Dealing with Negativity as an Entrepreneur

We’ve all faced some form of negativity as an entrepreneur. I won’t sit here and tell you that it becomes more pleasant or easier to swallow, but you can change your mindset. We cannot control what other people say or do, but we can control how we react.

In this blog, I will address some common forms of negativity that both I have faced and members of the Vine Vendor Network have faced, plus give you some tips on how to react in these situations.

Negative Reviews

  • Just received a negative review? Stop, take a breath, and take your fingers off the keyboard. Our first reaction may be to lash back, especially if the negative review is false, grossly exaggerated, or particularly scathing.
  • Once you’re calm, ALWAYS write a response to the review. Here are two examples – the first to address a specific product/service, the second to address a negative review out of nowhere:
    • “Thank you for your review, [name]. We appreciate you taking the time to offer your feedback. We are sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience with [product/service], but we are happy to work with you personally to resolve this issue. Please send us an email at [email address] so we may work together to fix this right away.”
    • “Thank you for your review, [name]. We appreciate you taking the time to offer your feedback. Unfortunately, we are unable to locate your order in our system. Kindly email us with your order number and specific [products/services] you had an issue with at [email] so we may address it appropriately.”
  • The key is to be kind and respectful. Buyers EXPECT negative reviews – it actually builds your product’s authenticity because not everything will fit everyone. Don’t worry, consumers are much smarter than you realize and one negative review amongst a sea of goldens will not bear much clout PENDING you respond respectfully. People will read how you respond and take note of that as part of your customer service.

Bad-Mouthing Your Brand

  • If a customer is bad-mouthing your brand in writing (such as social media), use the same process as though it was a negative review.
  • If you hear about a customer bad-mouthing your brand in speaking, simply reply with: “I’m sorry to learn that [customer] has had a poor experience with us. I will certainly follow-up with [customer] to learn more about the issue and work with him/her to resolve it.”
  • If another business is bad-mouthing your brand, address that business directly through email or a phone call. Express calmly and honestly (without naming names, if that’s the case) your disappointment in this business’s practice of bashing. You may get firm here – explain that you expect the negative comments to stop immediately or you will be forced to take it to the next level.
    • If this does not stop the bashing, I recommend you contact a lawyer to create a cease-and-desist letter for slander and/or libel. Your lawyer will advise you on the next steps from that point.

Friends or Family

  • Friends or family may have negative things to say about you or your business and this can come in a variety of forms:
    • Don’t agree with your business venture. (This type of negativity may actually be stemming from a place of concern for your well-being – you’ll know.)
      • If you know you have a great idea and a full business plan, simply thank them for their concern and reassure them that you have done your homework before engaging in this plan.
    • Don’t agree with the way you conduct business.
      • Thank the person and leave it at that. You do not have to conduct business with anyone who doesn’t like the way you conduct business – they are just not part of your tribe.
    • Always offering “suggestions.”
      • Thank the person for their idea and if you have a definite reason, explain why it will not work for your business.
      • If you don’t have a definite reason, state that you will “take it under consideration.”

Event Commentary

  • Sometimes people make negative comments about your business while at events. This can be in the form of criticizing your pricing, your display, your ingredients/materials, or anything else while at an event.
    • Do not react to the statement with your initial defensive gut. It may take some swallowing-of-pride, but kindly address the direct criticism, for example:
      • “I understand you find [product] to be too expensive. Our product is [list what makes your product superior] and that’s why it’s valued at this cost.”
      • “I understand your concern about the materials/ingredients of our products. We use [material/product] because it produces [quality/safe, etc.] results.”
      • “I’m sorry to hear you’re unhappy with our display. Do you have any suggestions that would create a better customer experience?”

The key point to remember with all negativity is that these people are not your tribe. Unless you feel their commentary actually has validity for your improvement – and frankly, sometimes our worst critics are our greatest drivers to success – then do not waste your time or energy on the negativity. That is not your customer, he/she is not your tribe, and anyone who will try to knock you down is not worth the investment. Simultaneously, you never know who is listening or watching and that negative experience may become a positive one all depending upon your reaction.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

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How to Keep Your Customer After You’ve Landed the First Sale

Landing the first sale, especially at an event, is thrilling. It means all of your hard work from start to finish has closed in success. Even harder than landing that first sale is following-up for a second and third sale, hopefully creating a permanent customer.

Have a Follow-Up Plan in Place

  1. Collect Email Addresses. As you place that first sale, collect your customer’s email address. An easy way to do this is to offer to send a receipt via email, or if you don’t have the technology for that, simply ask the customer to write down his/her email address in a notebook.  Use an email client, like MailChimp, to write beautiful newsletters to keep your customers engaged.
  2. Follow a 2-2-2 Rule. Two days after the sale, send a thank-you to the customer to show your gratitude and appreciation for the sale. Two weeks after the sale, send another follow-up either by phone, email, or text asking how the customer likes the product and offer any customer service. Two months after the sale, send another follow-up asking if the customer needs any more of the product or offer up a matching add-on item.
  3. Invite the Customer to be in Your Tribe. Whether you use Facebook groups (which we highly advise), a rewards program, a VIP list, or any combination of these strategies, you want the customer to feel special, like he/she has become part of your story by making a purchase with you.
  4. Have Marketing Materials.  Be sure to include business cards, brochures, and/or catalogs with every purchase to make it easy to remember your business and even easier for the customer to contact you again. If you have fliers for another event where the customer could find you, include that as well. During the busy holiday season, it’s a great idea to simply print out a list of events where you will be located and include that in your packages. These calendars serve two purposes – they make it easy for your customer to find you in person and you’re simultaneously advertising upcoming events.
  5. Go the Extra Mile. In your packages, always offer something a little special or extra. This can be a piece of candy, a sample of another product, some fun stickers, magnets, anything that truly represents your brand and keeps your brand at the forefront of the customer’s mind.
  6. The Power of Postal Mail. In the digital age, it only takes a few minutes to send a quick text or email, but to sit down and write a note or send a postcard by mail is a lost art. Most people love receiving real mail that’s not just looking to sell them something – a card to say thanks, a postcard inviting them back to your store, or even mailing your catalog demonstrates you’re willing to go the extra mile.
  7. Exclusive Deals. Nothing says special like an exclusive deal for a customer. You can send them a unique discount code for a percentage off their next sale, offer free shipping, or let them know there will be a free gift with their next purchase.
  8. Birthday Surprises. If your customer is willing to share his/her birthday with you, it’s always nice to acknowledge that customer with a special birthday surprise. This can be a special discount or a free gift during his/her birthday month, a card on his/her birthday – and if that’s too cumbersome, an email wishing them a happy birthday.

Whatever you choose to do, the key is to always let your customer know you are grateful and appreciative – this turns into true small business relationships which eventually turn into more sales.

Do you have any tricks-of-the-trade when following-up with your customers?

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

sandra-dauria-vp

The Top 10 Reasons You’re Not Making Sales at Markets and Fairs

As President of the Vine Vendor Network, I’ve heard the same lament countless times in numerous ways: “I’m not making money at markets/fairs/vendor events!”  For the small businesses that rely on markets and fairs for income, accessibility, and acquiring new customers, the investment into an event that doesn’t produce returns is frustrating and disconcerting.

Vending at fairs costs money – not just the table fees, but the cost of a display – and vending at fairs costs time. If you’re not making back at least three-to-five times the cost of your initial investment, you weren’t even being paid for your time.  It’s no wonder that vendors often come to me with complaints about “events not being good.” However, before completely judging the event itself, I ask the vendor to consider the following possibilities that she/he did not make money at the event:

  1. Choosing the Wrong Event – Some vendors like to jump at the opportunity to vend at any and every event. Maybe you’re new and are trying to get your name out, maybe the table fee was inexpensive, and maybe you didn’t discern about the relevance of the event.
    1. The first step to success at vendor fairs is to choose the fair wisely.  Read between the lines of the event. Is it a folk festival, flea market, car show, holiday fair, religious fair, bizarre, handcrafted market, etc? Is the event indoors or outdoors? Is the location a schoolyard, a brewery, a hotel, etc? Not every event is geared to your target market. For example, if a vendor sells high-end costume jewelry, he/she should avoid vending at anything that says “flea market” in the name. The idea of a flea market implies bargains and negotiable prices. A person selling ladies bags should probably avoid a car show because the target consumer is most-likely a man interested in vehicles…not ladies bags. It’s not about stereotyping; it’s about understanding the demographic and the most likely spending habits of that demographic. Don’t waste time or money on a show where you won’t find your people.
  2. You’re Not Engaged with Customers – Are you spending the entire time on your phone? Are you standing by your table and not sitting behind your display? Are you spending a lot of time chatting with other vendors and wandering, or are you striking up a conversation with customers who pass by your table? You have to be alert and engaged. People who come to these types of events are looking to shop directly with small businesses on a personal level, give them that experience. Remember to smile, be friendly, and never, ever talk poorly about another customer.
  3. (On the flip side of #2) You’re Being TOO Pushy – Give people a chance to actually come over to your table. Read body language. Are they walking by and slowing down to look at your table – use that as a sign to engage in conversation. However, if they’re not looking at you or are clearly not interested, don’t try to push them to visit your table. If someone is at your table and you ask them for some help and they say they’re just looking, give them the space to shop at their own pace – don’t crowd them and make them feel uncomfortable. Definitely DON’T try and get other vendors to come to your table to shop, whether by asking or sending over business cards or samples – remember they’re there to make money just as much as you are.
  4. Your Display is Unappealing or Stand-offish – Is your display so delicate that people are afraid to touch anything? Is everything piled on top of itself so people have to go digging? Are all of your products neatly displayed? Take a photo of your vending table and look at it from a consumer’s perspective, or better yet, ask an objective person for honest feedback. There are many ways you can set-up your pop-up to sell.
  5. You’re Not Making Payment Easy – It’s the 21st century, you need to have a credit card processing system. The days of relying strictly on cash sales are long gone. You can easily get and set up Square* for quick credit card processing (*this is an affiliate link). When you do take cash, make it easy, round, whole numbers. Even if you lose a little bit of money on the sales tax, you’re better off paying the taxes yourself than losing the sale.  Always make sure you have small bills on you (especially to break twenty-dollar bills)!
  6. You’re Not Doing Enough Advertising – While the bulk of advertising should be on the organizer, it’s also your job to advertise the event as someone who is vending there. Let your customers know far in advance where to find you. Create a calendar for easy access, advertise it on your social media, send reminders out with your newsletters. Think about it this way – if all the vendors are doing this, they are bringing their customers to you as much as you’re bringing your customers to them.
  7. You Don’t Have Inventory for Cash-and-Carry – It’s certainly an investment to carry inventory. It’s also a pain-in-the-neck to truck your inventory with you to these shows. Though cumbersome, it is imperative to have the inventory with you for cash-and-carry. People who attend these fairs are shopping in-person because they don’t want to order online. Many purchases are impulse buys. For every product you don’t have that someone wants is a potential missed opportunity for a sale. Of course, it may be impossible to have everything with you, but if you have enough inventory people will at least feel the immediate satisfaction of walking off with a bag of your goodies.
  8. You’re Selling Too Many Different Things – People love sets, categories, and collections. It’s simply how our brain works – we categorize. When shopping at your table, people are looking for related products. This builds authority in your particular business because you appear focused and organized. Think about how strange it would be to walk over to a table of sports memorabilia and see fake pearl necklaces with cosmetics. Focus on one area for sales to make customers feel comfortable in your expertise.
  9. You’re Not Telling a Story with Your Brand – Whether you do direct sales, sell handmade items, or are a reseller, people shop small business, especially vendor tables, because of the story. Anyone could essentially get anything from a major retailer, it’s you who makes the difference while vending. For example, in my personal business, I handcraft candles – when people pick a candle to smell, I will tell a quick story about why I chose the scent or the inspiration for the name – people buy stories. The same works for any small business – maybe explain why you joined that direct sales company, why you love a particular product, a cool fact about how/where it’s made, etc.
  10. You’re Not Listening to Individual Needs – If you get to the point where a customer is asking you questions, you’re 80% close to the sale if you just listen. Ask questions to glean more information to help focus on a specific product for the customer’s need. Recommend products that actually appeal to those needs. When people can’t decide on what products to pick and smell at my table, I start by asking what scent categories best fit them – sweet, fruity, flowery, earthy –  I’m not going to recommend a chocolate product to someone who tells me they love patchouli. The same goes for add-ons – it needs to make sense. If someone is looking for a necklace, listen to the designs they like and after they have chosen a necklace, THEN suggest matching earrings. You wouldn’t recommend matching sneakers to someone buying socks, but you would recommend socks to someone buying sneakers. Listen, listen, listen.

What are some of the troubles you have while at vendor fairs? Let us know in the comments so we can help you!

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Owning a Small Business is NOT Easy

I took some time off from work last night to just relax. I was browsing through my cable channels and found A League of Their Own on. The movie came out in 1992 and is easily one of my favorites of all time, and every time I watch it, I glean more wisdom from it than I did the last.

This time around, a quote from the character Jimmy Dugan (the Rockford Peaches’ coach), played by Tom Hanks, is what resonated with me:

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” –A League of Their Own

I immediately thought of owning a small business and being an entrepreneur. Being a small business owner and an entrepreneur is hard.  Anyone who promises easy success from starting and running your own business is either a fool or selling snake oil.

What Makes it So Hard

  • Unless you’ve done it before, knowing all the rules and regulations is a job in itself. Taking the time to start something and to do it legally and ethically is exhausting.
  • You are always working. I mean always. Being an entrepreneur relies on how much you put in, and between managing your business, marketing your business, attending to clients, and planning ahead, there leaves little down time. Time is money, after all.
  • There is no such thing as a get-rich-quick formula. Even people who sell and/or create a product that seemingly has overnight success have done an extraordinary amount of pre-work to give that appearance.
  • You will get rejected…a lot. Whether you’re rejected by a customer, a major retailer, haters who don’t believe in you, rejection is inevitable.
  • Losing money is bound to happen. Sometimes your money gets tied up in inventory, in supplies, in legal, in web design, in poor decisions, entrepreneurship costs money.
  • Self-doubt is a monster lurking beneath the bed. Can I do this? Should I do this? Did I do this correctly? Why did I do that? What happens if I fail? Oh, the doubt, doubt, doubt.
  • Everyone will think they know how to run your business better than you do.
  • Competition is inevitable. Envy is indubitable. Sadly, some people don’t want to watch you succeed, even worse, others will actually try to tear you down.
  • Some people will expect to get things for free from you – maybe friends, maybe family. It’s a truly uncomfortable position.
Donna Marie IBN Entrepreneur
Quote by Donna Maria Johnson, Owner & Founder of the Indie Business Network

With so many negatives (and I’m sure I’m missing a bunch), it makes you wonder how or why anyone ever gets started at all? Because the hard is what makes it great.

How to Succeed

  • Stop trying. Be like Yoda. “No. You must not try. Do or do not. There is no try.”
  • You will struggle, without any question, but your drive to want to succeed must outweigh everything else.
  • Accept each downfall and learn from it. Switch your mindset from “failure” to “experience” and look to it as an opportunity to capture data for future decisions.
  • Make changes when you need to; don’t wait “for the right opportunity.” The moment you can see a change needs to happen, do it. If something is not working, don’t be afraid to just change it.
  • Get creative with money. Try Kickstarter, try Shopify Capital, try Kiva. The key is plan before you get money for what you will do when you get money.**
  • Join a network of like-minded people who will collaborate with you to inspire and empower you to succeed.
  • Find your cheerleaders who will support you. Find one or two objective folks who will tell you the truth without any personal gain. Keep these people close, treat them well, and listen more than you speak.
  • Invest in only what will pay you back 10-fold. If it will lose value after one-or-two uses (whether it’s a piece of equipment, software, or a service), don’t bother.
  • Envision what you want your business to be in one year, three years, and five years. Do one thing every day that will move you towards that vision.
  • For as hard as you’re working, give yourself a little time to unplug and unwind. Whether this is once a day, once a week, or even once a month, make sure the break is long enough for you to unpack yourself and shut-down.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Even if this means hiring someone to do your accounting or to clean your house, allow yourself to be just the business owner while you’re working your way up.

**I have not been paid to endorse any of these companies in this post.

Do you have what it takes to be a small business owner? I think you do.

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Protecting You and Your Business

When it comes to managing a business, there is far more than just worrying about managing a website, buying supplies, and serving customers – you also need to worry about liability.

There are multiple types of liability. From BusinessDictionary.com

  • Personal Liability – A financial obligation for which an individual is responsible and which may be satisfied out of his or her assets.
  • Professional Liability – Legal obligations arising out of a professional’s errors, negligent acts, or omissions during the course of the practice of his or her craft.
  • Product Liability – General liability or obligation of a producer (or supplier) of a good or service to make restitution for loss associated with its use, such as personal injury or property damage. Commonly, the aggrieved party does not have to prove that the producer (or supplier) was negligent because the fault is inherent to the item. 

And how these liabilities are qualified…

  • Strict Liability – In criminal lawstrict liability is liability for which mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”) does not have to be proven in relation to one or more elements comprising the actus reus (Latin for “guilty act”) although intentionrecklessness or knowledge may be required in relation to other elements of the offense. The liability is said to be strict because defendants will be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. The defendants may therefore not be culpable in any real way, i.e. there is not even criminal negligence, the least blameworthy level of mens rea. For example, selling alcohol to a minor.
  • Absolute Liability –  To be convicted of an ordinary crime, in certain jurisdictions, a person must not only have committed a criminal action, but also have had a deliberate intention or guilty mind (mens rea). (Wikipedia)

“The difference between strict and absolute liability is whether the defence of a mistake of fact is available: in a crime of absolute liability, a mistake of fact is not a defence. Strict or Absolute Liability- also can arise from inherently dangerous activities or defective products that are likely to result in a harm to another, regardless of protection taken. Negligence is not required to be proven. Example: Owning a pet rattle snake.”(Wikipedia)

So how do you protect yourself?

I. Insurance

  1. Obtain product liability insurance dependent upon the goods or services you provide.
    1. Trusted Choice Independent Insurance Agents:  If you are an independent consultant for a direct-selling company, having this insurance can protect you from various incidences that may occur as a result of your business.
    2. Indie Business Network Insurance: If you are a manufacturer of handmade products such as candles, jewelry, cosmetics, lotion, soap, bath salts, perfume, essential oils, candles, jewelry, perfumes, fragrance oils, base oils, waxes, powders, masks and scrubs, you qualify for product liability insurance coverage through their program. They also offer a program for artisan made candy, cookies and other baked goods. Additionally, they offer programs for estheticians and for massage therapists. Insurance Customer Service at 844-520-6994 or info@indiebusinessinsurance.com
    3. State Farm Small Business Insurance: The spectrum for this insurance is wider and it’s best if you speak directly with one of their representatives to see if they cover exactly what you need. This is especially good insurance if you own a brick-and-mortar store or have a facility/warehouse.
    4. Liberty Mutual Food & Beverage Insurance: If you manufacture your own food items, this type of insurance is a must to protect you from recalls, illnesses, etc.
  2. Obtain extended personal liability insurance. If you own or rent property, you have personal liability tied into that property, but this often will not cover you for your businesses expenses. Call and speak with your agent to see if your business is covered if you work-from-home.
    1. The Hartford offers General Personal Liability Insurance for businesses which can protect you from personal liability in the circumstance of an occurrence resulting from your business.
  3. Obtain professional liability insurance if your business relies on your expertise.
    1. The Insureon website allows you to search for your profession to sort through numerous types of insurance.

II. Trademarks/Patents/Copyrights

Obtaining a trademark/patent/copyright on your intellectual property can save you multitudes of headaches in the future. For most of these protections, they can become quite costly, so as a new business owner, you may want to pick-and-choose where to start. That being said, it’s best to protect yourself early on in your business to ensure you are covering your investment to avoid any future liabilities.

  • Trademark protects a name/brand/logo (or “service mark”).
  • Patent protects specific formulations and/or inventions.
  • Copyright protects original authorship.

The absolute best resource for this information is the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

III. Get a Lawyer or Legal Team

There is incalculable value to having a lawyer or legal team who can advise you as you pursue your business journey. Ideally, your legal team is authorized in your home state, is close enough in proximity to you for quick travel (in circumstances of litigation), and has a group of attorneys who are knowledgeable in various areas. If you have one lawyer, then he/she would have referring attornies dependent upon the needed area of expertise.

Disclaimers – The Vine Vendor Network is not affiliated with any of the aforementioned companies. We are not compensated for the above suggestions and are not to be held liable for any of the suggested companies’ actions, admissions, rejections, etc.. We recommend you always call and speak with a direct agent to learn if you and your business would be eligible for coverage. 

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Consultants & Recruits: How to Start Growing Your Team

Consultants & Recruits: How to Start Growing Your Team
Co-Written By RoseMary Algerio & Kristen Fusaro-Pizzo

The fastest way to grow a small business is by acquiring consultants and recruits who can serve a variety of functions: 1) Sell your products for you, 2) Sell in tandem with you, 3) Sell as a member of your team (or downline). This may not be the model for every business, but it is the essential model of growth for direct sales and small businesses who want to concentrate on back-end production instead of selling.

It’s important to understand your goal as a team sponsor (team leader) when searching for recruits and consultants. There are two methods of recruitment: Guerrilla Recruiting and Concentrated Recruiting. Guerilla Recruiting involves acquiring as many recruits as possible, regardless of the recruit’s commitment or intention. Concentrated Recruiting is when a sponsor is discerning and only seeking recruits who are sincerely serious about starting a business. Each one is effective for different reasons – Guerilla Recruiting allows a sponsor to quickly build a team and works to concentrate on those recruits who persevere, while Concentrated Recruiting spends more time building the team they want from the beginning.  Each type of recruiting still requires time and energy to effectively build a team who will earn you money, but the difference is when the concentration begins; the sponsor is there to make sure that the recruit  has the support and backing to help the recruit reach his/her goal and to qualify based on the respective company.

Even with Concentrated Recruiting, not everyone who joins on as a consultant joins with the full intention to sell. There are four different types of recruits:

  1. THE KIT-NAPPER. This is when a recruit signs up just because he/she wants the enrollment kit at the incentivized price. These recruits are great if your company qualifies you simply for signing up new recruits, or if you run your own business, these recruits help quickly boost sales – like running a 50% off sale without demeaning the brand.
  2. THE HOBBYIST. This recruit wants to sell, but only to his/her family and friends. These recruits are simply looking to gain some pocket money and get discounted products. Most of the individuals who are a Hobbyists love that they work the business on their own terms – they view it as a hobby instead of a job. These recruits are great for guerrilla recruiting.
  3. THE PART-TIMERS. These are the men or women who work their business during their free time only and they schedule the times they want to work the business. This is very common with individuals who have a full time job or small children at home. This is the type of consultant that you want to look for with concentrated recruiting. The way to attract this type of recruit is to be honest about time management. Explain that this recruit will need to set aside time each week just to focus on building the business. There is still plenty of time for family, friends and any other activities that he/she may have in life.
  4. THE CAREERS. These recruits are looking to turn this business into a full time-job; this is their passion. They work their business 7-8 hours each day and often must commit weekends. Career individuals understand that this is their main source of income and there is a great deal of work involved in selling the brand.

When you find out that an individual signed up just for the kit, even though you were working concentrated recruiting, it’s important to evaluate how you sold the business. Sometimes the person might not have the passion you have towards the business like you do. Each person is their own business owner. Your responsibility is to be there for them to help guide them during their journey and answer questions that they might not know the answers to. Be sure to reach out to them at least two to three times during the week. Let them know that you are not just their sponsor but you are their friend and you are there for them. It is important for them to know that they can count on you and even if you don’t know the answers you will help get the answer to their concerns and questions.

Even with recruits who don’t work out, recognize this is not a failure, but an opportunity to learn on your journey. One thing you never do is give up; you must keep positive and never take it personally if the individual tells you that this is not for them. Direct Sales is not for everyone. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, even when a recruit tells you that he/she wants to quit. Ask questions to find out what is driving their departure.

  1. Sometimes it is difficult for the individual to meet the requirement quotas that are set by the respective company.
  2. They may feel like they cannot juggle working/parenting/schooling full time while also running a business.
  3. They may feel discouraged because they are not making sales, or they started out with great sales and it tapered off.
  4. They may feel lost and not have the knowledge for selling.

Asking questions and understanding their reasoning is an opportunity for you to train and help them work through the pitfalls. While some may sincerely want to quit, others may be looking for the right answers to their doubts. As long as you continue to support your recruits, know you did your best to be there for them and continue to do so when the time comes that they no longer want to sell the products. Remember to always remain positive in their personal decisions because that person may no longer sell, but could continue to be your customer.

The greatest reward about having a recruit who will be your team member is watching them grow and paying forward to them what your sponsor and lineage had passed to you. There are many great incentives that are given that makes you want to not be just a recruit but to reach the goals and be part of the team. To be a person who moves up in the company, earn free products, earn a trip or just a recognition in an email or on the phone is so rewarding that it makes you want to reach the next level goal. You will be surprised how many times your recruit will start out as a kit-napper or a part-timer and poof next you realize this person is a go getter, a hustler and working their business as a career. Be sure to acknowledge and reward your recruits for their diligence!

The ultimate goal when you want to recruit is to always be positive and in constant communication. Create a group chat, or Facebook group, that is designated just for you and your recruits so that you have a private place to talk strategy and to discuss the ups and downs that one might be experiencing. Use this group as a support network by sharing all ideas and tips to help your recruit to grow and have fun while building the business.

Understand that being a sponsor requires more than signing paperwork, but taking on a responsibility as a mentor and teacher. Offer to help them with their Launch Party and to be there for them in their own groups/pages that they create for their business. Stay with them in these groups until you believe and feel in your heart that they are ready to fly high and be the best they can be in their business. It’s a good idea to have them in your closed customer group so that they can see how you interact, post about the products, and generally serve as a model. Keep them in your customer group until they qualify and then gracefully tell them that they have grown beautifully and your guidance is no longer needed; then remove them from your customer group so can gain business autonomy. No two individuals are the same when working their business. One individual might do extremely well each and every month and another individual will do what is required from the company to stay active. Either way, enjoy the journey that you and your recruit start together and embrace the partnership that will come from being part of their journey.

Small Businesses: Stop Stressing Seasonal Sales Dips

The Vice President of the Vine Vendor Network, Sandra D’Auria, always says “The J months are the worst in retail.” D’Auria is right; January, June, and July are notoriously low for retail sales. Deconstructing the function of retail and the mindset of shoppers, it makes perfect sense: January is after the rush of the holiday season and people are watching their pennies, June is after the push for Mother’s Day – and even though it does embody Father’s Day, Mother’s Day encourages more retail purchases, and July is the height of summertime when people are spending their money on vacations and weekend trips.  In short, if your retail business is struggling right now, stop stressing, it’s normal.

When it comes to retail and small business, you need to move your mindset away from the current season and start projecting to the next two. You may not be making your numbers now, but it doesn’t mean you won’t for the year.

What to Do in Your Business During Off Seasons

  1. Look ahead to the next major sales holidays that work best for your business or target market. For example, if you sell children’s clothing, you want to start building your branding for the back-to-school season. If you sell food items, the fall and harvest season would probably be the next best focus. Plan your sales strategy – Come up with some clever marketing, create some ads, pre-write some newsletters.
  2. To follow-up with #1, start buying and/or making (depending on your business) for the upcoming season. Look at your numbers from last year and project a 10%-20% growth and have enough of popular product on hand to bring you through the holiday seasons.
  3. Use this time to get your bookkeeping in order. Organize all of your accounting and close up tight spots. Look to see where your heavy spending is and start shopping to see where you could save money to reduce COGS and increase profits.
  4. Reach out to your best customers and send them thank-you notes letting them know you appreciate them. This both serves to build customer relationships as well as keep your business in the back of their minds during the off-seasons.
  5. Clear out any inventory that has been sitting on your shelf for six months. You can run a sale, do a mystery box, include it as special gifts with a certain dollar amount purchase, just move the inventory off your shelves. Any inventory that sits is lost money. *A note on sales – If you run them too often, you can start to diminish your brand and people will just wait for the next sale, but if you market this correctly – such as an “Annual Clearance Event,” then customers will understand this is a one-time opportunity.
  6. Fix up your web presence. Check your website, edit any old copy and change old photos. Do a Google search for you and your brand to ensure all information is up-to-date and customers have a way of contacting you. Add your business to popular free sites for free marketing.
  7. If you are in direct sales, have consultants or employees, start acquiring resumes or searching for new candidates. Now is the perfect slow time to properly train new people to be successful during the holidays. You can offer them support and show them the ropes.
  8. If you haven’t booked holiday vendor shows already, now is a great time to reach out to your old connections and any new possible connections to ensure you’re on the list to receive vendor contracts.

What are some other tips you have for keeping your business moving during the slower seasons?

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Top 5 Investments You Need to Make as an Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur today doesn’t offer the same mystique and je ne sais quoi it once did. The idea of the successful entrepreneur has us envisioning a Gatsby-esque gentleman lounging on a yacht wearing white board shorts, a deep tan, calling people “Old Sport” while his dollars just rolled in.  This is the American dream, isn’t it? To become so successful as an entrepreneur that our business functions as a well-oiled machine and runs itself.

According to a 2016 Kaufmann Report, 0.31% of the adult population in the United States became entrepreneurs each month. As Fast Company explains, “That translates to just over half a million (530,000) new business owners a month.” A MONTH. With this much growth, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the competition is steep. With survival rates at around 48% by the fifth year, the chances of success drop by more than half.

There is clearly a huge gap between the Gatsby fantasy of success and the reality of entrepreneurship, and the gap falls within this one major point:

You need to spend money to make money. 

If you constantly cheap out in your investments, your business will become trapped. If I told you that for every $1 you invest, you will make 3% back in six months, would you do it? Yeah, you would, and you should invest as much as possible because your $1 becomes $3, your $100 becomes $300, and your $1000 becomes $3000.  If you find the right service providers, the return-on-investment will show itself.

So, you’re ready to spend some money, now the question becomes where because there are money-pits that will do nothing for your business. Most of these money-pits lie in the get-rich-quick schemes, lofty promises for followers, link exchanges, or sample-suckers. Investigate, do your research, get recommendations, and schedule calls to avoid falling for any traps.

Top 5 Investments You Need to Make as an Entrepreneur

  1. A Great Website. This is so incredibly important in every industry today. With brick-and-mortar stores on the vast decline – about 6,000 stores closed in 2008 during the recession, and 2017 is projected at 8,500 store closings – business survival is all about websites and reliable e-commerce. No more whining about not making sales if your website still follows dial-up speed, or worse, you don’t have one at all. It’s so easy to get a website started, even if you’re in the direct sales industry, your mother-company probably has an option for you to pay for an e-commerce site each month – do it.  The next step is hiring a competent web designer who knows how customers interact with websites. This person needs to not only have e-commerce programming knowledge, they need to know the consumer side of website experience. This type of expertise is expensive. But, in these circumstances, you often get what you pay for.
  2. Elegant Vendor Events. As a small business, one of the ways you start to market your brand is usually through vendor events. Sometimes you start at local schools and churches, and these are fantastic to build the community around your brand, but there comes a time when you need to step up your game.  If you’re not investing in vending at quality vendor events, guess what type of clients you will meet?  Ones who don’t want to invest in your products.  Running a business means turning a profit and unless you’re reselling items intended as yard sale goods, you need to step up your game and spend money on good events. No more whining about “flea markets” if you only want to spend $25 on a table.
  3. Product Photography and Brand Development. Building your brand is one of the most challenging aspects of being an entrepreneur and the one aspect that constantly requires upkeep. Without the right marketing, quality labels, packaging, and displays, customers will not take your brand seriously. Sometimes finding the exact way to project your image requires hiring a graphic designer who works in tandem with your product photographer – these are far worth the investment.  Both of these people really need to understand your vision and be able to help you clarify any cloudiness. Hire good people and they will keep it real. Having swag creates a feeling of brand authority and representation – buy a tablecloth and shirts for your vendor events, get quality business cards, customized bags/boxes. You need to create an entire lifestyle around your brand, and while everyone loves your face, you cannot be the only person photographed using your products. In direct sales? Stop with the stock images you get from corporate – everyone sees them and they become boring; have your own photography done integrating that brand into a real lifestyle. Spend the money on your branding – from new swag to a new website, a business is nothing without the image. 
  4. Inventory. Seems obvious that you need to invest in inventory, but there are so many entrepreneurs who are too scared to take the leap to order and/or create inventory for fear of it getting stuck on shelves. You know what’s worse than leftover inventory? Customers who cancel orders because they weren’t shipped fast enough. Direct sales folks – Do you really expect people to just peruse a magazine at your parties and/or vendor events and suddenly purchase from you? Do you expect them to wait 3 weeks for a shipment to arrive? We’re living in the age of Amazon Prime where literal drones are being used to get people their orders in fifteen minutes. Customers want tangible items that are cash-and-carry, especially at vendor events. Unless your brand strategy is highly-exclusive one-of-a-kind items, you really need to have inventory on hand.
  5. Labor Outsourcing. When you first start your business, you want to do everything and be everywhere, and this could work in the very beginning, but if you’re to have long-standing success, you need to start outsourcing. As mentioned in #1 and #3, a good place to begin outsourcing would be a website designer, graphic designer, and product photographer (unless, of course, these are your businesses). In time, you could outsource a reliable accountant (or even a quality inventory/accounting software). Sometimes it’s as simple as hiring someone to help you clean your home, help you with your family, chores, and pets. The point is to allow yourself time to grow. Remember, in your business, time is your most valuable asset and if you’re too busy to actually work on your business, then you’re losing money.

 

What would you invest in to make your business a success?

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Building a Branded Facebook Group

Once upon a time, businesses could create a free Facebook page, free Instagram account, and free Twitter account where followers would “like” or “follow” their company and receive all of the latest news via social media. Well, not long ago, the big, bad wolves of social media learned that this was an easy way to leech businesses of free-flowing cash – instead of showing all of your posts to your fans, a business would have to pay for a “boost” to actually get that post in front of the people who requested it.

There is a much smarter way to work around this dilemma, and that’s through a Branded Facebook Group. Facebook Groups allow you to create a direct pipeline to the customers who want to hear from you. If you start this group right, the greatest benefit of these groups is that the people who join them want to be engaged in your business and as long as they keep their notifications on, you will not have to pay any extra to get your message to them!

Here are a few tips to help you start branding your own Facebook group that is fun, engaging, and offering content people want to be involved in:

  1. The cover of your Branded Facebook Group should have your photo, your business name, your website, your logo, and your hashtag. If you don’t have any of these things, then create them (preferably before you have people join your group).
  2. Make the settings of your group CLOSED. You don’t want it to be public because then you don’t have the power to jury who is involved, and you also don’t want it to be secret because you want people to be able to find the group. Keeping it closed allows you to choose who is approved to the group while still having the ability to be found.
  3. DO NOT ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR GROUP. I repeat, DO NOT ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR GROUP. The worst way to engage customers is to force them into this group. Instead, let your fans and customers know about the group and offer them the option to choose to be involved.
  4. Have a clear set of rules and guidelines for your branded group. If you don’t want other people promoting their similar products, make that a rule; if you don’t want negativity, make that a rule. Have a balance of rules so that there are clear parameters without sounding like a Hogwarts prefect. (PRO TIP: Use the “pinned post” feature to keep your rules at the top of the group.)
  5. Give your group an incentive!  Why should people join your group?  I have a branded group for my bath, body, and candle business and I offer special sweepstakes, rewards, birthday bonuses, and mystery boxes for those who join my “VIP” group. You want your group to have something special that your customers cannot get from being email subscribers or regular fans (save different specials for those groups, as well).
  6. Spark conversation in your group.  It shouldn’t just be you talking AT people, but offering a way for people to respond or engage on their own. Share fun, related articles. Go on Facebook Live. Share special insights – anything to get people to spark conversation.  Sometimes that’s as simple as asking people what their plans are for an upcoming holiday!
  7. Be honest and transparent in your group.  This is the place where people are supposed to be able to “get real” with you and engage with you on a personal level. Give honest answers and offer white-glove service. Customers will often default to this group when they have customer service inquiries, as well. Those inquiries may not always be positive, but leave those comments up there because it’s all about how you respond – even if people aren’t commenting, they’re watching and that builds your brand.
  8. Use your group as a way to ask for input through surveys and questions. Customers love believing they are part of the process – whether that’s a creative product choice, a design, or what to bring to your next event – this is an awesome way for people to share their views and for you to gain valuable insight to what’s working.
  9. Engage in your own group every day. Even if you don’t have some groundbreaking news, you can offer a motivational quote or fun fact to ensure you’re keeping your own group alive.
  10. Stay on brand. This can be hard sometimes, as we’re not always in the mood to represent what our brand does, but stop and ask yourself if whatever you’re posting adds to the greater vision of your company. If you sell organization, don’t be late with your posts; if you sell factual information, don’t post articles that haven’t been fact-checked.

I absolutely love the video below by Sunny Lenarduzzi. I was introduced to her work by Life Coach, Donna DeRosa, and I find Sunny’s work on branding and social media to be brilliant; I highly recommend this video as you build and expand your group.

 

 

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Keep Your Business Focused

I was vending at a show yesterday and every time I vend, I like to walk around and meet current Vine members as well as talk to potential members. Before I approach possible new members of our network, I scope out the tables and layouts with the eyes of a customer. I check for organization, aesthetics, but above all, I look for a focused business because a focused business has the highest chance of success.

What is a focused business? A focused business concentrates on selling one-to-two categories of related items. This is incredibly important because it builds authority and trust in your brand. As I was walking around, I saw a honey table that also sold soaps, lip balms, and leather key chains. I also saw another table that was selling jewelry, bags, and skincare. While all the items looked like quality items, the tables lacked focus, and on the bigger scale, that meant the business lacked direction.

In terms of business, there are two scales – a vertical scale and a horizontal scale. The vertical scale refers to scaling up and down, which means creating and/or selling products on a bigger or smaller volume. The horizontal scale refers to scaling in and out, which means creating and/or selling a larger variety versus a smaller variety of products.

The key to scaling up is to scale in. If you try to scale your business out of the normal bounds, you face the following needs:

  • New packaging
  • New materials
  • New marketing
  • New target market (a.k.a, new customer)
  • New authority

When you try to take on too many varieties, you lose the focus on your original product and business. You’re going to be stuck buying so much material to feed all the areas of your scale out that it will become cost prohibitive to scale up. Even worse, you might lose your original customer.

Trying to scale out means you’re either testing new markets, or someone said they would be interested in something so you decided to offer it to them. While this can be a positive experience, if it’s related, it can be detrimental if it’s unrelated. Using the examples above, if you’re selling purses/bags, why would a customer come to you for skin care? Suddenly, the bags seem less valuable because you’re making a reach elsewhere. Think about bigger companies, like Clinique or Aveda – do they make bags or clothing? No, because it’s an entirely different market which costs lots of money to tackle. People who run direct sales companies who suddenly are involved in more than one direct sales company, how can you grow your downline if you’re trying to run two businesses?

You need to turn your focus into your own category and continue to educate in that category so you can “become” that category. As an example, in the Vine, we have Jenn Rivera who has now become known as “the LuLaRoe Lady,” as well as Tina Bilcher Murphy, who has now become known as “the Bra Lady.” These two women took their focus in one direction so that when they have a customer, she tells her friends who are looking for that same item. Customers trust focused businesses on having authority and knowledge in their products.

Before you decide to scale out, ask yourself what the long-term expenses will be. How much new marketing will you need to do? How will you acquire new customers? How will you package and produce the new products? How will you store the extra inventory? How will you keep up with demand? How will it serve your vision?

Don’t stick yourself in a hole by trying to be everything to many customers, instead, be the one thing that your target customer needs and will always come back to.

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