There’s a tiny cafe downtown that’s a favorite lunch spot for state workers and a few urban dwellers.  One day, while waiting for my order during a recent lunch time stop, I caught a glimpse of a few “glitches” that I would bet any amount of money, have not been seen by the cafe owner.  Small hygienic issues that I’m certain the owner is not aware of because he’s in the back of the house making Paninis, and doesn’t have the customer’s view of his establishment.

The solution is simple, become a customer in your own establishment and experience your business from the customer point of view.   If you normally enter your business through the back door, come in through the front door a few times a week.  Stand or sit where your customers usually stand, and look around the place.   If there’s a waiting area, sit on the furniture and let your eyes wander like those of a bored customer.  Start at the corners of the floor, notice the base boards, the furniture legs, is there a collection of insect corpses in the window seals?  Check for cobwebs along the walls and light fixtures, dust layers, splash stains, and dead bugs in the light covers.  Do customers see a dirty work area when they’re at counter waiting to pay? Would a woman be comfortable putting her new Kate Spade handbag on your counter tops?   Failure to notice and correct these small things can and will drive away customers.

I know this is all incredibly basic information, but I see these “customer view” problems every day, and I’m not alone. These small misses cost American small businesses millions in lost revenue and will undoubtedly ruin a hard earned reputation.  Please don’t let that happen to you.

If you need help seeing through the eyes of your customers, email me @


4 Signs It’s Time to Hire an Outsider to Manage Your Company’s Social Media Presence


For some business owners, managing the company’s social media presence is just another one of a

I need help with my social media marketing!

I need help with my social media marketing!

million tasks that must be completed during the course of a business day.  They are comfortable with the various social media platforms, they enjoy interacting with their customers online and they are able to carve out enough time to build a strategy and maintain a consistent presence.  This is great for the few who can manage it.  However, managing a company’s online presence requires a lot of time, energy and some pretty tough skin; in other words, it may not be for everyone.  Here are a few points to consider that may indicate it’s time to hand over the laptop.

  1. There is no plan, no strategy, you’re just there.  You set up a Facebook account because, that is the thing to do.  You have some nice pictures on the page, and you even post a few witty comments every so often.  This is a great start, but there’s a lot more work to do.  First, it’s imperative that you know exactly who your customers are.  Identifying your current (and potential) customers is key to developing a targeted marketing strategy. You also need to know which social media platform your customers are most likely to frequent and when is the best time to engage with them.
  2. You can’t take negative feedback.  You’ve created a kick ass business with the best food, service or product this side of the moon and whoa to anyone who dares to say otherwise!   The only way to ensure your business is immune from negative reviews or comments is to close shop. Being able to divorce yourself from the need to have everyone love everything your business produces is a must.   A quick, heartfelt response that attempts to rectify an unpleasant experience, can turn an unhappy customer (with a large social network) into a loyal, happy customer with friends (who also have large social networks).   Ignoring your social reviews and comments is a no, no, that should not even be an available option.  That goes for the positive as well as the negative reviews.
  3. You don’t like social media and think it’s a waste of time.  It amazes me that everyone isn’t as crazy about social media as I am.  For me, it’s right up there with sex and chocolate (not necessarily in that order).  But that is not the case of everyone.  If you don’t enjoy learning about the newest Twitter change, or Google+ update, and you don’t care if you’re among the first chosen to get a new roll out, you may want to find someone who is to manage your online presence.  If you find someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about social media marketing, you probably have someone who will do a great job managing your company’s brand and image.
  4. You don’t have time to be committed to a consistent social media schedule.  I recommend devoting at least 15 minutes a day to monitoring, updating and analyzing your company’s social media presence. Also, at least 30 minutes a week should be devoted to learning about platform updates, trends, and policy revisions.  You want to get optimum results from your social media marketing efforts, so it’s important to know how to effectively utilize all of the tools available on your social media platform(s) of choice.   A good social media strategist is on top of all of the revisions and trends that affect multiple platforms and can effortlessly find ways to work them in your company’s favor.

This is my short list of indicators, I’m sure there are more!  If you think of anything I missed, please let me know.  I welcome your comments!

Business Owners Adopt Muzzling Clauses to Avoid Negative Social Media Reviews

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve impatiently scrolled through those online “terms of conditions of service” agreements just to get to the  “ yeah, yeah, yeah, I agree” box so I can move on to my new app, website or amazing, hot off the press free download.  Sure after the South Park, HumancentiPad episode, I slowed my scroll to allow a perfunctory “scan” before checking the box.  But in all honesty, my “slowed scroll” probably wouldn’t keep me from being hauled away and given a prime spot on the centiPad line up (if you haven’t seen the episode, I advise against watching on a full tummy..).

Okay, seriously, there’s no centiPad line up, but I could end up on the losing end of a nasty lawsuit and so could you.  Deep in the text of some of those terms and conditions are hidden muzzling clauses that threaten monetary fines and/or legal retribution if the box checker posts a negative review of the goods or services received by said business. 

Fortunately, this issue has come to the attention of the California State Legislature and Assembly Bill 2365 was born.  The bill Imagedeclares these “non-disparagement” clauses as void and unenforceable unless the consumer knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently agrees to the waiver. Also if a business owner pursues legal action against a consumer for posting a negative review, she must be able to prove that the consumer willingly and with full understanding, accepted the terms of the clause yet, violated them anyway. 

It’s disturbing that business owners feel so much pressure from on-line review sites that it became necessary to resort to such underhanded schemes. I also find it disturbing that some reviewers have given themselves permission to use social review sites as a weapon of coercion against small business.  So while I’m hopeful that AB 2365 passes, I’m also hopeful that dishonest and unethical reviewers begin to recognize the power their words have on the livelihood of a struggling business owner and our economy as a whole.  

Tips to Make Yelp Work For and Not Against Your Small Business

Yelp has taken a lot of heat lately from business owners who accuse the company and its reviewers of extortion type tactics. Reviewers are accused of demanding free meals and services in exchange for more stars and positive reviews. Yelp itself is accused of putting the squeeze on businesses by strongly encouraging the purchase of a monthly subscription to one of their business advertising packages in exchange for the removal of bad reviews. 

As a consumer, I appreciate Yelp.  I like being able to use the experience of others (good and bad) before deciding whether or not to part with my hard earned cash; and apparently, I’m in good company. A recent survey found that 85% of consumers check an online review site before making a purchase. As for a bigger view, Yelp averaged more than 120 million unique visitors each month in 2013. So it’s probably safe to say that Yelp and other online review sites are not going away any time soon and a successful business must have a plan for dealing with them.  

No matter how amazing your business may be, there will be some negative reviews. A chef’s off day, a trainee error, a staff shortage or even a disgruntled former employee – are all fodder for bad reviews.  This is why a strong social media strategy plan that includes a proactive approach for addressing reviews is imperative. Sticking to your well defined strategy will help you resist the temptation to engage reviewers in a virtual fist fight or shove your head in the sand and ignore the sites altogether. Remember, bad reviews often contain valuable customer feedback that can be essential to your business success.

Business writer, Seth Goden once said “You can spend your time on stage pleasing the heckler in the back, or you can devote it to the audience that came to hear you perform.” According to Yelp, 80% of their reviews are 3+ stars, so don’t spend your energy focusing on the occasional negatives. In fact, your social media strategy should include a plan for acknowledging positive reviews as well as engaging constructively with the writers of the negative ones. Knowing that a business cares enough to make the effort to turn an unhappy customer into a happy one goes a long way in the eyes of a potential customer.

46% of Yelp reviews are done on a mobile device, which means there’s no cooling off period for unhappy customers.  Mobile devises allow consumers to pound out a review or perform a “check in” before leaving the parking lot. So remain calm when reading and responding to online reviews.  Don’t allow yourself the luxury of grabbing your keyboard and pounding out your own “rating” of the reviewer.  Remember, any online communication has the potential to become public, even if you chose to respond privately. Calmly reaching out to an unhappy customer to make things right can have tremendous results! Also, most online reviewers are not averse to writing a follow up review. These are a double win for a business; you’ve kept an existing customer, and will likely gain new ones.

Negative Yelp reviews definitely have the potential to bruise a business’ reputation but the way these reviews are handled can be the difference between a minor bruise and a game ending injury!

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