Posts filed under ‘Business Bit of the Week’

“Word Of Mouth, The Upside”

In the weeks leading up to the Grand Opening of my very first New York Kids Club location, I had stuck floor-to-ceiling signs up in the windows of our new space that read: “New York Kids Club Coming Soon!” But I knew that wouldn’t be enough to generate a buzz in the neighborhood. It was the first location, so no one could be expected to even know who we were, let alone to be excited about us!

So I had to find other ways of generating publicity. I enlisted the help of my brother and several others, and I set a personal goal for myself: I was going to tell 50 people a day about the New York Kids Club, in any setting, it didn’t matter. 50 people a day.

“Psst!” I whispered to the lady next to me in the checkout line. “Did you hear about that new place opening on 87th Street? It’s called the New York Kids Club, and they offer all these great classes for kids!”

“Psst! The New York Kids Club is coming, and they’ve got wonderful teachers and the space is just terrific!”

I told the man in Harry’s Shoe Store. I told the lady at the nail salon. I told people on the playground. People at the meat counter. People at the street fairs. People on the bus.

I talked up a storm. I handed out flyers and pamphlets. I fielded questions. I struck up random conversations. I told and sold the New York Kids Club on anyone willing to listen to me. Short of shouting from the rooftops or renting a blimp, I was EVERYWHERE.

And I don’t feel that I was secretive about it or that I was operating in stealth. I was fully prepared for people to ask me, “How do you know about the Kids Club?” And I was going to say, “I started it. I’m the Founder.”

But funnily enough, no one asked me.

Then the calls started coming. The NY Kids Club didn’t even have a phone system yet, only an answering machine. I would listen to the messages and return the calls. I gave the spiel and sold it hard. I took pre-orders. I swiped credit cards. I filled the classes.

Come Opening Day, the New York Kids Club had generated enough revenue to cover all costs of the construction which had gone into preparing the space. It was an incredible relief to know that I had survived the mine field of getting my business up and running.

I never underestimate the power of advertising or the power of internet marketing. I am a full advocate of jumping on the bandwagon and adapting to new marketing platforms. But I firmly believe that the best, certainly the most personal form of reaching out to customers has always been – and always will be – by word of mouth. And not only is it possibly the best form of advertising, but it’s also FREE!

Now I should mention that it’s not all wine and roses. There is a definite downside to setting ablaze the type of wildfire that spreads by word of mouth. But that’s another story, for another day.


September 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm 1 comment

“It’s Nothing Personal. It’s Business.”

Prior to starting my own businesses, I held several different positions with several different companies, under varying styles of leadership. One stylistic trait that all of my former bosses and superiors shared was that NO NEWS MEANT GOOD NEWS. “News” meant trouble, so if you hardly ever spoke with The Boss, it meant you were doing fine.

Interaction with The Boss was generally brief and occurrences were sparse, to the point where on several occasions I had to wonder whether s/he even knew my name. There were no high-fives. No “good job”s. One boss (who, ironically, was my only female employer) said outright that “Lunch is for losers!” just before she suggested that bananas were the “best food to bring” because you could chew quietly and still man the phones.

It was hard to take the extreme absurdities seriously, of course, but these experiences did later contribute, even involuntarily, to the shaping of my own personal manifesto as an employer.

Employee praise did not come naturally to me at first. It was another Rock/River type of situation, and it took time for me to become enlightened by my staff. As an employer, I felt it was my responsibility to try and understand how to keep employees happy and excited about their jobs.

It all started evolving one day with the creation of a brand-new position at the New York Kids Club: The “Confetti Manager,” whose role was to shower confetti on an employee’s desk, three times in a single day. We started personally congratulating employees who would arrive on-time to the office, shedding a positive light on punctuality, as opposed to a negative gradient on lateness.

Also, when new employees joined the team, a common question I would always receive was, “When are employee reviews?” (a.k.a. “When can I get a raise?”) And I truly hated delivering disappointment, watching face after face drop when I would reply that reviews were conducted on an annual basis.

I realized that we had to do better than that. We had to provide our employees with INCENTIVE.

So, we instituted a new program that made all of our employees eligible for raises every seventeen weeks, based on a point system and reviews submitted by their peers. Award ceremonies were put in place. Dinners at my home. Plaques. High-fives. “Good Job”s. Pleasant notes. More confetti!

Almost immediately, we started to notice a change in the moods and levels of enthusiasm from our employees. The culture of our company morphed rapidly. We do not encourage competition for coveted “rewards,” but we do encourage maximizing personal potential.

Even when we deliver criticism, we try to soften the blow by giving a type-written note with feedback and suggestions, but we make it clear that our notes should not be misconstrued in any way. “It is not personal,” we make sure to say, “it’s business.” While this may seem tedious to some, saying it directly yields amazing results and puts employees at ease. As with so many other things in life, a little extra effort goes a long way.

While the explicit details of our “raise system” remain a well-kept secret along with our other strategies for reinventing employee recognition, the principle is the same across theboard, no matter what industry or field you might be in. The superior quality of your product or service is only as good as the team members who are selling it for you.

Team members want to feel opportunity. Recognition. Inspiration. Incentive. Community. And if you want them to do well for you, you must realize that at the very least they deserve all of the above, and probably much more.

September 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm Leave a comment

“Jumping on the Bandwagon”

"Jumping on the Bandwagon" by Pam Wolf

In response to my recent post, “Be the River, Not the Rock,” reader Karen Dinitz wrote:

“My website is coming 🙂 I have the opposite problem – I feel I can’t start my business until I have a website! Possibly I am a rock or in this case a boulder!”

— Thank you for reading! Good for you, Karen, getting on the WWW bandwagon right from the get-go. Websites seem to be what it all boils down to nowadays. Back in the pre-historic era of the internet (about 5-7 years ago it seems!), a website was merely an appendage. The true reflection of corporate branding at that time was still delivered through a company’s print ads, posters and pamphlets.

But somewhere along the line, the reverse became true. Now, a website is so much more than a digital business card. On the rapidly-evolving internet, a website of the 21st century represents a company’s face-forward to the world. And the web knows no geography. Through a website portal, any business can go global.

It has reached the point where “having a website” could almost be considered synonymous with “having a business.” The absence of a website is not only highly unusual, but users seem immediately suspect of any business that has zero web presence.

If users can’t visit your site, they may not want to visit your store.

Some business owners may feel resistant at first, as did I in the beginning. But rejection of conformity solely because of maverick ideals would in this case only serve to send the wrong message to would-be customers.

When representing your business on the web, consider the fact that your user is your customer. What would your user like to see? Do users want to interact with you through your site? Are you providing information? Could you provide a service through the site?

On the New York Kids Club website, recently redesigned, we added photos of beautiful NYKC children and videos of our staff and space. Customers can sign up for newsletters, download ringtones, and even sign up for classes right from the comfort of their own homes. We aimed to offer a “web experience” to our customers – past, present and future – to present a site that is informative, not invasive. Private, but communal. Professional but personal.

Our main objective was to create a site that effectively mirrored the strongest qualities of our stores. Consider your site and your storefront as one entity; an extension, not a departure, from bricks-and-mortar-based businesses.

Harness the power of the internet and make it work for you. Think outside the box, creatively, freely. Do maintain your core values where the integrity of your business is concerned, but don’t be afraid to capitalize when you’re presented with a great opportunity.

September 9, 2011 at 2:22 am 1 comment

“Be the River, Not the Rock”

In any business, it is vital to evolve with the times. My goal has always been to be “the river,” flowing downstream through the rapids and over the falls, trickling, rushing, always moving. I have never wanted to be “the rock,” wedged somewhere far upstream, breaking the rhythm of the current and bound to a bank of sediment forevermore.

But at one time, I was in fact “the rock”:

To say that the Technological Age took me by surprise would be a gross understatement. I grew up in a pre-computer world (imagine that). Even until a few years ago, the word “technology” still conjured images in my mind of the first memory-typewriter, a “cutting-edge” innovation which I was introduced to in college.

I never thought of computers as an intrinsic part of life or commerce, and then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I found myself staring (blankly) at the blink of a cursor almost every day. When we first brought computers into the New York Kids Club offices, I played it off with great panache, asking others to “check my e-mail” or “pull this document up” for me. My staff probably thought I just liked having things done for me – but NO! It was worse than that, far worse, my dirty little secret: I didn’t know how to work the computer!

My staff encouraged me to have a website built for the NYKC. “Why?” I would ask indignantly. “Our work is so personal! Websites are so impersonal!”

Then, for my 40th birthday, my brother had a website built for the New York Kids Club. Apparently, he agreed with my staff. And that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was being a rock.

Like a whirlwind, a new kind of learning sparked to life for me. Terms such as “Search Engine Optimization,” “Keyword Copywriting” and “Viral Marketing” suddenly became commonplace. Now I had the “user experience” to consider, in addition to my face-to-face clients. Customers who might log on to the NYKC website at 11pm, after a long day and a busy schedule with the kids – what did they want? I was stunned to discover that many of our customers actually preferred a private experience through the computer to speaking on the phone with a live human being. Foreign as that idea was to me, I was (and still am) determined to be “the river.”

When I look back on it now, I realize I should have reacted faster to the advent of the Internet, and I consider the fact that I didn’t to be a failure to some degree. But failure is a part of business. Without failure, there can be no growth. And without growth, you will forever be “the rock.”

August 25, 2008 at 1:21 am 2 comments

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