Is it just me or do others agree that the sales people from American Express and Citibank are offensive in their aggressive sales tactics? I travel frequently and am annoyed by their intrusion. Even if I pass their booth with a wide berth I have had them almost chase me down. Not always, but enough to make me consider getting a water pistol to cool them down. Their tactics are damaging the Amex and Citibank brands in my view.
One factor often ignored by small business owners is the total cost of ownership of the system they are considering. For example, if company A offers a purchase price of $10,000 and annual support fees of $1,000 and company B offers a purchase price of $7,000 and annual support fees of $3,000 then company A is the better offer on financial terms. A good sales person can pitch against this by focusing on the sale price and ignoring support. However, given the compliance requirements in business today it is vital that software is enhanced – hence the need to consider support fees in the total cost of ownership.
We have won business recently where the combined purchase price and support costs for our software are less over four years than the support costs of incumbent software.
We have not increased our support fees in five years. That will change in 2007 but the increase will be lower than CPI.
We’ve modified our software to give our small business users flexibility in handling the new Eftpos fees. They can apply a surcharge based on a percentage or fixed amount with the fee kicking in if the sale is above or below a certain amount. The challenge for small business is to overcome the fear of what big business will do. Many wanted the ability to charge the Eftpos surcharge but then baulked because of fear that major competitors would not charge. By making handling the charge easy, our intention is to take some of the paperwork and counter-decision worry away from small business.
We have culled our Fast 3 entries down to the final six. These awards are for the fastest growing users of our software. Same store business growth is the only measure. Next step is to get the data from each of the stores and verify the numbers. We hope to announce the winners by the end of the week.
We created the Fast 3 Awards because too many business awards are based on pretty entries and presentations. Growth is all that matters – especially in tough economic conditions. We were involved in the Telstra Small Business Awards a while back and felt it was more about form filling and talking up your business rather than actual performance numbers.
The growth achieved by the finalists is excellent.
On Fridays at our Head Office we put on some food – bruffins, muffins, croissant and other delights. We’ve been doing this since the 24 hour days of the GST launch. The rest of the week we have fresh fruit and healthy breakfast bars. Friday is for comfort food.
Is this a good deal or not? Access Pos, one of our competitors in the newsagent space, faxed newsagents yesterday with an offer which included the claim “MANY OF THESE PRICES ARE LESS THAN ONE THIRD OF OUR COMPETITORS.” It’s the same fax they sent early in October. Back then I emailed their Managing Director and advised (again) that the claim is untrue. Sure the hardware is cheap. However, you must buy their software. Once you do this and add some training and support, their price is higher than our price when compared to our most popular two package deals. They know this. I reminded them last month. Yet they again send out what is in my view, at best, a misleading statement. I have lodged a complaint with the ACCC.
Newsagents looking for a computer system ought to shop around and compare apples with apples. Choose the best system based on what it does for you. If you’re not sure, get two or three systems on the table next to each other and compare function by function. Check out the business reports and that they are designed to help you buiold a stronger business. Take your time. Then, compare price and not just price today but the price over, say, five years including support. Then, check out what free support services are available including user meetings, documentation and business help. Finally, get at least ten references and call every one of them. The more work you put into your decision the better the decision will be.
We are introducing Skype access for support calls – meaning people in far away places can contact our Help Desk free or call costs. This is a first at the small business end of the software marketplace and is another way we are trying to improve the customer experience.
Here is the front cover of our new brochure for jewellers. (Click on the image to download a copy of the full brochure.) We’re often asked if there is synergy between jewellers, our second biggest client base, and newsagents, our biggest. Our newsagency software is better for having jewellers making suggestions to us and vice versa. For example, jewellers are concerned about changes in stock movement patterns. We have built some reporting and alert tools to address this and they apply, unexpectedly, in a retail newsagency. Working with jewellers is one reason our newsagency software continues to deliver outside the field.
We’re looking for someone to join our Brisbane office in a systems installation, training and support role. If you know anyone with good current IT skills and a desire to help small business owners get the most from their IT systems then please have them email a cover letter and their resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Independent retailers are an easy target for people who want/need cash. The more relaxed business processes surrounding cash the better. We get called in when it is too late and a considerable amount of cash has been stolen. Our job is to get the evidence for the police or insurance company as to the quantum. While that’s all well and good, the reality is we would prefer to help with prevention – thus saving businesses tens of thousands of dollars a year. Even without spending money independent small retailers can cut the cost of theft. If they do just these five things they will significantly reduce the chances of employee theft:
1. Background check every new hire.
2. Balance every day – chase down reasons for not balancing.
3. Track every sale back to an employee – any good system will let you do this.
4. Respect employees and pay above base wage.
5. No bags, memory calculators, notepads at the counter.
6. Spend time at the counter and pick up on poor behavior.
7. Track cash and every point between the customer and your bank account.
These will seem like basic advice to most but I have to say that in every instance when we get called in at least several of the items on the list have been ignored.
Cutting employee theft is easy – all it takes is good business management.
Our hair salon software is gaining kudos in the marketplace. After several false starts over three years it seems that this year we have really found the right offer for the marketplace. Sales are strong and our opportunity pipeline is stronger than ever. What is most interesting is that we are being compared more and more to the undisputed market leader, shortcuts.
The more we work with hair salons the more our newsagency software improves, odd as that may sound. While on the surface there is not much synergy between hair salons and newsagencies underpinning both businesses is a commitment to customer service. We have found that customer service facilities developed for hair work well in newsagencies – when called something else – and vice versa. For example, our employee roster and some CRM type facilities grew out of a major update developed for hair salons.
Two stats we keep track of here relate to churn – users switching to our point of sale software and users switching from our point of sale software. Thankfully, the numbers for the former outweigh the latter by 10 to 1. It’s a challenge, especially with small businesses changing hands, on average, every three years. In our experience it all comes down to customer service – making every contact timely, personal and meaningful for the user.
The downside of the churn stats is the baggage of some people we are picking up. A bad experience with their previous POS company makes them wary of us. In the past we have not worked on this and it’s taken longer to develop the ideal relationship. Now, we have a program in place designed to help things start fresh for them, with us. We focus on building trust and guiding their unlearning of past practices. We have found that our structured approach to helping people switch to us is bringing even more across. This month, 75% of the systems we install are replacing other systems.
We have announced our 2006 Fast 3 Awards where our customers compete with themselves to be recognised as one of the three fastest growing users of our software. To enter they print a report which compared sales over a ten month period in 2006 with the same period in 2005. We measure on unit sales and the three with the most growth win.
The Fast 3 Awards get our users interacting with their software, underscores the importance of competing with yourself and rewards growth regardless of the size of the business.
Entrants are vying for prestige more than a financially rewarding prize as this is more about the process than anything else.
This cake shop, in the back streets of Vienna, is a perfect example of what local businesses do best. Their window is full of unique cakes – cakes one would not see in the window of an outlet from a chain of bake houses. In Vienna cakes tell local stories. Pastry cooks from different areas preserve their traditions in their recipes and designs. They compete to showcase their profession, working by hand to create works of art. It’s part of the charm of exploring the city, a charm I would like to see continue.
Back home in Victoria, thanks to tougher food regulations and the success of some chains we’re losing local cake shops. When they close we are left with supermarkets and chain outlets where the products are, often, less natural and certainly less local. While this will not necessarily shorten our lives, it takes away the delight of walking into the bake house to explore today’s delights.
I don’t see the sense in this kind of progress, replacing a local bake house with a chain store. However, I would not legislate to stop it. The answer, of course, is to eat cake, from an independent bake house, at every opportunity.
I am a fervent believer in small businesses. We uphold traditions. We employ locally. Our profits remain in the local area. We care more about our people and our community. We deliver better service.
A profitable small business profits many people. A profitable global giant, by comparison, profits few.
So, I eat cake and toast small business.
My take-away from the last two days in London is that globalisation has London in its paw. Major high street real-estate is controlled by global brands. Even side streets are populated with global brands. Local, quintessentially English businesses, are fading fast. From the coffee chains to fast food to fashion, London is less London today than it was a year ago and less then than a year before that. Soon, we won’t need to travel because the local experience we used to travel for will be gone and everything else, if one can make money from it, will be on tour.
Our latest marketing postcard is enjoying considerable success. It’s generated some excellent leads in the week it has been out in the marketplace. Part of the appeal is that the reader can get to the ad without opening an envelope or without fax paper being used. We’d like to think the main appeal is clarity of the pitch itself. Designed in house, this postcard is another in a series which we began last year. The reverse side is a simple black and white message with pricing and contact details.
Marketing software to small business is a challenge. When you find a medium which works there is no sense in changing until the results tell you. We sent out 3,000 postcards nationally. So far, the best per capita responses have come from Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.
A colleague had a car accident, his first ever, and his vehicle needed to be towed from the scene. Con, from Masterbeaters Smash Repairs in Box Hill, not only towed the vehicle but he also sorted out insurance issues for a difficult situation – ensuring that my colleague did not have to pay for the vehicle to be held too long and ensuring that he was compensated for the written-off vehicle. This service was provided on the day and a couple of days after the tow. There was nothing extra for Con or his company to make from this extra service. He went above and beyond duty, providing exceptional service for what was a basic $200 tow job. What he did was a great reminder to me and others at the office about the value of good customer service.
Please don’t ask for credit as refusal often offends.
I should have put one of those signs on the wall. Instead I believed a sad story more than a year ago and today have lost almost $10,000 as a result. Okay, I’m gullible. I’ll always help a client who asks. Discounts on support fees, canceling support fees or giving them time to pay if they are in what sounds like a real bind.
More than a year ago the story was sad. I believed it and allowed time to pay for a major upgrade. The warning signs were there. Slow and then no payments. I allowed more time. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
we need to remind ourselves that this is business and people will take you for a ride. So, rather than our business being offended with a bad debt, we’ll refuse and let people fix their problems elsewhere. It’s only fair.
I can afford the $10,000 but not the pain caused by being let down.
We have loaded the just completed brochure for our new software for jewellers to our website. This brochure is being sent to every jeweller in to country to introduce our Marketing Manager, Andrew Halpern, and our new software. It’s exciting for us as our new software is rich in features and already getting great kudos in the marketplace.