The SCAN Data program is Altria and RJ Reynold's (tobacco) platform that gives incentives to merchants who sell cigarettes. Most POS companies charge $25 to $99 per month, but with us, it's free. Ask us how we can help you save more than just these fees if you sell cigarettes.
Jonathan: I have known Zev, a hands-on marketing expert, for a few years. We sat down for an open, heart-to-heart discussion about marketing and small business.
Jonathan: Zev, before you start, tell me a little bit about your background and how you wound up spending a career building small businesses with a focus on marketing?
Zev: My journey didn’t start in business or marketing but psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by the human brain. I came to the U.S. from Israel to study psychology but with just enough money to last me for my freshman year. When I graduated (with Honors) I wanted to pursue a doctorate in psychology but there was no way I could have afforded to study and support myself. I decided to pursue an MBA in Marketing instead, or what I thought was a discipline that was very much aligned with psychology.
Jonathan: And then what happened?
Zev: I had a choice to make as an immigrant with a six-month-old baby; work for IBM and climb the sought-after corporate ladder or work for small businesses where, if I was good, would provide me with an opportunity to grow professionally and financially. I was never interested in titles or corner offices anyway. It was a strategic, career decision but it worked out very well for me and I was able to learn first-hand, in “the trenches of small business” what it takes for small companies to survive and thrive.
Jonathan: So how did marketing fit into your plan?
Zev: Without dating myself, I am one of few professionals that has experience that extends way before the Internet and well into the 21st century. It has awarded me an extensive and very interesting perspective on how to grow a business but especially on marketing.
Jonathan: Since you brought it up, what do you think has been the most influential aspect of the Internet, or the digital revolution, on retail businesses?
Zev: I am going to get some people angry with my answer but if you bear with me, you’ll understand why I believe I’m right. When I do public speaking or workshops I always ask the audience this question: “Do you think it was easier or more difficult before the Internet to grow a business?” The majority always answer, “it is much easier today than it has ever been to run and grow a business,”. Sorry, wrong answer – remember, I’ve done both and I can say unequivocally that today is way more challenging than pre-Internet.
Here’s why: Remember the saying, “if it was that easy everyone would be doing it?” – that’s exactly my point! Every business owner and entrepreneur has access to the full range of digital platforms and products to promote their business. The result an overwhelming marketing noise that continuously hits our prospective customers. This constant barrage of messages, posts, videos, paid advertising that rank high on Google, etc., is not only challenging from a business standpoint but more importantly, it overwhelms and confuses our customers.
Jonathan: That is an interesting perspective so why does it matter, or maybe the question is “so now what should a retailer do”?
Zev: It matters because differentiating yourself is incredibly challenging. Which brings up to marketing – I like simplicity and dislike jargon so here’s the role of marketing in one sentence: “Get your business noticed in a way that drives qualified leads, or prospective buyers, to engage and learn more about you.” But here’s the thing, it doesn’t and shouldn’t end right there. While in my core I am a marketing specialist, I have always ensured that my responsibility covers what I call The Three Pillars of Growth in business: Marketing, or “get the leads in”, Sales or “convert them to paying customers”, and Customer Service or “never ever give them a reason to think about leaving”.
All of this is especially critical for retailers – whether you are a fashion boutique, wine shop, or a restaurant owner, you’ve got to go through the painstaking process of identifying what makes you unique. The best way for retailers to do that is also the simplest way: Speak to your customers, get to know them and let them tell you how they make a buying decision.
Jonathan: So retailers should ask their clients right after they make a purchase why they just made that purchase from them?
Zev: Let me first state that this is incredibly critical, but it is also hard work. You can’t just send a survey and expect the work to be done. How many customers love to complete surveys? Not many. The best way, the one I recommend without hesitation, is to speak to your customers. Engage your customers when they come to your business. Engage them before, during, and after they leave. They will appreciate the attention and will tell you what you want to know. For example, ask them which Facebook pages they follow, what blogs they read, what podcasts they listen to, what other sources of information they subscribe to. Ask them what it important to them when they shop at your store. Is the service? Do they value you are two minutes away from their office? Ask them how you rate when it comes to fulfilling their expectations? It’s not difficult to have a conversation, but be strategic about what you ask and what you want to know. Lastly, you need to commit to getting this feedback.
Jonathan: If we can pivot, it seems that all everyone talks about is marketing these days: web-marketing, brand-marketing, email-marketing, social media-marketing, etc. Are they missing something?
Zev: Absolutely. Look how many webinars and “secret tips to crush your next marketing campaign” books and podcasts are out there. There are quite a few gurus and self-made experts who claim they uncovered the secret to successful marketing; some of them are brilliant marketers who are making a lot of money on the backs of desperate entrepreneurs. But most are not because despite their claims, no one has been able to demystify human behavior. It may appear simple, that a “red” call to action button is the color that will make a human to press it. I’m sorry, but whatever study was run to suggest that, next week “blue” may win. While color may certainly play a role in decision-making, what takes place before you get to press the button is way more critical.
Jonathan: So how do we figure out what works and what doesn’t?
Zev: Marketing is a science – it’s not a “thing” where all you do is post stuff on Facebook, LinkedIn etc. My favorite saying to our clients is, “likes don’t pay the bills”. You simply can’t make assumptions; instead all we do in marketing is test, retest and test again. I don’t know if red or blue is the color this week, so I run two ads and compare the responses.
Jonathan: With Social media everywhere, are we spending too much time marketing on it?
Zev: That’s a great question and the answer is actually quite simple: When marketing ‘works’ i.e., creates a consistent and sustainable growth for your business, it is always a result of the cumulative efforts of marketing, not just social media but direct mail, email, PR, etc. It is a balancing act using multiple platforms and tools but the most critical aspect of doing anything in marketing is “know your customer!” We have the ability to reach the masses but the key to success is identifying who your customers are (the multiple groups and segments) then spending time constructing their “profile”. Intimate knowledge of your ideal customer is the key to success.
Jonathan: What do you think is the biggest challenge small retailers face today?
Zev: Get out of your own way. One of the most frustrating aspects of working with entrepreneurs is their increasing lack of patience – everyone wants guaranteed results or what I call “the endless chase for certainty.” Owners must commit to a marketing budget (free marketing doesn’t work) then let a marketing professional implement a scientific approach to business growth – identify your customer, make some assumptions, present marketing “ideas” and measure what works. Testing, by virtue of what the word means, requires multiple approaches and the patience to learn from them. Every client we speak with starts with, “so if I commit a budget to this it will work right?” – No, I would rather than you invest less but commit more in the form of patience and allowing us to intimately engage with your prospects.
Jonathan: I am curious, is there one person that influenced you the most when it comes to marketing?
Zev: Absolutely and it is Seth Godin. I’ve followed him for over twenty year and I truly consider him a marketing genius – not from an intellectual perspective, although I wish I had his brain, but from his ability to “see” clearly and deeply what marketing is all about. Seth’s mantra that I have adopted throughout my career is rooted in his “Purple Cow” book – or to quote a title of another book, “Differentiate of Die” – especially nowadays where there is so much marketing noise out there, we must find a way to get noticed (Purple Cow) and then find a way to engage at a deep and meaningful way in order for marketing to actually generate results.
Jonathan: Zev thanks for your time and insights, and one can read more about Zev and his marketing, sales and customer service approach at www.ledaza.com. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on his cell because that’s how he’s most accessible at 631.875.4103.
A few months ago, Visa published a brief on their new Claims Resolution Initiative. It outlines their process with dealing with disputes and fraud, because of the rapid increase in both (in terms of relative and absolute frequency). Here is their brief.
Jonathan: I recently spoke to Doug Bend of the Bend Law Group about how to best create layers of defense for a retail business
Jonathan: Before getting to how a business should create layers of defense, what exactly are we defending against?
Doug: Our firm has counseled hundreds of business owners, including many retail businesses. The owners who sleep the best at night are those who have made strategic legal and insurance investments to protect their business and personal assets. That's why we recommend four layers of defense for small business owners.
Jonathan. Ok. What’s the first layer of defense?
Doug: It's hard to overstate the amount of litigation that could be avoided by great customer service. The saying "penny wise and pound foolish" is never more true than when it comes to a customer potentially suing you for negligence. All it takes is for an unhappy customer to complain to an attorney at a cocktail mixer who responds, “You should sue!”. The least expensive legal defense you will ever pay is apologizing and comping the customer product or providing them with a discount. If a customer was harmed at your business, apologize and be quick to fix whatever might have caused the injury, and err on the side of reimbursing the customer's reasonable, documented expenses.
Jonathan: And if you are able to nip this problem in the bud, not only might you prevent potential lawsuits, but you might turn what could have been a 1-star review into a 5-star review.
Doug: Yes, you might gain new customers and not lose any potential customers because of the bad PR.
Jonathan: I’m sure that sometimes the apology and offers to reimburse the cost of products does not insulate a retail business from unhappy customers who want a pound of flesh. So what’s the next layer of protection for retailers?
Doug: Yes, even with great customer service there may still be a lawsuit. A solid insurance policy can help cover the costs of the litigation, and if you lose the lawsuit, the damages. Be sure to know what the insurance policy covers and what it doesn't. Many mistakes occur when a business believes they have coverage when they actually don't. They're only left to find out after a potential claim has been brought to their attention.
Jonathan: What’s the final layer of protection?
Doug: A properly formed and maintained legal entity can serve as a crucial last line of defense to help protect your personal assets from your business activities. If a customer isn't satisfied with your apology and your insurance don't cover the claim, a legal entity can serve as a final backstop to prevent the customer from going after your personal assets. Consult with a business attorney and your CPA about the best type of legal entity for your business, as there isn't a one-size-fits-all legal entity choice.
Jonathan: This last layer of protection sounds like the very first thing a business owner should do.
Doug: A legal entity certainly provides the most bang for the legal buck for most retail businesses
Jonathan: I know there is also a bit of pushing between the attorneys and the accountants over the ‘best’ legal structure for a business. The attorneys are looking for protection and the accountants are looking at tax efficiency, and they may not come up with the same answer. Do you have a feeling which should prevail?
Doug: Many of our retail clients form an LLC, but there is not a one size fits all answer. It depends on each client’s goals, sources of financing and other factors to make sure we select the best legal entity for their business.
Jonathan: Many thanks for your time as I know how precise your time is and this is not a billable event.
Doug: Thank you for this opportunity to talk, and if anyone would like to discuss business formation, I’m reachable.
Jonathan: I recently spoke to Jan Roos of CaseFuel with the goal of learning the key factors to creating a seven figure law firm. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Jonathan: What does it take to build a multimillion dollar (law) practice?
Jan: At CaseFuel, we’ve spoken to literally hundreds of law firm owners ranging from solo practitioners who are just starting out to massively successful firms. Fortunately, success leaves clues, and after speaking to many practice owners we’ve uncovered the four commonalities among practice owners that reached 7 figure annual revenues.
Jonathan: What’s the first factor?
Jan: Know your numbers. Focusing on objective measures for your business is one of those truisms that’s trotted out by many but implemented by few. Sure, we all check bank account balances and see a profit and loss sheet at least once a year when we file taxes, but the firms that grow know a lot more than that. They set goals. For example, if you take $1,000,000 and divide it into 12 months, it’s $83,333.33 per month. If your goal is to hit seven figures you need to average $83,333.33 per month. Going deeper, fast growing firms are able to easily convert this into case files required to hit that number by knowing their average case value. Let’s say you run a family law practice and made $30,000 last month on 6 new cases. Doing some quick math, the average case value is $5,000. If 7 figures is your goal, you now have the much more tangible figure of 17 cases ($83,333.33/5000, rounded up) to hit for that seven figure monthly run rate. Now you can take this further along and think about how many of these 17 cases can you expect from referrals, your website, networking, etc.
Jonathan: So the goal is to know what you need, and how you can get there, by breaking the entire practice into smaller, more manageable parts?
Jan: Yes, by breaking things down into manageable chunks, you’re setting yourself up for incremental gains that will result in real money in your checking account regardless of whether you make seven figures this year or not. And that’s worth investing time into.
Jonathan: What’s the second factor?
Jan: Practices need to focus their energy on predictable and scalable channels. We all want to get referrals, but it’s not possible to know with certainty how many referrals you are going to get next month. In our world of search engine marketing, we can easily look up the number of people searching for ‘divorce lawyer + CITY’ in a given month, usually numbering in the thousands. It’s knowable. You could also host workshops, doing “lunch and learns” with captive audiences, and you’ll get real good knowing how many will attend. Once you get a scalable channel locked in, it’s just a matter of how much you want to keep investing to keep the leads coming in. One more point about knowing what your predictable and scalable channels will yield for your practice, you should know what the cost per case file for any predictable channel you have, so that when you get a windfall you can choose where to invest that money to get the highest return if growth is your goal.
Jonathan: How many different channels would you suggest a firm pursue?
Jan: I definitely recommend having multiple channels established so as not to become dependent on any one, but how you get there is a different question. If you don't have a lot of time I don't recommend pursuing more than one channel at a time without the help of a professional. The learning curve can be steep, and the old adage of chase two rabbits and get zero will apply more often than not. If you have the resources (time/money/manpower) to pursue multiple channels, especially with the help of a specialist, you can go up to two or three at a time.
Jonathan: Excellent. What’s the third factor?
Jan: Owning the intake process. I recently interviewed someone on our podcast who concluded that firms are leaving millions of dollars of cases on the table by not focusing on intake.
In one instance, his company was able to help a firm post 200 new case files from leads that hadn’t been contacted in over 9 months. To think that this was accomplished on the coldest of cold cases paints a frightening picture of what could be possible by following up on people that are not on your radar. An interesting fact from the business world at large is that the top compensated person aside from the CEO in most cases is the person handling sales. In law firms, the person handling sales is typically the lowest compensated person working at the front desk.
Jonathan: Yikes. The lowest person on the totem pole is determining so much of firm’s success.
Jan: Yes. There are certainly firms out there that are losing out on potential case files due to manners on the phone, slow to call back, missed calls, or lack of follow up on ‘maybes’ and appointment setting. Putting this into numbers, we’ve seen firms with the best intake booking 20% of inbound leads from the internet into case files. This is double the 10% industry average, and the best part is that you don’t have to change your existing spend or marketing activity. We like to ask (practices) if you have 20 minutes a day to pick up another case file per week. If you’re committed to growing a practice, the answer is probably yes.
Jonathan: What’s the final factor that multimillion dollar practices have?
Jan: All of them are committed to success. For example, calling back someone who said ‘not right now’ is going to be a less pleasant conversation than calling back a hot referral. This is one of the major reasons firms trying out new marketing channels slide back to networking after a few months. If you’re committed to growing, you need to commit to ownership of the results you’re getting from all of your channels. In almost every city and practice area in the country, there are people posting case files from the same opportunities you have. The onus falls on you if they’re getting results and you’re not. Commitment is the difference between the client of ours that has been posting multiple high value personal injury cases per month for the last 3 years and the one the next town over that insisted that online marketing was impossible to build a business on after 2 months. Both of them were getting similar lead volumes and levels of qualification.
The first was focusing on the 20% that closed, treated every case as a potential opportunity and did their best to follow up; the second was focused on the 80% that didn’t, took their negative expectations into their calls and it affected the entire business.
Jonathan: I suspect that once these four factors are in place, the practice will operate at a higher level, even if it does not become a seven figure practice. Jan thank you for your time
Jan: Thank you. If anyone would like to speak to me about the process we use to generate case files for growing practices all over the country, feel free to drop a line over at casefuel.com. You can also listen to the Casefuel podcast and hear what some experts have to say about marketing your practice.
Jonathan: I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alex Miller of Millennium Medical Solutions with the goal of figuring out the key questions restaurant owners should be asking with regard to health insurance which then lead to a larger HR picture. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Jonathan: Alex, everyone knows healthcare laws have been going through lots of changes. What should restaurants owners ask their healthcare broker?
Alex: The first questions is “what is their method for controlling healthcare costs”? Using data and benchmarking they should be able to show you where your premium falls in comparison to restaurants similar to yours. They will also negotiate with carriers to get you the best rate and suggest alternative options for funding your benefits.
Jonathan: I often say rate or cost does not mean much unless you consider value. So what should they expect for the best rate?
Alex: “Best” refers to the best brokers and the best carriers. The best brokers will be able to provide you with references in similar industries and demographics to yours. This guarantees your benefits broker is focused on the specific types of products your employees need. The best brokers are the ones who are invested in your employees and want them to completely understand their benefit options. They will host informational sessions and schedule employee meetings so everyone can understand what they are getting. Lastly, you want your broker to be accessible in case you ever need them. Someone needs to always be available to help you if you have a question about your plan or are having trouble making a claim. This dedicated contact person can help you resolve any issues and answer questions.
Jonathan: And what about best carriers?
Alex: The best (carriers’) insurance programs can directly impact employee turnover, retention numbers, workplace productivity, job offer acceptance rates, and candidate quality. With the ability to affect your organization at a very large scale, it is important to have a broker and carrier who really outperforms. A good broker knows the pros and cons of the carriers and can steer you in the right direction. You might not be able to tell the right decision immediately, but the wrong choice can really impact you and you don’t want to experience those shock waves.
Jonathan: Health insurance is often thought of as a retention tool because employees or potential employees want to know that they have good coverage. When framed this way it sounds more like HR than just health insurance.
Alex: It is part of the HR sphere. A good broker takes compliance to the next level. They will supply you with all of the tools and information you need in order to make informed decisions. They will act as a trusted partner who works strategically with HR, supplying the vital tools for success; tools such as online enrollment and outsourcing services. You want your broker to be a total solution provider for your organization.
Jonathan: Talk to me about PEOs (Professional Employer Organization)?
Alex: A PEO may very well be the answer to the common question, “How do we get into a large buying group for healthcare? We have young employees and likely rated as a low risk (profile)”. A restaurant may be part of a buyer group for everything else but for healthcare they cannot combine with other businesses. With a PEO a small business can underwrite and indeed get large group rates and yield a 15-40% medical insurance savings alone. For example, for New York businesses, the rates are the same whether the group is 28 or 58. Additionally, for Restaurant Execs there are unique benefits no longer offered on New York SMB Market. The biggest compliment we hear is that you have empowered our restaurant with simplicity, choice and a sustainable solution needed to attract and retain our greatest asset - our people.
Jonathan: OK I understand that PEO or large buying group using payroll and benefits has taken off. Is this appropriate for restaurants?
Alex: So the PEO can get pricey depending on the number of participants enrolled on a health plan. I would not say this is an automatic for all restaurants. That said, if the PEO can save enough on the medical to offset admin costs and the company can save valuable time then it could work. The average man hours saved is 10 hours per month. There is empirical evidence that companies using a PEO grow faster and stay in business longer. I would simply say why keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. At renewal, you should be kicking the tires with an experienced PEO expert. Borrowing on 20 years of industry experience and coming from Blue Cross (from years ago) we are in a unique position to help our clients.
Jonathan: If the PEO does not make sense do you then advise they simply go back to their state market?
Alex: Clients today are sophisticated and demand simplicity and value. As an alternative to the PEO we offer a technologies exclusive via Private Exchange. This tech emulates the defined contribution cafeteria style multiple plan offering with, a Benefits/Payroll/Tech convergence if you will. The admin costs are a fraction of a PEO but there are no large group medical discounts. This is a great affordable fall back option to gain competitive advantage for our restaurant groups.
Jonathan: Alex, thank you for your time
Alex: Thank you, and everyone should feel free to reach out to me. I’m happy to help restaurant owners or other business owners get the best answers so that they can make the most informed decisions.
Jonathan: Alex can best be reached at Millennium Medical Solutions,
200 Business Park Drive, Suite 204, Armonk, NY 10504, (914) 207-6161,
website: Millenium Medical Solutions
Customers no longer need to sign receipts to complete transactions. This can make operations easier for many merchants. We have some concerns that even though signing is not required, the mere act of signing a receipt might act as a deterrent to fraud and chargebacks. Just something to think about.