You may be wondering why your business has never become the next Apple, Virgin, Bad Boy, or Coke.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs spend long hours on their businesses and sometimes become frustrated because all they do is work FOR the business and not ON the business.
As a business owner myself, I used to wonder what set apart top businesses from the rest of the herd. How did thought leaders such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Sean John grow their businesses, and what type of grassroots approaches did they use when they first begun?
After taking a closer look and studying some businesses, I realized that there were a few distinguishing factors that enabled these businesses to explode their loyal fan following and boost their sales. I am sharing my findings here about five approaches these thought leaders took and how you can help take your business to the next level by using them as well:
1. Become Community Oriented
It is absolutely critical to create a community-oriented business. When you start focusing on structuring your business around your community, you’ll see that you began to develop a fan following.
When Ben and Jerry’s first started, the owners created a “Free Cone Day.” During this day, all they did was give away free cones. It was done by Ben and Jerry as a customer and staff appreciation event for the one-year anniversary of their ice cream store’s opening. This drove in people to their store, and it was a great way to introduce the business and their ice-cream to potential life-long customers.
By building a community-oriented business, Ben & Jerry’s was able to leverage its fan following when Pillsbury strong-armed a Ben & Jerry’s distributor. Pillsbury delivered an ultimatum – the distributor could sell Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s, but not both. The young upstart Ben & Jerry refused to let that be the end of it. They looked into their legal options but found that they were too expensive to pursue and therefore decided to deal with the problem themselves.
Ben & Jerry’s launched the “What’s the doughboy afraid of?” campaign. They took out advertisements on buses and rented banner planes that flew around sporting events. Jerry became a one-man picket at Pillsbury headquarters. They slapped a 1-800 number on every pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
“We started getting like a hundred calls a night, most of them between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m.,” he tells us.
The bad press forced Pillsbury to stop trying to hobble a competitor. This is the beauty of creating a community-oriented business.
Another example is Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle plays by its own rules. The Denver-based company avoids TV commercials and most other traditional advertising. In fact, it spends less in a year on advertising than McDonald’s spends in 48 hours.
When Steve Ells opened a cramped outlet in a Denver storefront, with only $85,000 to cover everything, his strategy was not to spend tons of money on advertising. Rather, he gave away food and allowed the food to speak for itself.
When dozens of reporters were camped out in Denver in 1997 as Timothy J. McVeigh was tried for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Chipotle regularly delivered free food to the courthouse. By executing “out of the box” strategies that focused on creating a community-oriented business, Chipotle has created an all-volunteer army, which has helped make them one of the hottest properties in the restaurant industry.
The problem that many start-up entrepreneurs have is that they are stingy for the wrong reasons. If you are stingy to your customers, you will not become successful. Let me repeat that: if you are stingy to your customers, you will NOT become successful. You need to allow your business to revolve around your community. It pays to give back. Not only is it rewarding, it’s a strategic business move.
2. Add the “Wow” Factor to Customer Service
If there was one factor that any business should focus on the most, it should be customer service. When you show people that you actually “GIVE” a bleep, they will appreciate it.
Good customer service is still probably one of the best word-of-mouth strategies of all time. One company that puts the “Wow” Factor in customer service is Zappos. What set apart Zappos from the rest of its competition was its ABSOLUTE FOCUS on Customer Service. The following is a testimonial from a Zappos customer:
In May we had ordered several pairs of shoes from Zappos for my mom. She’d lost a lot of weight, and her old shoes were all too big. She had a whole new wardrobe of clothes in pretty colors, that fit, so I wanted her to have some pretty shoes that fit, too, when I took her up to Oregon to stay where her sister is.
Out of seven pairs, only two fit. Not bad considering she’d never been this thin, so I was winging it, and the return shipping is free. The rest were here waiting to be returned. Because of various circumstances – lost label, my mom being hospitalized and me being away, the shoes were never sent back. There’s a time limit on the return of 15 days. Remember this. When you do a return to them, they pay the shipping, but you have to get the shoes to UPS yourself. Remember this, also. When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s going against corporate policy.
Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is. So…IF YOU BUY SHOES ONLINE, GET THEM FROM ZAPPOS. With hearts like theirs, you know they’re good to do business with.
By focusing on your EXISTING customer base, you build life-long buyers. You need to show your customers that you are willing to take care of them. You need to treat them like humans and cater to their feelings. By doing this, you build life-long customers who will continue to come back to you over and over again. Although you may lose money here and there by catering to your customers’ needs, I believe it is absolutely crucial in order to build a strong business with lots of value.
Your customers will be talking about your business for generations to come if you treat them well. Don’t ever undervalue customer service when building your business. If you haven’t been focusing on customer service, start now as I believe it’s the single most important thing you can do to revitalize your business.
3. Focus on Creating Value
Many business owners worry too much about their balance sheets rather than trying to create something of value. Although it’s important to keep a close eye on your financial situation, I think it’s equally as important to focus on creating a good product or providing excellent service.
It’s a very simple philosophy…Creating high quality products and providing excellent service is directly proportional to revitalizing your business and increasing sales.
Have you ever taken a second to wonder why Apple is making billions of dollars?
The reason is because they strive to become the revolutionary leader in ANY field they enter. You can know for a fact that any product they bring to the market is highly functional, affordably priced, and insanely sexy. When they came out with the iMac, they revolutionized computing. When they came out with the iPod, they revolutionized the music scene. When they came out with the iPhone, they revolutionized the mobile world. When shoppers sleep outside of stores just to be one of the first to buy an iPhone, it’s obvious that Apple is a company that enjoys fanatical business loyalty.
However, this business success is not a result of dumb luck or forces beyond Apple’s control; it’s part of a well-thought-out plan to deliver strong products and create an Apple culture. Apple carefully considers what consumers are looking for, so its products are a result of both extensive research and strong design. This meticulous planning is a large contributor to Apple’s high customer satisfaction rates. From packaging to aesthetic design to user-interface experience, Apple makes its products accessible and attractive.
All of Apple’s products have the same basic architecture. Because of this consistency, customers who already own Apple products have a good idea of what they’ll be getting before they make a purchase. It’s plain and simple: when you create products with value, you not only make your customers happy, but you also make them want to buy more products from you in the future.
4. Dare to Be Creative
Daring to be creative is one of the key ways to revitalizing your business. In a time where individuals are plastered with advertising everywhere they look, it is vital to use creativity to set your business apart from the rest. Creativity is the forefront of culture. It’s what drives many factors in today’s world, and it is essential to living in a free enterprise culture.
One example of creativity is the clothing line Johnny Cupcakes.
John Earle, the founder and creative mind behind Johnny Cupcakes’ t-shirts combined baking and cross-bones to create a business of clothing that has catapulted in popularity far beyond any popularity that normal frosting could ever have. Walk into the Johnny Cupcakes store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and you’ll find a twelve-foot oven emanating steam, pipes oozing faux frosting with custom-made five-inch sprinkles, and stovetops complete with fake flames.
“I wanted it to be the Willy Wonka of t-shirt stores,” says Johnny, who teamed up with a building company that works with Disneyland and Universal Studios to create the store. But when Earle first started selling his t-shirts eight years ago, it was out of the back of his beat-up ‘89 Camry.
He takes a special pride in his unique shirts. He also puts an emphasis on personal attention to detail and the inclusion of his family and friends in his strictly independent business that still relies on the rapid word-of-mouth.
“I’ll sit down with my customers, take them out to eat, hang out at the shop with them. You don’t see Ralph Lauren or Marc Jacobs playing kickball or eating pizza with their customers,” he says. “When these kids camp out for days to get limited edition shirts, my own mom will go out with brown bag lunches to hand them out to customers. My sister will give out freeze-pops. I want to give people something to talk about. I want them to feel something when they walk into my stores.”
Johnny Cupcakes has created a cult-like following with his business. Anytime he opens a new store, there are lines extending around the block.
5. Let Customers Know You Are a Fun Company
The most important factor of building a solid business is to have fun! Don’t take it too seriously. Do something just for fun (organize fun customer events, dress for fun, share funny things with customers) and give employees tools to create a fun relationship with customers.
This makes work more fun for employees, and it strengthens the relationship with customers. Dick Snow of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream says, “We believe that we’re in the entertainment business and selling ice cream is just a part of what we do. In our stores the counter is our stage and the customers are our audience.”
Disneyland has the same kind of approach. Employees are part of an entertainment experience, and they aren’t just doing a job. Business is supposed to be enjoyable. Losing focus of that only tends to negatively impact your business and cause you to forget why you started your business in the first place.
As an entrepreneur, you are probably working all day. There is no end to your overtime, so be sure you have fun for yourself, both at work and outside of work. Keeping an easygoing environment is also crucial for keeping your employees happy. Experience and statistics show that employees who enjoy their jobs are more productive and will stay with a company far longer than employees who do not enjoy their jobs.
Fun at work doesn’t have to be an extravagant ordeal. It could be as simple as taking an hour or two once a week and having an office party or a dance-off. You can make meetings more fun by bringing in play things such as Nerf balls, a basketball and a hoop, or party blowers.
Laughter creates a strong bond that brings us together. People like to be with employees who are having fun. Creativity, intuition and flexibility are key to successful operation of organizations today. In stimulating environments, employees who enjoy their time at work will also excel at work. Attracting customers is easier in an environment of hospitality.
A fun workplace is not only more productive, but it attracts customers and profits.
About the author: Franklin Philips is the founder of Shruffle, a blog about personal development.