Every so often, we like to scour the Internet for articles and tips on topics we think our readers will love. Join us for today’s edition of Round ’em Up, where we’re rounding up the best of the web finding advice for providing excellent customer service when you’re a handmade business owner.
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Before you start thinking about your own shop as the owner, take a minute to remember the last time you were a customer. What was the experience like the last time you shopped in a big-box multi-departmental store? In a small, local shop or restaurant? Online at a site like Etsy? Take a minute to list out the best and worst examples of customer service you’ve experienced from the customer’s end, and keep those tips handy when you craft your own plan for rocking the customer service in YOUR biz.
Then keep reading, because we’ve got more tips in store for you!
- Tim at Handmadeology discusses the idea that in today’s world of online buying, it sometimes feels like our customers want MORE from us all the time, but they want to pay a lot LESS than they ever have before. Try to resist getting caught up in the emotion of that situation, and work with it instead! Tim’s list of 4 Tips for Stellar Customer Service will have you sailing to the top in no time, and your customers will come back for the service every time – deal, or no deal. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that last bit!)
- At Going Home to Roost, Bonnie offers 5 tips to help you become a Customer Service Whiz. Among them? Think like your customer! Put yourself in their shoes to encourage positive communication, and try to find the good things in every complaint. After all, a complaint today can potentially improve your business tomorrow! Besides, as Bonnie points out, when you go the extra mile for a customer then they’re going to sing your praises across the Internet, and you can’t buy marketing that good!
- At the Creative Income Blog, they’ve got an idea that just might make your customers all come back for more: treat every customer like they’re going to be a repeat customer. Of course, you can’t guarantee that everyone will return for a 2nd (or 200th) purchase, but if you treat all of your customers like you’re building a relationship with them and you want it to last, the odds are definitely in your favor. Read more about Encouraging Repeat Customers from Creative Income.
- Whether you business is based online or in-person, your customer service is the make-or-break scenario for getting happy customers. Victoria Tane offers tips for Creating an Unforgettable Customer Service Experience at Handmadeology. Her tips are designed for selling in person, either in a brick-and-mortar store or at a craft show. But her advice, which runs the gamut from creating a welcoming environment to inviting customers to come back and see you again, will work for any situation where you’re representing your business to the public.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the articles we’ve pulled together for you today! If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover in the next Round ’em Up, leave us a comment below! We’d love to hear your feedback, and we hope you’ll come back and visit us again sometime!
This week’s round-up is all about custom orders. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you either offer custom orders already or you’re thinking about adding them to your product line-up. Custom orders can be an excellent source of revenue for your small business, but they can also be a source of frustration if you don’t manage them properly. Streamline your custom order process with these tips from around the web:
- Jamie from Etsy wants to help you manage custom orders without losing your mind with six helpful tips for keeping up with the customs in your shop. Her helpful approach involves a combination of knowing what you can do and how to communicate that effectively.
- Jenelle of TrashN2Trees visited the Oh My! Handmade blog with some tips for custom orders from her own years of experience. One big tip from Jenelle? Put together a list of guidelines that you plan to follow for customs, and post them publicly so your customers can find them. This will save you a lot of time, and hopefully a lot of heartache, throughout your years in business. Read more on Oh My! Handmade.
- The Creative Income Blog recommends coming up with a template and a stock photo to save time in the custom order process, along with a few other handy tips for clear communication and timely delivery.
- Maker Dionne Christiansen shares tips from a variety of custom order pros on the Meylah blog. These veterans of the custom orders trade vary from florists to jewelry designers, but they all have a process that helps them deliver the custom goods.
- Brittany’s Best has a post that includes information about Etsy’s custom order request feature, initiated earlier this year. If you sell on Etsy, it’s a good idea to be familiar with this system before your customer clicks that button.
One common theme among the articles we’ve rounded up this week is that clear communication with your customers is an essential part of a successful custom order system. If you have customers waiting on custom goods, keep them in the loop so they won’t constantly send you messages to ask if their order is ready yet. Here at Patterned, we’ve got you covered on this part of the process, so you can spend more time making and less time answering e-mails.
Do you have any custom order success stories (or horror stories) to share? Leave us a comment below!
photo credit: EraPhernalia Vintage . . . (playin’ hook-y ;o) via photopin cc
The Plan for My Day as a Small Business Owner:
- 8am: home from dropping off the kids, work out, shower
- 9am: sit down at the computer to answer e-mails
- 10am: bring out supplies and begin to make products
- 12pm: enjoy a refreshing, healthy, homemade lunch
- 1pm: back to making more products
- 3pm: product photography and editing
- 4pm: work on a course I’m taking on small business marketing
- 5pm: done for the day
My Actual Day as a Small Business Owner:
- 8am: home from dropping off the kids, think about working out, decide to skip it, shower
- 9am: sit down at the computer to answer e-mails
- 10am: spend some time “working on social media,” aka trolling Twitter and Facebook for funny or gossip-y posts
- 1pm: realize I forgot to eat, grab a granola bar or something and commit to “making products” for the rest of the day
- 5pm: realize that most of my day was spent gathering supplies or thinking about working rather than actually doing it
Does that scenario look at all familiar to you? Maybe you don’t have my problem with social media; maybe you get lost in other pursuits like reading a book or doctor’s appointments for your kids. Maybe you spend all day making products but forget to take the time for other things, like actually listing those products in your shop or eating lunch. For a small business owner, time can be your best friend and your worst enemy. If you work exclusively on your business, then you have ALL DAY to get things done. Right? Except that when you face the prospect of a whole day ahead of you, it can be daunting to figure out how to plan that day and make the most of it. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the dilemma about managing your time. There are some tips that might work for just about anyone, though. If you feel like you’re spending all your time doing one thing, and you wish you had just a little more time to do something else, the resources are out there to help you have it all (without bending the space-time continuum to create more than 24 hours in any given day). Really! A recent post in the Etsy Seller’s Handbook recommended working with your natural tendencies when you want to make the time for something. Instead of forcing yourself into a routine that feels arbitrary or unappealing, try to create a routine around the things you love most about your business. Focus on making products if that’s what you enjoy most; schedule that at the peak time of productivity in your day. Then fit in all the other bits and pieces around it. Read the rest of the post for more ideas you can put into action if you want more time to make the things you love. If you’re still a little lost, or you feel like a Time Management Failure, there’s a new micro-course that could be helpful. Beverly Army-Williams is a writing professor who finds that her students often have a lot of writing inspiration – but not a lot of time to fit writing into their daily routines. She has worked with them to develop time-management skills, and now she’s bringing that expertise to the world. With You Have Time, she reminds you that you actually have 168 hours a week to work with; so, as it turns out, you probably have more time than you think. Her course will help you see how you use your time now and make changes that could help you use it more wisely next week and beyond. Here are a few more tips for managing your time, and finding the time to do what you love:
- Use the thing you love as a reward for the thing you don’t. When I have a lot of boring or unpleasant work to do, I schedule time to knit in the afternoon. Then, if I finish all of my work on time (or – bonus! – early), I get the reward of sitting down to knit without feeling guilty because I know my boring work is finished and out of the way.
- Use a To Do list that works for YOU. If you’re constantly online, a program like Evernote might be useful to keep track of your lists. You can incorporate check-boxes to have the satisfaction of checking things off the list when you complete them. If you’re NOT always online, then it might work better for you to write down your To Dos in a regular agenda book or a pretty notepad. Keep it handy in your regular working area so it will be impossible for you to miss it.
- Some people even like to force themselves to avoid temptation. With the help of Leechblock, you can actually block yourself from tempting, time-sucking web sites during specific times of the day. There are even ways to stop yourself from turning it off!
When it comes right down to it, you get only so many hours in a day, and only so many days in a lifetime. What’s the most important thing for YOU – how do YOU want to spend the time you’ve been given? If you have any tips for the rest of us, leave a comment below and share it!
Header photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc
photo credit: gadl via photopin cc
As a small business owner, you probably wear a lot of hats. Sometimes you’re the CEO, other times you’re the CFO, and still other times you’re the Shipping Department Head or the Quality Control Manager. Some of this just can’t be helped, but if you find yourself spending a lot of time being the Email Response Team Leader (aka, The Only Person Who Answers Customer E-mails), then it might be possible to streamline that process a little bit and free up some valuable time in your work day.
This is where the FAQ Page comes in. FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions (and in fact, if your customers aren’t particularly web-savvy then you might want to spell it out that way rather than using the standard abbreviation), and it’s a page where you put answers to the questions your customers are most likely to ask. That way your customers will spend more time reading your web site to find the information they need and less time e-mailing you with their questions. They get the answers they’re looking for and you get more time to focus on your business: win, meet win.
Just to be clear: the FAQ page isn’t the right solution for every business. It’s not the Magic Cure for lost time, and it’s not guaranteed to help you OR your customers.
Could an FAQ page save you time and help your customers? Answer the following questions to find out:
- Do your customers regularly send you e-mails or convos through your web site or shop site to ask you questions about your products or your company?
- Do you frequently get asked the SAME question by several different customers?
- When your customers ask you questions, do you usually give them all the same basic answers?
If you answered NO for most of these questions, then chances are you don’t need an FAQ page. This is probably because your customers already get the information they need from your web site, or their questions are too specific and individual to be answered by a common response. If you answered YES, then keep reading…
Here are some tips to build an FAQ page that will serve your customers AND save you time, neatly arranged in the format of an FAQ page for your entertainment and education:
How do I find the questions I should include on my FAQ page?
Write down a list of the questions you get asked the most often via e-mail or customer convo. If you don’t KNOW which questions are the most frequent ones, try making a list of every question you receive for a period of one month. At the end of the month, you should see the questions that are asked most frequently. If there are a lot of questions, consider breaking down your FAQ page into categories.
What do I do with the questions once I have them?
Pair up those questions with a response. Keep it short and to the point, but make sure to include enough detail to fully answer the question. If a question has several parts, consider breaking them up in to separate questions instead of making one answer overly wordy.
How should I set up the FAQ page on my site?
When you type out your FAQ page, use bold or color differences between the question and the corresponding answer to make it easy for users to see where one question/answer set ends and another begins. As an example, we used bold pink text for questions and regular black text for answers.
How will my customers find my FAQ page?
Make it as user-friendly as possible. Link to your FAQ page on the main landing page of your site, or use the header or footer navigation if that’s how customers normally move from one page to another on your site. It’s not a bad idea to put the link to your FAQ page in more than one spot, either. After all, the FAQ page won’t do you any good if your customers can’t find it. Don’t have a stand-alone web site? Put your FAQs directly into your Etsy Shop Policy page or set it up as a stand-alone page on your blog.
How do I get my customers to use my FAQ page?
This may to take a little time, if your customers haven’t been accustomed to using an FAQ page for your business in the past. If a customer e-mails you with a question that’s already answered on your site, simply give them a quick response like this: “Thank you so much for your e-mail! If you look at our site’s FAQ page here (link them to it), you’ll find the answer to your question and several others. If your question isn’t fully answered in the FAQs, please feel free to e-mail us again and we’ll fill in all the details you need.” Keep this standardized e-mail in your documents so you can just copy/paste it any time you get an FAQ e-mail question.
What else do I need to do?
At the bottom of your FAQ page it might be a good idea to write something like “If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for here, feel free to contact us at email@example.com.” That way your customers know that you’re still available to assist them if their question is too specific to be an FAQ. And don’t forget – if you use Patterned for your custom orders, put a link to your Patterned information on your FAQ page so your customers will know where to find their custom order updates!
It will take a little time to set up an FAQ page, but in the long run that’s time you’ll save, not having to answer the same e-mail every week.
Have you found success with an FAQ page for your business? Leave us a comment and tell us what works for you and your customers!
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It seems like every year, the stores start stocking their Christmas items earlier and earlier, don’t they? There are barely any spots for the pumpkins and ghosts because they’re being crowded out by snowmen and evergreens already. If you’re a small business owner, this should be your warning sign: the holiday shopping season is already upon us! Are you ready?
In case this idea incites a small panic attack for you, never fear. We’ve put together some great survival tips for the holiday season, for business owners of every shape and size. So grab yourself a gingerbread latte and get to work!
Tips for Small Business Holiday Survival:
1. Spruce things up and invite your guests over for a treat.
Whether you run an online business or you work out of a brick-and-mortar location, it’s time to decorate for the holidays! For an in-person business, dust off your shelves and get ready to deck the halls: even just a few holiday touches can add a dash of personality to your shop or office space. Put out a plate of holiday cookies for your customers to enjoy while they browse, or brew up a batch of spiced cider to keep their hands warm on a chilly shopping trip. This will make your customers feel like they’re visiting a friend rather than shopping with an impersonal stranger.
If your business is online, you can still take advantage of this tip! Give your logo a holiday once-over; use a program like PicMonkey to add an overlay of snowflakes or Santa hats to your logo image and upload it to your web site. Give the site a holiday-themed background color or simply put a holiday greeting in your usual message to your customers. Maybe you can’t brew cider for your customers, but you can send them holiday cards if you’re very ambitious, or include a mini card or thank-you gift of candy or another treat with every purchase within a certain time frame. This little incentive can be enough to make your customers buy now instead of waiting, which will help to boost your revenue going into the heart of the new year sales slump.
2. Mark your calendar!
From the customer’s perspective, holiday shopping can be overwhelming. Advertisers from businesses large and small inundate customers with marketing messages from October through the New Year. Unless your product is 100% unique, chances are someone else makes a similar product, and they’re marketing that product to your customers. Help your customers avoid analysis paralysis and make the decision to shop with YOU. To do this, set an important date or a range of dates for a special sale or offer. Big-box businesses take advantage of Black Friday, but the Saturday after that is Small Business Saturday, which is your day. If you’ve got an online shop, you can even extend your offer to include the following Monday (known as Cyber Monday). You don’t need to break the bank for this – offer your customers a special discount code that is slightly higher than your usual sale, give them a free gift with purchase or the chance to preview a new product first in January if they make a purchase in December. Don’t get left behind in the holiday shopping hustle and bustle; give your customers an appointment to shop with you.
3. Use social media to your advantage.
The holiday season isn’t necessarily the best time to learn social media from the ground up, but if you’ve already been using a particular form of social media for your business with some success, keep at it during the holidays. Use this time to take photos of the special products you’re creating for the season, and post them to sites like Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Share your favorite family holiday recipe, and tell a favorite holiday story. If you’re a local business, promote any local events in your area, whether you’ll be attending them or not: this will make you into a one-stop information shop for your customers who are looking for local holiday fun. If you run an online-only biz, give your customer a heads-up about national happenings, including the holiday specials they might enjoy on TV or any new holiday music albums you’ve found and enjoyed. Keep in regular contact with your customers this season, but don’t make every post into a promotion or you’ll sound too much like a walking advertisement. Give your social media a personal touch during this season of light and joy.
Need more advice? Check out these articles on holiday survival in the small business world:
– Social Solutions Collective – Fall Marketing Strategy: Small Business Tips for the Holidays
– Small Business Administration – Five Holiday Marketing Tips
– INC.com – How Can You Boost Local Sales this Season?
– Handmadeology – 7 Easy Tips to Have a Fun and Profitable Holiday Event
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