Where Did Your Customers Go?

Marketing researchers have obsessed over customer loyalty for ages. Large corporations have devised elaborate customer loyalty programs. But things are changing, quickly. Nowadays, customer loyalty is slipping through the fingers of corporations. I sifted through several market research studies on loyalty and brand loyalty. I concluded that when it comes to keeping customers loyal, there is no one magic bullet or best practice.

Here’s an example of a customer (me) going from loyal to disloyal. I used to be a loyal customer of United Airlines. I attained the status of Premier Executive, got all the perks, and enjoyed life in business class. Then Southwest entered my local market. Cheap fares, no frills, easy to book. I had reservations (is there a pun somewhere here?) about the cattle-car feeling at Southwest and its policy of using a first-come, first-served seat selection process. Before I switched, I considered what it meant to me to give up my status on United and hop on an all-steerage airline.

When I started writing this piece, I realized I was Mr. New Consumer. I wanted more for less. Maybe Southwest would give me more for less. Let’s see, there were more Southwest flights available at all three of my local airports. Not only were there more flights, but Southwest also flew to more places than United.

Fares were considerably cheaper. To make matters worse with United, I became skeptical when United started limiting perks for frequent flyers. And, I was more doubtful about the future of this airline when United merged with Continental Airlines. I started to see tangible value by flying Southwest. I decided to switch from United to Southwest. I thought I made a good decision.

To complicate matters about customer loyalty, I know that by using one of my credit cards, I could use points accrued from making purchases on my credit card to pay for airfares, hotels, gas, or airline baggage fees. For example, there are credit cards that earn about 2 percent rewards per $1 spent when you redeem for travel. Credit card customers acquire 40,000 (or some other amount) bonus miles when they charge $3,000 worth of purchases within a given time period. This translates into about $400 in travel statement credit. The beauty of using this type of credit card is you are not limited to using any one airline.

 

What did I do? I closed out my old credit card, signed up for this new one, and started accruing points. So much for being a loyal credit card customer. Now I could pay for my Southwest trips using points from my credit card, and get great fares, too.

 

A Bit of Recent History

The story doesn’t stop here. In 2008, Airbnb bursts on the scene. You all know Airbnb. According to its website:

“Airbnb is a community marketplace where guests can book spaces from hosts, connecting people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.”

Through their experiences on Airbnb, guests and hosts build real connections with real people from all over the globe.

Airbnb has taken the idea of renting rooms to a whole new level. Prior to booking your room, you can read customer reviews as well as read what the property owners say about past renters.

The arrival of Airbnb type services brought up a key fact about loyalty. Customers now rely more on information about hotels from other customers rather than from the hotel’s advertising.

There goes loyalty down the drain

According to a recent study, there has been a drop in customer’s loyalty to hotel brands. Only 8 percent of those polled who stay in hotels said they always book

at the same hotel chain. Two reasons for this mass defection might be consumers can quickly find cheaper hotel prices and customer reviews on websites such as Trip Advisor, Kayak, and Trivago. Who wouldn’t want to pay less for the same or better quality hotel room? Remember today’s customer demands high quality at reasonable prices.

 

Customers are on high-alert, searching for the best value for their money. Kiss loyalty goodbye.

 

Now back to the beleaguered airlines. The market research firm Colloquy found “54 percent of U.S. airline loyalty-program members
are ‘unhappy’ with their reward options”. And, 48 percent say they’ve been “frustrated” by the reward redemption process.

 

Let’s look at the chronology of this story.

  • First, I defected from United to Southwest
  • After that, I used up all of my hotel points
  • Then, I applied my credit card points to pay for hotels or airfares
  • Finally, I switched to using Airbnb properties and paying for it with points from my credit card.

When I seriously began to rely on other people’s reviews, I became more and more aware of the impact other customers had on my purchasing decisions. The customer’s needs were no longer driven by loyalty, but by quality and value.

Is Your Web Content Compelling?

Feature-Oriented Content

Way back in the early days, advertisers would go to great lengths to tout the features of their product or service. Their goal was to convince you that the quality of their product or service was superior. Think of how excited you got when you read the product’s promotional literature. It probably sounded like a technical owner’s manual. An owner’s manual tells you about the details of a product.

Feature-oriented language reminds me of the old television show, Dragnet, where the police would say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. Features = facts. Feature-oriented content is telling someone about something. Not very convincing, in fact, it’s downright boring. Feature-oriented content is what’s known as ‘tell’ content. “Let me tell you about X, Y and X features of my product of my service. Where’s the compelling sales message?

Benefit-Oriented Content

Towards the end of the early years, some creative advertising writer thought that advertising messages should focus, not only on the features of a product, but, also on the benefits of the product they are selling. And so, benefit-oriented content came flying in to the mainstream. Benefit-oriented content answers the question, “What’s in it for me, the customer?” Benefit-oriented content sells, not tells. This type of content convinces customers that your product or service will help them. Customers want to know what your product or service can do for them.

Use benefit-oriented content on your website, brochure, or any other printed material. Start with a short headline. Try to use less than seven words in the headline. Next, write a few sentences of introductory content followed by a bulleted list of benefits. Use as few bullets as possible in order to keep your message clear and concise. Always put a call-for-action on the bottom such as Call Me, Email Me, Go To My Website, etc. Don’t use gratuitous graphics or stale free clip art.

Here’s an example of how features can be turned into benefits. This example is taken from Varidesk’s (the manufacturer of stand-up work desks) promotional content I found on their website.

Example of Promotional Content Used by Manufacturer of Stand-Up Desks

FeatureBenefit to Customer
Patented two-handle design coupled with a spring-assisted boost-enabled lifting mechanismMakes moving from sitting to standing quick and easy
Desk works either standing or sittingPerfect way to increase energy, your health, and productivity
No hardware needed to secure desk to workstationEasy to install

The Benefits column definitely answers the question, “What’s in it for me”.

Now it’s your turn. Think about your business. In the left column, list three features of your product or service. On the corresponding right column, turn each feature into a benefit.

What Product or Service Do I Sell?

Feature                                                                              Benefit to Customer
1.1.
2.2.
3.3.

 Now that you’re comfortable features into benefits, get to work on re-writing all your promotional content.

What’s Your Vision for Your Business?

vision 2

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.—Joel A. Barker

Have you ever met an entrepreneur who has a great idea for a business and wants desperately to tell you about it? Did you feel the entrepreneur’s sense of excitement and passion? Did the entrepreneur paint a colorful picture of his or her idea? Did you get swept up in the moment? Did you find yourself telling others about what this entrepreneur said? Do you wish you would feel this way?

Creating Your Vision

The dictionary defines a vision as the “act or power of anticipating what will or may come to be”. Your goal is not to predict the future, but to set your eyes on the prize. You can create and recreate your vision at any time, from the embryonic stage to being up and running.

Let’s see what Deepak Chopra has to say in his book The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles:

Consciousness orchestrates its activity in response to both attention and intention. Whatever you put your attention on becomes energized. Whatever you take your attention away from dwindles. On the other hand, intention is the key to transformation, as we have seen. So, you could say that attention activates the energy field, and intention activates the information field, which causes transformation.

Deepak believes energy follows attention. In other words, what you focus on can become your reality. If you put your vision out there into the universe (it might be a bit extreme, but it does make a point), you’ll have a good chance of making your vision happen. If you set your intention to work toward your vision, your chances of success increase.

Your vision:

  • Is intangible
  • Is intentional
  • Serves as a motivational force
  • Expresses your passion
  • Is a guide for planning your business objectives.

Let’s go deeper. Your vision, when written, serves as a constant reminder of where you’re going. It should be action-oriented and worded in such a way, so there is room for change. You should keep your potential customer or client in the front of your mind when creating a vision. After all, isn’t your business about providing a product or service that will satisfy a customer or client need?

The elegant aspect of a vision is that while you are crafting it, you are painting a mental picture based on your emotions (passion) and your intellect (your business idea). 
The result is a written statement about your dream for your business.

Can you keep your ambitious goal in mind and at the same time focus on concrete, tangible outcomes? I believe this is the key to success. You set a path and follow it. The path might be bumpy, with dangerous curves, hills, and dead ends, but in the end, you’ll get what you want – a successful business based on your values and your unique skills and abilities. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of your vision. There are many tempting distractions out there.

Your vision is not about the path, it’s about where the path takes you. It’s all about discovering your passion and pursuing it. In times of doubt, you can revisit your goal, and hopefully feel encouraged.

Answer the following questions and you’ll be on your way to create your vision.

  1. What is my highest dream or vision for my business?
  2. What do I wish for the most?
  3. What can I put into words that I have never put into words before?
  4. What am I willing to do to make my vision come true?
  5. What resources do I need to use on the way to achieving my vision?

Good luck and stay focused.

House of Cards?

house-of-cards

QUICK QUIZ

Question 1: Right now, how many of your business cards do you have in your wallet, purse, or brief case? If you have less than five, hurry up and put more in your wallet, purse, or briefcase. Or, have more printed.

Question 2: How many of your business cards do you have laying around your house or office? If you have fewer than twenty-five, go online now and order more.

Question 3: YES or NO. 
I have up-to-date business cards. If you answered No, you know what to do.

So, what’s the big deal about business cards? Along with having a prepared elevator speech, you should always have up-to-date business cards on hand. And, here’s an example of why.

Recently, I attended a networking event. I met a lawyer who specializes in working with small business owners on legal matters. He was the perfect referral source for me. I wanted to follow up with him and at the end of our brief conversation, I asked him for his business card. He fished through his wallet and found a crumpled up, dog-eared business card. He took out the card and said, “Oh, my phone number changed, and so did my email address”. He scribbled the new contact information on the back of his card and handed it to me. I then thought twice about contacting him. There must be other lawyers with his specialty who don’t have crumpled, outdated business cards. I did not contact him.

You know what they say about first impressions. Is this the kind of first impression you want to make?

You can drive yourself crazy reading articles on the Internet about what to include or exclude on your business card, whether to purchase or use free templates, which fonts to use, etc.

 6 tips for creating a legible and succinct business card

  1. Put your contact information on one side only.
  2. Use one or maybe two different fonts. If your customers are over the age of 50, pump up the size of the font.
  3. Put the least amount of contact information on your card. Do you need to put your landline, cell, fax, email address, mailing address, website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram logos on the card? Is it necessary to put an inspirational phrase on the card? Less is more.
  4. Make sure any graphic you use does not overshadow your contact information.
  5. Even though you get price discounts when you order larger quantities of cards, buy small quantities. You never know when your contact information might change.
  6. Before you go ahead and print your business cards, have a friend look it over. You’ll be surprised at, in the rush to print the card, glaring typos are made.

If you have any doubts about what your card should say and how it should look, check out other people’s cards. You might get some good ideas.

Top Ten Words & Phrases to Avoid

words

Here’s my Top Ten Words and Phrases to Avoid when writing anything. In my opinion, these words and phrases hold little or no meaning to the reader. I notice when some people write (especially their resume or bio), they tend to use these words. It seems like the writer can’t concretely articulate their message, so they use these words and phrases as a default. This reminds me of the infamous words of Curley from the Three Stooges, who profoundly stated, “I’m tryin’ to think, but nuttin’s happening!”

I have to admit I use some of these words or phrases, some of the time. Nobody’s perfect.

The Top Ten Words and Phrases to Avoid are not jargon words. Jargon is defined as “special words or expressions used by a particular profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.” Jargon is “technical talk.” The use of jargon has been adequately covered in my two treatises Why I Hate Jargon in 69 Words and Here Comes the Jargon Police.

Here’s my Top Ten Words and Phrases to Avoid in no particular order:

  1. Behavior
  2. Opportunity
  3. Concern
  4. Utilize
  5. In-depth knowledge
  6. Extensive experience
  7. Process
  8. Heavily involved
  9. Move forward
  10. Wide variety

 How are you going to eliminate using all or some of these words or phrases?

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is there one particular word or phrase I use when I can’t think of anything specific?
  2. Are there other words or phrases I can substitute?

Now you’re aware of these words and phrases, you can take the opportunity, using your extensive experience and in depth knowledge to move forward while utilizing a wide variety of alternative words and phrases. Oops, look what I did!

Why I Hate Jargon in 69 Words

jargon visual

Why I hate jargon:

“This matter of language is important. Professional jargon –on Wall Street, in humanities departments, in government offices-can be a fence raised to keep out the uninitiated and permit those within it to persist in the belief that what they do is too hard, too complex, to be questioned. Jargon acts not only to euphemize but to license, setting insiders against outsides and giving the flimsiest notions a scientific aura.”

From Can You Keep a Secret by George Packer, The New Yorker, March 17, 2016

What do you think?

Here Comes The Jargon Police

PLEASE NOTE

In order to make the most out of reading this post,  you’ll want to download and print it.

Why? I’ve included a fun exercise for you, so you’ll want to write down your answers.

Sometimes, I take on the role of a Jargon Police Officer. In this formidable position, I monitor my client’s and workshop participant’s use of jargon. Jargon includes all of the special words or expressions that are unique to a business, profession, or group and are difficult for others to understand. Jargon is “technical talk”.

I am especially on guard when my marketing workshop participants use jargon:

  • On their website
  • On printed promotional or educational literature
  • When they give an elevator speech to a potential customer or referrer

When you use jargon, there is a chance that the person listening to you will not understand what you are saying. And chances are, that person is too polite to ask you, “What are you talking about?” This is not a good way to make a first, second or third impression.

However, there might be times when you want to use jargon. Whether you’re talking ‘shop’ with a colleague or giving a presentation to your peers, using jargon and technical terms makes sense. But, it’s still best to keep the use of jargon to a minimum, no matter what type of situation you’re in.

At a local networking event, I overheard (eavesdropped) a conversation between a psychotherapist and a lawyer. It seemed that the lawyer might have clients with emotional or relationship problems. Perfect match? Not quite. The therapist said to the lawyer, “I provide a solution-focused approach in counseling and therapy, drawing from a variety of tools such as hypnosis, NLP, EFT and EMDR”. The lawyer looked perplexed. He probably said to himself, “What the hell is this person talking about?” The jargon police would have had a field day with this therapist. I restrained myself and walked away.

jargon visual

Here’s the problem with jargon. We’ll use the psychotherapist talking to the lawyer as an example. As soon as the psychotherapist blurted out “…hypnosis, NLP, EFT, and EMDR”, the conversation shifted from talking about the needs of the lawyer…which turned the conversation into didactic teaching mode (the therapist would explain each of these therapeutic techniques), resulting in making the ‘conversation’ all about the therapist. This is not good.

When building a business relationship, it’s not all about you; it’s about making a connection with your customer by focusing on their needs. This therapist was too busy explaining what therapeutic methods she used and never made a personal connection with the lawyer.

As you move deeper into a conversation, and when the other person asks more probing questions, the chances of slipping into jargon mode are much greater.

Time to Test Your Use of Jargon

Here’s a chance to eliminate jargon from your vocabulary when talking to prospective or current customers.

Example of Jargon Used by a Management Consultant

 Read the example below of how to substitute common words or phrases for jargon. This example shows how easy it is to eliminate jargon from a management consultant’s vocabulary.

Here are 5 jargon words or phrases unique to a management consultant’s industry or business. Substitute a non-technical, common word or phrase for each jargon word or phrase from the left column.
Brand equityName recognition that might result in increased sales
Out of the boxCreative thinking
Above boardTo be honest and open
Scope creepA project that expands beyond it’s original goal
Pain pointA critical consumer need

 

Your Jargon Buster Exercise

List 5 jargon words or phrases unique to your business or industryTake each word or phrase from the left column and substitute a non-technical, common word or phase
1.
2
3.
4.
5.

 

What You Learned

List three things you learned from the Jargon Buster Exercise:

  1. _______________________________________________________________
  2. _______________________________________________________________
  3. _______________________________________________________________

Three Key Points To Know About Using Jargon

  1. There is a time and place to use jargon. When you’re talking ‘shop’ with a colleague or giving a presentation to your peers, using jargon and technical terms makes sense.
  2. A potential customer can’t get to know you if you’re conversation is riddled with jargon.
  3. Check your website, promotional literature for jargon and change the jargon to common words or phrases.

How to Destroy a Business Relationship: Taking Things Personally – Part 2

explosion-147909_640

I had an appointment with a new coaching client at 1:00 p.m. at my office. The client confirmed his appointment via email the day before. At 1:00 p.m. he was not there; at 1:15 p.m. he was not there. At 1:25 p.m. I called his cell phone. The call went directly into voice mail. By the way, this incident took place before the advent of text messaging.

I said to myself, “This guy is not coming. What did I say to him that would make him change his mind about meeting me? I ruminated about all possible things I said to turn him off. Emotionally, I beat myself up good.

So, what happened next? To my surprise, he arrived at 1:30 p.m. I wrote down the wrong time in my calendar. I was exhausted after the session and my exhaustion was not based on what we accomplished. I was quick to blame myself for things that had nothing to do with me.

If you read self-help books that give advice on how not to take things personally, the usual clichéd suggestion is: “Don’t take things personally!” This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. How do you do that? We’re not computers that can be instantaneously switched off so we don’t take things personally.

I’m not suggesting that you drop everything and make an appointment with a psychotherapist to explore why you take things personally. I am suggesting you consider the following:

  1. Acknowledge that some part of you does take things personally. A part of you – not all of you. This part of you is not all encompassing.
  1. The part of you that takes things personally is not necessarily bad. It’s not a deficit in your personality.
  1. There are other parts of you that are confident, compassionate, and accepting. Keep these parts in mind.

For more tips on how to build profitable business relationships, Click HERE

Tale of Two Clothiers

clothesIt was the best of times for Beth. And, it was the best of times for Allie and Jenny. Two different retailer clothiers with two different approaches to marketing their business. Both in the start-up phase. Both on their way to becoming successful. Beth, Allie, and Jenny are in their late twenties. Beth is a mother of three and Allie and Jenny are in a long-term relationship. This is the story of their fledgling businesses.

First, a little background about Beth. Beth and her husband, Adam, lived in a New York City suburb. When Adam was offered a job in the Washington, D.C. area, they jumped at the opportunity and moved. At that time, Beth was working as a personal shopper at a top New York City department store. Eight years earlier, Beth attended fashion design school. She had the experience and credentials needed to succeed in business.

“If I don’t do it, nobody else will.”

When Beth first moved to the Washington, DC area, she looked at the demographic profile of her community and found the population of young couples was growing at a rate above the national average. In her community, there were no clothing stores for women in their 20s and 30s to buy, as Beth put it, “spunky modest clothes”. She knew this group of women cared how they looked. She was referring to Jewish women who want to dress modestly yet stylish.

Beth thought there might be a market for spunky modest clothes for women. So, she instinctively did what any good marketer would do. She reached out and asked questions. Beth asked a number of young women what problems they have finding stylish modest clothing. She asked what kinds of clothing they would like based on their religious standards. The answers were all the same. There was no place to get this type of clothing. Then she asked a more specific question regarding what type of apparel they couldn’t find. The answers were again consistent. They wanted tops, skirts, and dresses. And, reasonable prices. Beth knew price would be a key factor in determining whether women would purchase her clothes. The women also said the clothes found in department stores and online were not modest enough.

Beth took a deep breath and announced to Adam, “If I don’t do it, nobody else will”. And that’s how Beth started.

Beth made the decision to open a “store” based on what she knew, what she heard, and what was missing in the market. Beth found a gap and was going to fill it. Her store would be in the basement of her house. She applied and got a wholesaler business license. She was officially in business. The first agenda of business for Beth was to attend a fashion trade show in NewYork City. She knew exactly what types of clothing her customers would buy. She carefully sifted through the clothing designer’s merchandise and found just what she was looking for.

“I don’t believe this can happen.”

That’s what Adam said when the first box of clothing arrived on their doorstep. Boy, was he wrong. She placed her order for one large box of clothes. Three weeks later, she purchased seven boxes.

Beth’s first customer saw Beth’s bare bones Facebook page. Beth does not remember how the customer found her on Facebook. The customer told Beth she never heard of Beth’s store but, “really liked her clothes”. When Beth checked her Facebook page, she found most of her friends were from the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.

Beth knew enough about her customers’ shopping behavior that she had to:

  • Price her merchandise at least 40 percent below department stores
  • Accept American Express, in addition to the other major credit cards. Beth knew she would be paying higher processing fees and many stores do not accept American Express
  • Make it easy to shop by offering convenient hours as well as the ability to schedule a private appointment
  • She quickly found out that taking American Express was satisfying a critical need for her customers: convenience. Beth made sure to tell her customers, “don’t leave home without it”. This was an important selling point.

Online Strategy – One Step at a Time

Beth was not in a rush to jump into the world of social media to promote her business. She had a basic business Facebook page. She wanted Facebook as her only online advertising vehicle.

Beth decided to hold off on creating a website. She did not want to spread herself too thin. After all, she wanted a lifestyle that would allow her to spend time with her family as well as run a business. To be on the safe side she purchased a domain name.

Keeping it Personal

In Beth’s community, word-of-mouth about anything was a powerful force in terms of influence. One satisfied customer told her friend, who told her friend, etc. What happened? Her primary source of referrals came via word-of-mouth. Beth did not purposely craft a word-of-mouth marketing strategy. Beth was unwittingly creating buzz for her store.

After being in business for six months, Beth was contacted by a group of women who sold jewelry, cosmetics, and other women’s items. They banded together to open a pop-up shop. The location, for this one-day event, which drew more than 100 women was held in one woman’s house. Beth considered this opportunity a success for her. As an added benefit, Beth was able to get the names and email addresses of all of the women who visited the shop.

Pop-up shops are temporary retail spaces. Open for one day or several weeks, they range from selling a single product to hosting a private event. On a bigger scale, think of those stores selling Halloween stuff, which pop up in early October and disappear a few days after Halloween. This particular group of retailers set-up a one night pop-up shop. The organizer of the event took responsibility to promote the event. Beth sold all of her clothes and took orders for more. This was a total marketing success.

Soon after the pop-up event, Beth decided to expand her marketing efforts. She rented a booth at a local fund raising event. She was the only retailer selling stylish clothes. Once again, she was able to sell clothes and expand her reach into the local and surrounding communities.

Beth has taken the concept of providing excellent customer service to a new level. From a marketing perspective, she is building and maintaining relationships. She prides herself on her personal approach to her customers’ needs. She invites customers to her house to try on clothes. She makes every effort for her customers to feel special. Beth constantly exceeds her customers’ expectations. She goes to great lengths to sell eye-catching wrappings. She’s open late in order for her customers to shop after work. Customers can make appointments. Beth has a no-strings attached return policy. According to Beth, this liberal return policy is unheard of in her community.

During the holiday season, Beth sent boxes of chocolate with thank you notes to her top ten customers. This customer appreciation gesture goes a long way in building and maintaining relationships.

Beth decided to do something special for her customers and prospective customers. She set up a backyard event in the early evening at her house. At the event, Beth provided refreshments and soft drinks. She assigned Adam the job of starting and maintaining a fire pit. And, of course, she displayed her latest styles. She sold plenty of clothes that evening. Besides telling her customers, Beth only used her Facebook page to promote the event.

I advised Beth to keep a database of her customers and prospects. Building the database can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet and listing the customers’ name, street address, city, state, zip, email, items purchased, date of all contacts, and how customer found about Beth’s store. I suggested that as her business grows, she might find more categories for her database.

Let’s review Beth’s journey, so far. She:

  • Identified her primary target group
  • Recognized a need
  • Found a way to fill the need
  • Slowly rolled out her marketing program
  • Set up a reward program for her top-tier customers
  • Initially relied on word-of-mouth referrals
    Focused only on Facebook for her online presence

I asked Beth what her marketing plans were for the future. She was straightforward and said:

  • Build a website
  • Open a brick-and-mortar store
  • Expand my reach to cover the entire country

When I asked her what her merchandising strategy would be, she unflinchingly said: I want to expand to a one-stop shop selling maternity clothes, shoes, tights, and accessories. I want my customer to walk out of my store with a complete outfit.

Beth took an old-school approach to promoting her clothing business. She did this in part because the demand for her clothes spread like wild fire via word- of-mouth.

The Other Clothier

Allie, my daughter, and her partner Jenny live in Brooklyn, NY. They both have day jobs. Jenny is a marketing manager for an online marketing research company and Allie works as a fashion photographer at a retail clothing chain.

A bit of history: They like to shop for clothes. On the weekends, they would comb department stores, boutiques, and specialty clothing shops looking for the right look. But when it came time to find the right style and the right size, their shopping experience would fizzled out. They would leave these stores empty handed and sometimes empty hearted.

“If you want something badly enough, you just have to do it yourself.”

One day, while eating brunch in their apartment, Allie blurted out, “We need to work on some kind of creative project”. Jenny was taken aback. “But we have good jobs!” Allie then reminded Jenny about how frustrated they got trying to find clothes they like. The clothes they found were too feminine, too masculine, too boring.

Putting on her marketing hat, Jenny said, “Why not, instead of selling menswear which fit into feminine style and visa versa, we offer styles which are slightly adapted to fit women. They came up with the idea of being a retailer of “contemporary fashion for women seeking clothing that blurs the line of modern masculine and feminine style”.

After talking to their friends, Allie and Jenny realized they weren’t the only ones who were looking for such clothes. Other clothiers were selling this type of clothing but Allie and Jenny wanted their personal touch to be reflected on the clothes they sold.

Crowd Control

In order to get their business up and running, they turned to the Internet and used crowdfunding to finance the initial stages of their business. Crowdfunding is a way to obtain small amounts of money from many people. There are hundreds of crowdfunding platforms. Two of the most popular are Indiegogo.com and Kickstarter.com.

According to Forbes.com:

Each (crowdfunding) campaign is set for a goal of an amount of money and a fixed number of days. Once the project is launched, each day will be counted down and the money raised tallied up for visitors to follow its success. Instead of traditional investors, crowdfunding campaigns are funded by the general public.”

Allie and Jenny’s goal was to raise $10,000 from their crowdfunding campaign to be used to start building their online store. The campaign yielded $12,500. Perks, offered to those who contributed money, ranged from receiving a limited edition tee shirt for a contribution of $30 to a personalized styling session with Allie and Jenny for a contribution of $400.

Online and On Target

How were Allie and Jenny able to raise that amount of money in 34 days? You guessed it, by using social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Buzzfeed, and their existing barebones website. I was surprised to hear Jenny say they didn’t have the time and energy to put into using lots of social media platform.

Allie and Jenny’s Tumblr page features photos that range from their line of clothes to personal photos of Allie and Jenny. After one year in business, their Facebook page amassed more than 3,500 Likes. They Tweeted more than 2,600 times. On Instagram, they posted more than 900 times and have 6,400 followers. They pinned more than 520 times on Pinterest. After an article appeared on a Buzzfeed post that was linked to Allie and Jenny’s Instagram platform, their Instagram followers doubled in just a few days.

I asked Allie and Jenny why they did not use SnapChat. Allie said they like to control the quality of the pictures that appear in public and they cannot do it on SnapChat. Jenny firmly stated teenagers primarily use SnapChat. Teens are not their market.

In terms of generating buzz and capturing email addresses, Pinterest was the least effective platform for them. Allie said Pinterest was a good way for most retailers selling clothing, accessories, and those selling household goods to get business. However, they claimed their market is not active on Pinterest, but is active on Instagram and Tumblr.

Allie and Jenny, as sophisticated marketers, understood that online and social media platforms were not the only way to sell clothes. To introduce their online store to their potential customers, they used social media to promote a runway fashion show in a bar in New York City. They attracted customers and got the media attention they were hoping for. During the first year, they were interviewed by six fashion style blogs and five online fashion news e-zines (online magazines).

Up Close and Personal

The runway fashion show was a big hit. In addition, they rented a table at a one-day local street fair and sold enough clothes to cover the cost of the table rental fee. They were not pleased with the idea of selling at a street fair. They realized most of the shoppers were looking for bargains. Their line of clothes was far from bargain priced.

Allie and Jenny were invited to sell their clothes at a night market – an informal bazaar or street market held at night, usually featuring music and boutique vendors. The cost to rent a table to display their merchandise was $175 a night. They decided to display most of their clothing, but only sold accessories. Allie and Jenny knew that since there was no place to try on the clothes, they’d be better off just selling accessories.

They posted the event on Facebook and sent emails to their list of customers and prospects. More than 400 people attended the event. They made a small profit and more important met face-to-face with their target market.

Allie and Jenny are proud of their website. The feedback from friends and customers has been consistent: it’s bright; it shows off clothing in a clear way. The use of models helped potential customers see what the clothes look like on a person; and, the photography was creative.

Allie and Jenny have two long-term goals for their business. The first goal is to open a brick and mortar store in New York City. The second goal is to design their own line of clothes and sell them wholesale to retail stores. Good luck, Allie and Jenny!

Lessons Learned from Beth, Allie, and Jenny:

  • Beth, Allie and Jenny had a clear vision of what they wanted before they started doing business
  • They started small and slowly increased their product line
  • They had a clear understanding of the purchasing habits of their respective markets and made the buying process as easy as possible. Remember, a key selling point Beth used was to make sure her customers knew she accepted American Express
  • They are continually looking for and purchasing new styles, which fit their respective markets.
  • They knew that in order to keep their eye on the market, they had to communicate regularly with their strategic relationships: Allie and Jenny via social media and Beth via word-of-mouth and personal connections.


As of this writing, it’s still the best of times for the two clothiers.

Working With Creative Professionals – Part 2

Working with Creative Professionals – Graphic Designers, Copywriters, and Web Developers: An Interview with Alizah Epstein Part 2

I interviewed Alizah Epstein, Chief Creative Officer at Epstein Creative for this Q & A. Epstein Creative is a full-service graphic and website design studio that provides a full range of professional creative and marketing services. We discussed what you should know before hiring a creative professional to help you promote your business.

Question: Do I need a written contract?

Answer: Unequivocally yes. A written contract protects you and your creative professional from any misunderstanding. A good contract should include: a detailed description of the scope of work, the number of revisions, a delineation of the exact deliverables, wording about the assignment of your logo to you, and a timeline for deliverables. The contract should state the hourly fee and other possible costs such as photography, web development costs, etc., and payment terms. If you want to see sample contracts and Work Agreements, search the web. I’ve seen one-page contracts and I’ve seen 10-page contracts.

My client, a home inspector, wanted help building a website. He had a cousin who designed websites. When I looked at the cousin’s portfolio, all of his websites were built for e-commerce transactions – automotive parts, specialty foods, and custom furniture. This was not a good fit. —EL

Question: What do you think of a graphic designer who also writes copy?

Answer: Look at the designer’s portfolio and see if what they wrote is compelling. Ask the designer what they like to do best, write, or design.

Question: Should I work with a freelancer, a design firm, or advertising agency?

Answer: This depends on the scope of your project and your budget. Generally speaking, freelancers work alone and not with a team. Graphic designers can refer you to freelance copywriters and web developers. A full service firm can meet most of your design needs but using one will cost more than freelancers.

Question: Should I build my own website?

There are do-it-yourself website building software programs such as Squarespace. The question you have to answer: “Is building my website the best use of my time?” Even though the technology is easy to use, you might get caught in tweaking and tweaking the site. You might consider hiring a web developer to build just a basic layout and navigation tabs.

Contact Alizah.