looking for value and something different when making  a purchase more than ever before.  Sending a gift is still an accepted way to express feelings–regardless the occasion.  But that gift has to be more than just an ordinary gift.  That gift has to be special.  It has to speak louder than words.

Our customers have all sorts of options for gifts.  They don’t have to send a gift basket.  They can send flowers, a gift card, a book, a cake, cookies, or any number of other things instead of a gift basket.  If all you offer is a traditional gift basket, you may be left behind.

I can hear you now.  “But I don’t want to have to carry a lot of gift inventory.  This box of cookies that I bought can be used in any gift basket that I create.  Buying more stuff just isn’t practical with today’s economic downturn.”

All of that is true.  But you are a CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR, aren’t you?  If not, stay in touch with this blog.  Follow its suggestions, and you will become one.

Creative Entrepreneurs think outside the box–and even outside the container.

Let’s start with the box.  We use lots of themed gift boxes in this business.  It’s how you use them that can make all the difference.  You’ll find the Boxco Doctor’s Bag box on just about every gift basket website.  But look at how it’s used.  Some people theme it with Dr. Feelgood.  Others fill it with cookies.  There are those who incorporate a teddy bear.  It can be used for a Get Well gift, a gift to welcome a new doctor to the hospital, a gift to say “Thank You for Being a Great Doctor and Taking Such Good Care Of Me”.   But really thinking outside of the box, it could be used as a housewarming gift filled with move-in necessities and called “Doctor Welcome to the Rescue.”

capTake a look at all those Boxco gift boxes that you have on your shelves.  Put on that Creative Entrepreneur thinking cap and think of other new and exciting uses for them.  In other words, think outside the box!”

Now, let’s take that box of cookies that you bought because it could fit in any gift basket.  Is your Creative Entrepreneur thinking cap still on?  What can you do differently with it?  How can you make it an inexpensive gift of it’s own?  There’s wrapping paper, labels, gift containers and more that can be used.

I could give you suggestions but I’m not the only Creative Entrepreneur online.  You have to be one too!  My purpose is to guide you to the new sparkling, clear water.  Now it’s up to you whether you drink or go back to that comfortable, familiar old watering hole.

So think outside that box and suggest some ideas that you came up with when you put on your Creative Entrepreneur Thinking Cap!  Share your thoughts by adding a comment.

Buy a Franchise or Start Your Own Business?

Why an Indie Business?

I heard on public radio a few days ago that defaults on SBA guaranteed loans to franchisees rose more than 50% last year.  One in 10 franchises closed their doors. Many businesses that are not franchises will fail as well.

I mention franchises because they supposedly have an edge over independently owned businesses. When you buy a franchise, you buy an established brand and a business and marketing model that has proven to be successful.You get the resources and suppliers. You get the advertising slicks that all you have to do is fill in your local info and send them to the local media.

The problem with most—both franchises and independent businesses — isn’t just the economy, but it’s really more the mistakes they’ve made from the day they opened their doors. The economy is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We’ll talk about some of these mistakes in a later post. But also during depressions and economic downturns, new independent businesses that will later become franchises are begun. They don’t start as a huge business with all the resources they need to get established. They start out just as you are.

McDonalds is one example.  It started as a small local business in a depressed economy.  It was grown into a huge franchise much later.

Independent  businesses have advantages over franchises that are rarely mentioned. A franchisee trades dollars for a business model.

BUT YOU:

  • You begin with an idea that you’re enthusiastic about.
  • You do your research and learn whatever skills you don’t know.
  • You locate your own suppliers and talk to those suppliers about the particular niche you’ve chosen
  • You learn from the ground up.
  • You create your business plan based on what your vision is for your business and what money you have to put into it.
  • In the end, Your business isn’t a replica of one in San Jose, CA or Tampa FL.
  • Your business is unique.

As a result, when you talk about your business you understand it.  You’re enthusiastic.  And, if you’ve done your research right, you’ve selected the proper business model, the best location for your business (whether it’s in rented real estate or is home based) and you know what to expect from your business.  You are your business and your decisions will determine its success or failure.

Customers Are Your Business!

Most businesses accept loss of customers as a fact of life — a cost of doing business. But it costs much more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one.  If you can increase your customer-keeping rate by as little as 10%, you can increase your long-term revenues by more than 50%.  An amazing increase in income, if you think about it.

One of the reasons for this is that it costs five to 10 times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to sell products and services to an existing customer.  Once you’ve acquired a customer, you no longer have to convince them that you’re the company to buy from.  Your primary goal is to let them know how much you appreciate their business.

I read somewhere that a jeweler once said, “If I lose the diamonds, the insurance company will pay for them.  But if I lose my customers, I’m out of business.”

Something to always keep in the front of your mind is:   A business only has two functions: to serve its customers better than anyone else and to make a profit. If your business fails in either function for any length of time, it will fail.  This is true in boom times and in depressed times.

Why do customers leave or buy once and never again?

A consumer Services Institute study showed that:

  • 1% die
  • 3% move away
  • 5% buy from friends instead of from you
  • 9% prefer the competition
  • 14% judge your business by a bad encounter
  • 68% leave not because of anything you did.  They’re not angry or dissatisfied with you.  They left because they thought you didn’t care about them.  You didn’t make them feel special.

The solution is simple — Treat all of your customers like they’re special.  This is called Relationship Marketing and is something we’ll discuss in more detail in later posts.  But basically the secret to Relationship Marketing is simply having  Regard
Respect
Admiration
And Appreciation for your customers
And, most important of all, letting them know that you do!

Keep Your Business Nimble

Jack is Nimble - Jack is quick!
Jack is Nimble – Jack is quick!

One of the biggest benefits that we, as micro business owners, have over large businesses is the ability to be flexible and to change quickly.  We can respond to market changes and trends.

We can change something, test it to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, change it again.

If you’re an online business, as I am, you can make changes daily on your webpages.  If you get a great price on something or a new item comes in, you can tell your customers about it immediately on your website or by sending out an email message.

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth tells us that “the difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively, while everyone else is created by their lives, passively waiting to see where life takes them next.  The difference between the two is the difference between living fully and just existing.”

The same statement can be applied to our businesses.  We can wait as the economy and our customers determine where we’ll go next or we can get off our duff and take charge.  We can exist or grow our business to its maximum capacity.

Regardless of what kind of business you’re in, there are only four ways to grow that business:

  1. Get new customers
  2. Increase the dollar amount per transaction
  3. Increase the number of transactions per customer
  4. Increase the length of time your customer stays loyal to you.

One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make is focusing their entire energy on getting new customers.  Not only does this cost more than keeping existing customers, but it takes more effort because you have to be constantly looking for new ones to replace the ones you lose.

The other three options depend on your staying in touch with your customers on a regular basis and ALSO on continuing to think of reasons for that customer to buy from you either more often or spend more when they do buy.  Creating systems (something I’ll discuss in a later post) makes it much easier to stay on top of this and make it work effectively for you.

For example, you sell a baby gift.  Contact the sender 11 months later and suggest sending a one-year-birthday gift.  Your Realtor customer orders a closing gift.  Suggest that they stay in touch with their customers (and get those listings and referrals) by sending a six-months gift and a one-year-anniversary gift.

Add-on gifts can increase the dollar amount for a transaction.  Think outside the box and look for new and different products that they “simply can’t resist.”  Or how about creating a Costumed Delivery for an extra charge.  A jolly leprecon could deliver a St. Patty’s gift.  Santa or one of his elves could make those Christmas deliveries.  Or, if you’re one of the fortunate few who can carry a tune (and that’s not me!), provide a singing delivery service.

Being a micro-business is what enables us to be Creative Gift Entrepreneurs.  So put on your creative thinking cap and think of some ideas that would enable you to be nimble and test some new and different marketing ideas.  And while you’re at it, share some of those ideas with us.  Just click on “comment” below and share.

Chasing Dreams or Creating A Lasting Business?

butterflynet1An article, written by Marilyn Gardner of The Christian Science Monitor, was reprinted in my local newspaper.  It talked about people, who are laid off from their jobs and are unable to find new ones, deciding to start their own business.

Some of the comments and suggestions in the article apply to anyone who is attempting to start a new business, whether gift related or not.  Even for those of us already in business, there are “one minute wisdoms” that should make all of us think.  Some of these are:

  • Few people understand the dynamics and challenges of operating their own business.  There is much to learn and mistakes can be expensive or even put you out of business.
  • People start a business because they want the freedom of coming and going as they please.  Wrong.  You’ll put in more time than ever.
  • If you’ve been used to a steady paycheck, you must change from having an employee mentality to an entrepreneurial mindset.  You are the one who is going to be telling you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.  Your decisions will determine how much profit you end up with to pay yourself.
  • Becoming profitable is usually a slow process.  Of course, there are businesses that are profitable right out the door. But these are usually experienced people who understand the dynamics of building a business and are willing to put in the many hours required to make it happen.
  • Deciding to go into business as a last resort is a bad reason.  A good reason for starting a business is “this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
  • 80% of businesses fail before Year Five and 96% fail before Year 10. Will yours be one of these statistics?
  • One of the basic first steps is to define what business you are really in, who your customers are, how you’ll reach those customers, and how large your target market is.  It’s not a case of “build a business and they will come.”
  • Analyze your competitors–and really understand who they are.  Determine what their strengths and weaknesses are.  And then determine what yours are and how you can use their weaknesses and your strengths to become the best in your market.
  • During an economic downturn, such as the one we are currently in, will people buy your products?  Is your product something they need or a product that they can do without.  Be aware, however, that people will often spend money on things that will make themselves “feel good” even in a down economy and when they may not be able to afford it.  That’s human nature.
  • Sacrifices in your lifestyle, personal budgets, and time will most likely be necessary.  If you’re totally dependent on the income from your business, it’s more important than ever to make sure that income will be there.  If not, are you willing to live a simpler lifestyle and do without some of the things you are used to.

    A lot of young mothers start a business so that they can be with their children more and then discover that their business is eating into all the time they had to spend with the kids before plus even more time.

All too often, people fall in love with an idea or even with the idea of owning their own business and don’t really understand what is required for success.  They fail to project their cash flow and expenses and are frequently under capitalized.  They have a poor financial understanding of the potential business.  You have to understand the financial needs in order to put together a business feasibility plan that works.  If you are supporting yourself with your business, you have to make sure that the income will be adequate to cover your personal needs as well.

You must be passionate about your business idea but you must also be realistic.  Doing the necessary research, writing a good business plan and then reviewing it and making changes as the business changes, and having adquate financial resources can make all the difference between chasing a dream and creating a lasting business success.