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Tips To Help You Stay Safe While Shopping November 27, 2009

Filed under: PC Workstation — Marty Vik @ 5:11 pm

When I saw the pictures of shoppers standing in the rain so they could start shopping at midnight, I knew I was missing that bargain gene.    I am as cheerful as the next shopper during the holidays.  But standing in a cold rain made my mind wander to a list of things that can go wrong on a shopping trip.  Being sleep deprived, wet and crowded into a line were at the top of the list.

What I did think about was ways to avoid the lines and the problems.  So here are some safe shopping tips if you go to the mall for your gifts.  If you are joining the ranks of cyber-shoppers, I have included a few tips to help keep you safe and secure also.  I hope it helps.

Shopping Mall Tips

Park in well-lit areas, near sidewalks or walkways. Avoid parking near garbage bins or around the sides of a building where the view of your vehicle is obstructed.

Shop with a friend.  This not only helps maintain safety, but it can make the experience more fun.  Take the time to grab a cup of coffee or tea and catch up.  Now that’s good shopping.

Have your car keys ready as you approach or leave your vehicle.  Consider making a few trips to the car to drop off packages instead of collecting a large bundle that you have to deal with.  Make sure you can easily maneuver if you are approached by a thief or carjacker.

Stay alert to your surroundings. Don’t use the phone in the parking lot.  Carrying bags and talking on the phone can distract you.  Make sure you look for potential dangers like people following or cars backing out into traffic.

Consider using the valet service if you are at a shopping center alone at night. If you do, leave the valet only the ignition key. Keep your ID, registration and proof-of-insurance documents in a wallet or purse.

Put packages and bags in the trunk or out of view. Use something to cover the gifts if you must leave them in the back of an SUV or station wagon.

Don’t play the hero.  If you are threatened by a carjacker or thief with a gun or weapon, give up whatever they are requesting and don’t argue.

For more information, contact the Mall Security office for specific tips or see one of these sites:

Saginaw News – Tips to Keep Shoppers Safe

ADT Safety Tips: Holiday Shopping Mall Safety

Security Products: Tips: Stay Safe While Mall Shopping

National Retail Federation Safe Shopping Tips (PDF)

On-Line Shopping Tips List

Here’s a list of tips you should consult when shopping online.

Shop From a Secure PC.  Don’t use a public PC to shop.  Be careful with the shared PC in the family room if it is used by teens or others that don’t follow safe cyber-surfing. Make sure you look for the lock symbol that your browser uses to indicate a secure session.

Protect Your Privacy.  When you shop, make sure you know what the company will do with your name, e-mail address, phone numbers or other information you provide.  Read the Privacy Statement and shop somewhere else if you don’t like what you find.

Shop At Sites You Trust.  Shop at well know sites or vendors you have used before.  Be careful when shopping on-line auction sites or using a search engine.  The price may be better, but it may be false economy if you don’t know who you are shopping with.

Use Your Credit Card, Not A Debit Card.  Credit cards will enforce a liability limit.  Debit cards do not always have the same protections.  Check with your bank or credit union to be sure.

Use Alternate Payment Methods. Consider working with your bank or credit card issuer to get a one-time-use number.  These can be issued so that you do not expose your credit card to any further purchases.  You may also use PayPal which isolates your credit card from the on-line vendor.

Use e-Mail Alias to Cut Down On Spam. Sellers will often require that you post an e-mail address with every purchase.  It is a great idea because then you get an invoice, or further promotions, delivered to you.  But it can be overdone.  If you want to complete the order, but have control over spam in the future, try e-mail Alias.  Just add the vendor’s name to your e-mail address.  This works with Google Mail and Verizon accounts.  Check with your provider.  Here what it looks like. 

Let’s say your e-mail address is JoeBlow @ and you are shopping at EarthWormsAreUs.  Instead of JoeBlow @, try JoeBlow+EarthWorms @  This way, you will get the e-mail and you don’t have to manage hundreds of e-mail accounts in the future. 

Yahoo Tips for Safe Shopping Online

Washington Post Tips for Safe Online Shopping Shopping Tip List


Networking events are a waste of time November 25, 2009

Filed under: Small Business Marketing — Marty Vik @ 3:36 pm

If networking is viewed as a chance to catch up with friends, networking is a waste of time. Throw a party instead.
If networking is viewed as 90 minutes of sheer terror, then networking is a waste of your time. Go see a movie instead.
If networking is viewed as a way to improve your chances of landing a new customer or a new job, then networking is time well spent. Oops, I forgot to qualify that last statement. Networking is time well spent if you prepare.
Winston Churchill said “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Dwight D. Eisenhower offered the same advice when he said “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” With planning being so important, let me offer some prerequisites and a plan for a networking event.
• Begin to consider everything you do as an opportunity to network. People have gotten business because of a conversation in line to buy groceries.
• Create at least one 30-second “elevator pitch.” You may consider creating 3. One 10-second speech with your name and company tag line. A second 30 second speech that summarizes who you are and what you’d like to do professionally. Finally, if you get an entire minute, make sure you can cover the benefit of doing business with you and how you differentiate yourself. More on how to use these later.
• Always have plenty of business cards with you. If you are in job transition, considering carrying a current résumé you can send upon request. Business folks can also carry a tri-fold brochure from your marketing kit.
• Have access to your calendar and a note pad. Make sure you are ready to make an appointment and can follow up.
Now here is the program. Remember G A P. It stands for Goals, Actions and Proof. At the end of the page I have a sample plan you may use as a model.
Make sure you know why you are attending the event. It may be that you are new to the job market and you want to see how things work. You may also have a small business and are looking for customers or referrals.
Also, understand the event. A political campaign stop or a hotel opening offer different opportunities than a Chamber of Commerce meeting or a career transition session. Understand the people that will attend the meeting and how you can connect with them.
Think through the actions you will take to satisfy your goals. If your goal is to talk to ten people you didn’t know before, the corresponding action may be to look for new faces. If your goal is to say “Thanks” to 5 of your clients from the past year, your strategy…well you get the picture.
Be as specific as you can. Make sure the actions you take will support your goals.
Make sure you understand how you will know if you met your goals. Meeting 10 new people may be a great goal. You could measure that by collecting 10 new business cards. That is the proof. If your goal was instead to generate 10 new business leads, you may need more than a business card. Your proof could be that you have set up 10 follow up appointments.
I encourage you to set goals that make real progress. I mentioned earlier that you may want to have 3 elevator pitches. If you make aggressive goals to meet and do business with people, than you will definitely have the chance to use all three. Use the 10 second speech when you first meet somebody. If when you introduce yourselves and your tag line doesn’t make a connection, don’t feel bad about exchanging business cards and moving on. Remember, they probably have goals for the meeting also.
If there is a possible link, say more about yourself and let your new friend know what you do and a little about your strengths. If you both see ways that you can help each other grow professionally, make sure you are crystal clear about how you can help. You may not have a chance to quote it word for word, but knowing it well will help you apply your skills to their business needs.
Take a look at the example below and let me know if you think it would help you prepare for your next networking event. In fact, let me know if you think it is rubbish, also.
I am always here to help and I look forward to hearing from you.
PS: Don’t forget to celebrate when you hit your goal! More on that later.

Goal: (Networking Event – Technology Club Meeting)
1. Introduce myself to 15 new people.
2. Create 3 new prospects.
1. Look for 20 people I have not met before.
Introduce myself with my 10 second elevator pitch.
Exchange business cards with all 20 people.
2. I will introduce 5 new acquaintances to somebody I already know.
3. Use my 30 second speech with at least 10 people.
4. Set up at least 5 follow up meetings.
1. I have 20 new business cards.
2. I have entered all business card information into my Contact Manager.
3. I introduced 5 people without spending more than 5 minutes in any conversation.
4. I have booked 5 follow up meetings.


5 Ways to Keep Your Customers November 19, 2009

Filed under: Small Business Marketing — Marty Vik @ 1:26 pm

Today there are all sorts of lists.  I recently sat with some friends and we talked about how small business owners can help keep their customers happy.  Keeping customers happy means keeping them as customers.

We could have come up with a list of ten or even 20. But this list is really a reminder list.  There is one tip to practice each week.  (There is an extra tip that is more of a principle.)  In the box below, all of the tips are listed.  Cut the list out and tape it to your monitor.  Then pick a day of the week. Let’s use Thursday.  On every Thursday, do what that week calls for.  That means, on Thursday for Week 4, call up a client to say Thank You for their business.  Nothing more than that.  Be sincere in telling them why you appreciate their business.  Next week, start over at Week 1 with a new set of customers.

Anticipate Problems and Offer Solutions

The conversation started because of interaction I had with an internet Auto Parts company, PartsTrain.  With some auto parts, when you buy a part, you also get charged for the core.  That is the old part that the company can refurbish if you send it back.  I sent a note to their support team because I needed to know how to return a core item.  I also included a note about the purchase process on their site.

About 1 hour later, I got a phone call from support.  Winston wanted to talk to me to be sure he understood my comments.  He then offered a couple work-arounds for future purchases and promised to pass the issue on to his IT team. 

While I was on the phone, I got an e-mail from a different part of support.  They told me how to find the return authorization.  But they went farther.  They went ahead and issued two authorizations, including one for a product that had not shipped yet.  The second authorization was a promise that it would be updated after I received the part.  When I did get the actual part, I also received the authorization along with instructions on how to process them.  Clearly, PartsTrain understands going above and beyond to keep customers.

Maintain Personal Relationships

A Pew Charitable Trust survey completed in 2000 found that many Americans use the internet quite regularly to stay in touch with family and friends.   But think about the last time you talked to somebody after you forgot to return a phone call.  Digital tools help, but there are times when only face to face, or at least phone, conversations are super important.

I got a call the other day from a friend that had changed jobs and is now a financial advisor.  I feared the worse.  What John (his real name) said was he was just calling because he remembered us talking about an event I was to attend.  He wanted to know how it went.  WOW.  We chatted for a minute and then said goodbye.  Afterwards, I felt great.

I am suggesting a two step method.  One, call your customer and say Hello.  Get to know a little about them, their business and their family.  It is great if you can record the names of spouse and children.  Birthdays are excellent also.

Put that information to use by recording it in a CRM tool or some other tickler file.  Then send a card every once in a while.  A hand written note is especially memorable these days.  One way to do that is with Share A Card Now.   A friend named Robin operates the service that you can use to send a heartfelt card that you order electronically. will let you choose a card and text and have it delivered.  You can even use their mailing list and reminder functions.  This is a great blending of the digital and tangible worlds.

Share Information

I got an article link in an e-mail from a friend recently.  It wasn’t about me.  It was about a company in town that affects another friend.  Sending that article showed me that Eric cared about me.  He knows I can use it next time I talk to Steve.  Aren’t there times that you are reading the paper, a book or news online and you say “Wendy should really know about this”?   Send Wendy that article to show you are thinking about her. 

Say Thank You

This one is for my mom.  I don’t think I can count the number of times she told me to “Say Please and Thank You”.  Well, it still works.  And it is good for business.

When you offer thanks, be specific and tell people how it made a difference to you.  “Thanks, attending that meeting allowed me to finish that proposal.  It helped me get a new customer”.   Sending it in a card is more powerful than sending e-mail.  The warm feelings generated by a personal call are always worth the effort.  Don’t forget to follow up with a card or certificate.  Something a customer can hang on the wall keeps your company in front of them all the time.

Be Honest With Your Clients

Here is another point that doesn’t need to be said, but can’t be overstated.  To keep customers, keep informed customers.  Tell them the good news and the bad news, the sooner the better.  Nothing loses a customer’s trust faster than finding out that you have not been up front with them.  Nothing keeps a customer loyal like feeling they are a partner, in good times and bad.

The Challenge

Post this table on your computer monitor.  Make sure you see it every Monday morning.

Each Monday morning, take two customers from your client list.  On the first week of the month, look for a problem you can solve for them.  Next Monday, pick two more and call them personally.   Third Monday, share something with two clients.  At the end of the month, say thanks to two more clients.

At the beginning of the next month, start the cycle over with two more clients.

I think building this habit will go a long way to keeping customers. Tell me what you think at Take Care.

Week 1

Look For Problems To Solve

Week 2

Call Somebody Personally

Week 3

Share Something Valuable

Week 4

Say Thank You


Always Be Honest

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