“Now you’re done, right?”

“Now you’re done, right?”

I was mentioning Direct to a client yesterday and I got the title question back. Nothing left to create, right?

Did Someone Say Gobstopper?

For those who aren’t in the startup world, the idea of a product and/or feature pipeline can be confusing. What’s left to do? That sort of response is both good and bad; it’s good from the side that says it’s a startup’s job to hide or remove complexity; “make the hard stuff look simple”. On the flip-side though, if your customers don’t realize they have more problems to solve, more pain to remove, what does that mean for your customer validation? The reality is that both perspectives are needed and each helps make your product, platform, or even small business better. The number of tasks and items that come out of those approaches is, for all intents, never-ending.

Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Next Month

When you look at your entrepreneurial to-do list, priorities matter. If you have a feature or bug that customers are clamoring for, you probably need to spend the time to create or fix that (though not always; perhaps I’ll blog about that decision another time).

After the “house on fire” stuff, what then? The features, bug fixes, and direction form a pipeline. That list of things to create, do, and describe also needs to be prioritized. Some tasks take a long time to complete. Others have dependencies; you can’t do one thing until other things are complete. Some look too far into the future; are you sure it’s the right thing to do and that your customers not only need it but would be willing to pay for it?

This is where the logical categorization of “today”, “tomorrow”, “next week”, and “next month” come in. Look at the things you need to do; what is immediately required? That’s a “today”, even if it takes you several calendar days to accomplish. What do you already know is important enough to be next? That gets described as “tomorrow”. Straightforward, right?

The Siren Song of Next Week, Next Month

These two categories are just as easy, right? Wrong! The further into the future you look, the harder it is to know the right things to be doing. If you’re a software developer or a product creator, each of which often have large lead-times from inception to release, there is a tendency to bake in as many possible options “just in case”. This, quite simply, is bad. Why? Because the further into the future (in terms of changes, not strictly time) you go, the less customer confirmation/validation you have to support expressing the effort. The more you take on faith that you’re doing the right thing the greater your chances of failing. Steve Jobs famously pilfered the quote about skating to where the hockey puck would be rather than where it is now and even Apple had to admit some of those predictions were wrong (beautiful-but-crazy Cube, I’m looking at you!)

You probably don’t have the resources Apple had at time in their success so wasting the time, effort, and cash on directions that haven’t been validated is risky at best. That’s why you capture those ideas that you think you want to work on and put them in the week, month buckets. Acknowledge that you think you want to work on them. Recognize that you think they will be worth spending the resources. Between “today” and “next week/month” do what you can to prove that your suspicions are correct, that there is a market, demand, and timeliness to whatever it is.

Kill Your Children Softly (or, “How I learned to love da’ bomb”)

So, I started off talking about the misconception that one feature release could ever constitute “being done”. I’ve been blathering on about priorities and lists ever since. They’re really two sides of the same coin. Urgent and important are two related but different characteristics that you can use to figure out “when” you should tackle any given task and whether you should at all.

This only works if you’re genuine about wanting it to. You have to be willing to kill your children, that is, put off or kill entirely features or services or benefits that don’t stand up to scrutiny or aren’t otherwise justified by your existing or target markets. You have to be willing to invest in the things that customers tell you they want. You have to be willing to explode some bomb creativity in service of “today” and know that if you really want some of “next week” and “next month” to come to pass, intelligently choose the risk you’re taking.

“Done” Is Often A Four-Letter Word

Take the risk, though. Do your best to predict an iPhone or a Facebook instead of a MySpace or a G4 Cube. Know that despite all your efforts, “next week” and “next month” will have flops but that’s just part of the puzzle. Ultimately, when people ask you if you’re done or when you’ll finish, just smile and confidently answer, “Probably never. There are too many changes the world needs,” then get back to “today” and “tomorrow”.

“Direct” – Convenience & Security

“Direct” – Convenience & Security

On 28-March, we soft-launched Direct, our self-service payment portal. How does it improve convenience and security? Why do you care?

An All-Too-Common Scenario

As a small business, you sometimes need to “remotely” settle accounts with clients. It may be a telephone or Instagram order, an impromptu invoice payment, a correction of a previous transaction, or any number of other possibilities. How do you get the payment credentials today? If your business is like many we talk to, you get a telephone call, transcribe the credit card number, expiration, and security code, then go to whatever you currently use to process payments and enter the info. Done, right? (And let’s hope they don’t decide to email you their payment information!)

How meticulous are you about the security of that information you wrote down? Are you shredding the paper? Securely deleting files? You may not realize it, but by receiving this information, you now play a crucial role in protecting your client’s identity and sensitive financial details.

A Better Answer

The SMBple platform is all about faster and simpler. Direct is no different; if you’re a SMBple Sell vendor, Direct is already available for you, no additional steps or configuration required! You automatically get an easy-to-use direct link to give to your clients.

Once your clients follow the link, it’s just as easy for your clients.

  1. The customer describes what they’re paying
  2. The customer describes any special instructions (split payments across invoices or provide Instagram order details, for examples)
  3. The customer sets the amount and securely pays

It’s faster, simpler, and more secure for them and for you!

Integrated Into the SMBple Experience

What happens next? Exactly what you’d expect:

  • The business (AKA “you”) are notified of the Direct payment
  • The client gets an emailed receipt
  • The transaction is included in the periodic business business reports, just like face-to-face sales

Faster, Simpler, More Secure

Clients can settle their account with you on their schedule; you win. You’re not burdened with protecting client credit card details; you win. Automatically available as part of your use of the SMBple platform; you win.

We want you to win.

The Path from A to Change

The Path from A to Change

How do you feel when you have to detour from your plan, make an unexpected change? Anxious? Upset? Excited?

From A to B

“The Path” is often described (by people who have never walked it) as a 1-2-3 recipe to success. Do this. Do that. Profit!

Anyone who’s actually traveled a business from the start understands that this graphic is far more likely to be true. Monday mornings seem to be the most common day to realize that the knotted path is actually the only path. Insert funny “Mondays are terrible” meme here. Or maybe, don’t. For most entrepreneurs, including small business owners, Monday is really just another step along the path. Will you be going forward, backward, or sideways? What will determine that?

From A to Wherever’s Next

As you may have noticed, we’ve recently rebranded. We were planning on this but not at this time, yet here we are. We’re better for it. What lesson is there worth sharing out of it? “Change happens” would be cliche. Change does happen though. Look at your business. What bothers you about it? What are you doing to resolve that discontent? How are you making the best of that crooked path to success while keeping true to your ideals and mission? Is the sudden hard left throwing you off your game or are you looking ahead to see how you can take advantage of the new view?

Discourage Discouragement

It’s easy to take a curveball (had enough different metaphors yet?) as a permanent rather than a temporary setback. Look at that image again; it can go backwards quite a distance before righting itself. If you’re not prepared for that, it can be easy to give up. When change doesn’t match your expectations – our rebranding before we were “ready”, for example – everything gets called into question. Train yourself to expect the unexpected. Set yourself for the adventures you don’t know as well as the ones you do.

We’re thrilled with the new name, messaging, and clarity that comes from the SMBple branded it shows in the site. Whatever new directions the wind takes you and your business, get excited! Harness that energy for your team and for your business success!

Image Notes
  • There are several versions of the “path to success” graphic floating around. This particular one comes from Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, http://www.niic.net
  • The featured image is of a sidewalk at Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas. The path remains in harmony with its surroundings by being flexible.


Money for (almost) Nothing

Money for (almost) Nothing

TANSTAAFL. So really, “what’s the catch?”

Encouraging the Word-of-Mouth Referral

Our vendors love the platform. Check out a few of the testimonials on the front page. Take a look at the vendor map and contact them yourself to find out what they think. We want to spread the word farther and faster, though! That’s why we want to reward vendors who sign up other active vendors.

How Do You Reward Your Customer Referrals?

You probably give them something they want, right? A free cup of coffee. A doughnut. A beer. 10% off services. Something that shows you genuinely appreciate the referral and strengthens the affection they have for you.

We think the same way. If you use the platform, we think you’ll love it (and we want to know if you don’t). If you love it, we want you to tell your fellow small business owners. The return? Choose between fee rebates or cash rewards. The program selection link is available in your welcome email message on signup and in each sales report. It’s as simple as sharing your referral ID and selecting a program.

What’s the Catch?

Our catch is pretty simple, really. This program is predicated on an “everyone wins” approach. Your rewards grow based on the usage of the platform by those you refer, not simply the number of signups. This means that spamming all your friends isn’t effective (a point your friends appreciate greatly). Telling fellow business owners/managers (whether it’s a retail location or your favorite home party salesperson) who might have a need is effective. And since it’s free to sign up for SMBple Sell, it’s free to register for the referral program, and the program is only a single level, the incentives come from doing the right thing.

Action Matters

Like many things in life, what you do matters more than what you say. To keep a robust local business ecosystem, remember to #shopsmall and #buylocal whenever it makes sense for your personal and professional purchases. Remember that if you want others to consider your business before “the big guys”, it helps if you do the same. Remember that memes, messaging, and “likes” may be good… sharing is better… acting is best.

It’s a philosophy we put into practice every day. Let us prove it to you and your referrals.

Questions. Answers?

Questions. Answers?

What do you want to hear about?

We’re periodically admonished to start a podcast. Sometimes that influence comes from “the experts”, sometimes in person. In both cases though, detail is almost always missing. What should we talk about? What do you want to listen to? What’s worth your time?

The Grand Question

If you’re not already trying to answer that question… why not? As a small business owner, as a startup founder, as a person with limited seconds left in this version of consciousness (regardless of whether you believe there’s more to come or maybe we’re destined to be — or already are — holograms), how should you spend that time?

A Suitable Answer

SMBple is all about helping. It’s speeding things up. It’s simplifying things that are unnecessarily complicated. It’s providing a path through business challenges that doesn’t require distraction from the core mission. As such, when you spend time with us, we want it to be productive. We want you to learn something, to save time, to be happier, to become more satisfied, to gain clarity, to enjoy the perspective of others, to improve.

Along those lines, we can (and often will) try to guess what it is you’d like to hear. We’d also like to directly hear from you. What topics do you care about? What might we discuss that is worth receiving 15 minutes or so of invaluable time? Tell us!

Just Because

Just Because

As a startup, we have no end of tasks in the queue. In no particular order: listening to customers, listening to prospects, coding, testing, marketing, testing, re-coding, testing, testing the tests, re-recoding, talking to customers, generating prospects, singing (not really), blogging (sort of really), and many, many more.

So what took the time this morning? Cleaning up the wiring in the check stand for a very small business since this person was concerned about getting everything plugged back in the right way. This business isn’t even a SMBple customer. What a waste of time, right? Not. A. Chance.

Service Matters

Did we make any money off that time? No. Will we? Probably not. That’s not the only measure of worthwhile use of time, however. We believe that doing good for someone (a prospect, a random person) can and should be done sometimes just because. Just because you’re there at that point in time. Just because you happen to be the person with the appropriate knowledge. Just because what you do outside the office should reflect what you do inside the office (or really, to be happy and successful, reverse that — make sure that what you do in the office reflects what you do outside of it).

There Are Worse Fates Than Overdoing Kindness

Sure, it’s sometimes easy to overdo it, to spend so much time giving that no time is left to create your own success. While it’s a real consideration, think about what many of the tasks in your queue are all about. Marketing is education; teaching your target market about how your product or service improves their lives and why you’re the best source for that improvement. What better way to show that than to actually improve something?

The time could be spent coaching, moving a box, or making a referral. The time could be spent building a cabinet, painting a wall, or carrying a trash bag. However you choose to help, it will likely be seen, not just by that prospect but others. You get the satisfaction of helping and they get a higher level of trust to either work directly with you or to more confidently transfer that trust to someone they know through word-of-mouth.

Expect to Help

Bake some time into your schedule (or at least be a bit flexible when the opportunity arises) to help someone else. A business that may be a prospect. An unrelated corporate neighbor who might need a hand. Whoever you stumble across, look at their situation, and say, “I can help.” You don’t have to believe in karma to realize that “giving good” sets you up as a more prominent target for “receiving good”, perhaps immediately, perhaps after you establish a reputation for being not just an expert, but an accessible expert, perhaps never (though that’s unlikely). Whatever the timeline, “do” first, do “good”, and do it well.

Owning Your Customer Relationships (and business assets)

Owning Your Customer Relationships (and business assets)

Do you have control over your receipt-time email list capture? Did you realize this is a question you have to ask?

What’s the value of your mailing list? (You have one, right?) Huge. While the numbers will vary depending on your type of business, how does 21% ROI sound? And since you’re building your list at receipt time, these subscribers already know your product or service and presumably will be more inclined to purchase from you again. All you need to do is occasionally remind them to do so. Why are we asking these questions then?

Ask yourself, “who “owns” the customer relationship?

You probably think you do. Depending on the system you use for customer checkout, the answer may not be that straightforward. If you never see the opt-in email address of your customer, you don’t “own” it.

A note on terminology: the customer always owns the right to opt in or out to your messages. We use ‘own’ in this case as a term of responsibility, respect, and opportunity. Imagine if we rephrased the term as, “who holds the opportunity to reach out to the customers and responsibly community directly with them?” It’s wordier but represents the same thought.

After you spend the time and effort to create your list, it’s an asset of your business. When properly utilized, it has direct tangible and intangible value, from encouraging word-of-mouth introductions to driving actual sales dollars through your door. However, if you don’t control it, you leave yourself at risk of losing the benefits you’ve worked hard to gain.

Take a look at your current point-of-sale provider, particularly if you’re mobile. When you send an email receipt, do you get an option to ask the customer to opt into your email list? Do you then get the email address or does the provider keep it? Does the provider make you use their tools to send email or can you choose the provider that suits you best?

In short, does your provider interfere with you owning the relationship with your customers? Do you think that your business should control assets like your mailing list?

If so, check out SMBple Sell. Each transaction comes with the opportunity to ask your customer to join your mailing list. You receive the opt-in email addresses attached to each transaction report, letting you use the mailing list manager that suits you better (such as MailChimp – which is who we use, Constant Contact, or even your local email client).

Three Day Weekends?

Three Day Weekends?

How do you celebrate the “Monday holidays”? For many small businesses, it’s an opportunity to get sales on Monday that otherwise might not appear. What about you? Is it a chance to breathe or a chance to hustle?

For us in startup land, it’s just another weekend — that is, time to work on improving the lives of our customers and prospects (through approach, features, documentation, and attitude). This weekend, for example, we’re working on a feature that will make life easier for businesses that invoice or otherwise remote bill (such as facilities management, commercial and residential janitorial, construction, and remote consultation).

Remember to take some time away too though; self-care is critical to keeping a healthy and productive attitude all the rest of the days. Don’t let your life just drip away.

After all, why are you ultimately working so hard?

Tax Included?

Does your business handle a lot of cash? Does it do a high volume of individual transactions, particularly single-item? Do you currently or have you considered adding tax-included pricing to your mix?

What is tax-included pricing?

It may seem like a silly question; self-answering even. It’s when you take the price of something (a glass of beer or a sandwich, for examples) and round the price to an even unit: $4 for instance. The “real” price might be $3.71 (in Reno, NV at 7.725% sales tax) but the customer sees a convenient, even number and your front-end staff don’t have to worry about delivering (or even having) that 29 cents change.

Why would you use it?

If it’s appropriate for your business, there are several benefits to incorporating tax-included pricing, including:

  • simplified menus
  • increased speed of checkout
  • improved accuracy of totals
  • fewer trips to the bank for coin replenishment
  • increased customer confidence in the purchase total

What kinds of businesses really benefit from this?

The most common place you’ll see this sort of pricing is in prepared food, particularly mobile or small. Taco trucks, sandwich carts, delis, and brewery tasting rooms are just a few of the clearer examples where the increased speed and clarity during checkout improve the experience for everyone. Some less obvious examples? Laundry services such as shirt or suit cleaning (where such services are taxed), temporary market stalls, particularly craft fairs, for non-food (candles, oils, crafts, and the like, where patrons are less likely to be aware of the local tax rates), and home party sales or other mobile sales where it’s cumbersome to carry large numbers of coins.

What about tax reporting?

Including the tax in your pricing makes life easier for your customers and your clerks. What about the regulatory requirements, though? This is where it’s critical to use a system that understands this method of selling. SMBple Sell was built from the ground up to understand three different types of transactions: taxable, tax-included, and non-taxable. You decide what your pricing is and how tax should be applied; Sell handles the rest, both during the transaction and in the email sales reports, where the totals are easy to find.

What tax rate is applied?

Understanding your local jurisdiction(s)’ taxing policies per product or service (is it taxable?) is an important task for your business. What we do to help is to use geolocation to determine your current Zip Code (US only) and look up the appropriate tax rate. We’ll cover more details on this in a different article.


The Important Stuff No One Sees

The Important Stuff No One Sees

When you’re prepping for your small business day, how much work do you do that no one ever sees? Most of it, right?

Whether you’re a retailer getting the shelves stocked; a mobile food vendor prepping ingredients, a crafter literally making your wares, it can seem a little rough at times, un- (or at least under-) appreciated because all that effort is just what it takes to “open the doors”.

We know. We see it every day in the dreams of our vendors. We live it every day as the SMBple platform grows. It’s why we believe in making things simpler for you and your business so you can focus on what’s important.

Along those lines then, what specifically drives you and your business? Do your customers see it clearly?