Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc.

Tips for Preparing to Sell Your Business

Preparing to sell your business can be both exciting and scary. Considering that many business owners have worked hard to build, grow and maintain their businesses, it can feel very uncertain handing off years of hard work. For others, it can be freeing. But, I think we can all agree that if you try to sell a business without a proper plan in place things can get very chaotic, very quickly! Here are a few tips we believe will make the process go a bit more smoothly! Focus on your BEST products and services. It’s really easy to get to a place where your business is trying to do and sell everything…or the wrong thing. This is something worth paying attention to, especially when you’re looking to sell in the near future. Your business will be more successful in selling its products and services if they are high quality. You can only make these things high quality by giving the proper time, attention and focus to things that you and your team are skilled in. Focus on the things your business has a knack for and stop doing those things that your business is not the best in the world at doing. What are the products or services do you offer that your customers RAVE about? Focus on those things. Be sure to have the RIGHT people doing the RIGHT work. When your business has the right people in the right positions, your business can be transitioned to a new owner very quickly. Often buyers see this as a turn-key business, meaning that all the new owner will need to do is complete the paperwork for the buy and take the key to the office door and open it. Tighten up your financial processes to assure that you’re increasing in profitability. In order to entice a buyer, it is necessary that your financials are up to date and demonstrate that all bills (including taxes) have been paid on time and that there has been strong growth for at least the past five years. A new buyer wants evidence that the business will continue to turn a profit well into the future. Hire a professional to help you in the process. A professional can help 1.assess the health of the business and document its salability, 2. package, confidentially promote and sell the business, the business owners and key staff prepare to successfully transition for the sale and new ownership. Working with the right consultant helps assure that the business will continue to flourish well beyond the sell date and of course this benefits the business’ customers/clients, employees and their families, the community where the business is based as well as the prior owner and new owner and their families — a true WIN for all.

Is your business improving?

While some business owners look to their financials to determine whether their business is doing better, many small business owners also look to the following indicators. They know business is better when:
  1. Management isn’t panicked when some high maintenance customers go elsewhere.
  2. Management begins to test new services and markets.
  3. Pay raises and/or year-end bonuses are extended to staff.
  4. More staff is hired.
  5. Equipment and facilities are upgraded.
  6. Logo, business cards, website and other marketing materials are updated.
  7. The business supports a fundraising event.
  8. The business sponsors a youth sports team.
  9. The owner takes a vacation for the first time in years.
  10. Some tasks are done “just for fun”.
Furthermore, the truly wise business owner will engage in the above activities even before business is really better. This is because the wise business owner knows from experience that acting on the belief that something is better actually helps things move in the direction of getting better, just as priming a pump helps the water to flow more quickly and steadily.

20 Ways to Keep Google from Listing Your Web Pages in Search Results

In twenty years of optimizing websites for the search engines, I’ve often been called in to remedy business websites that have had disastrous results in the search engines. In each case a prior webmaster or search engine optimization (SEO) service provider had employed abusive and/or neglectful strategies. 20 of these abuses and neglectful practices are listed below. 1. The first thing on the home page is a link to another business’ website. 2. The website has no original text (all text is copied from other websites). 3. The website is built in clunky code that makes page loading too slow. 4. Important text is built into graphics, Adobe Acrobat PDF files and/or Flash files which search engine robots can’t read. 5. The web pages include hidden text (text that is in the same color as the web page background color). 6. The web pages include hidden links (such as links from unseen graphics). 7. The web pages are built in a dynamic platform and employ a linking strategy that results in endless loops in which the same text content reappears with different web addresses (duplicate content). 8. Web page names include lots of code language such as “&” (ampersands), “?” (question marks) and “=” (equals signs). 9. The web pages have no metatags. 10. The same exact metatags are used on every page in the website. 11. Keyword phrases are based on guessing what people search for rather than on actual search data. 12. The website’s text hasn’t been updated in years. 13. The website’s code doesn’t meet current international standards. 14. The navigation links are different on every page. 15. There is no sitemap (page that lists links to all the website’s pages). 16. The navigation takes visitors forward to lots of dead ends (pdf files and graphics with no navigation links that take people back to the website). 17. The website includes many links to missing pages and graphics (broken links). 18. The domain name changed and the webmaster failed to set up proper redirects. 19. The web language changed and the webmaster failed to set up proper redirects. 20. A competitor’s website has optimized its website for the business’ name and trademarked names without any challenge to the legality of this action. In many cases, the business’ leadership didn’t even know that abusive and/or neglectful strategies had been employed. If you suspect that your business’ website may suffer from inappropriate or outdated strategies, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or 206-244-9092.

10 Ways to Know It’s Time to Update Your Website

You know it’s time to remake your company’s website when…
  1. A first-time visitor says, “Ahh, I see your website is older than I am.”
  2. Only your mother can find it.
  3. A new customer comes to your store, sits down and cries, “It didn’t look like this online!”
  4. Your staff tells you that the website just sold something you don’t sell anymore.
  5. Your web developer has left and no one else can figure out how to make anything work.
  6. Your sales staff are ashamed to share the web address with anyone.
  7. Customers complain they can’t find what you say is there.
  8. Web visitors state, “Wow, you look nothing like your photo. Grey hair suits you.”
  9. Your web stats show that plenty of people are finding the website, but no one’s buying anything.
  10. A first-time visitor remarks, “I never go beyond pages that should have a seizure warning.”
You know you don’t need a website makeover when …
  1. Your business is working at capacity.
  2. Your income exceeds your expenses.
  3. Your customers are happy.
  4. Your staff have no complaints.
If you’re looking to update your website, call us at 206-244-9092 or email [email protected].

Why Implement Reputation Management?

Every company has service or product failures. Customers:
  • Don’t care why the service or product failures happened and don’t want excuses.
  • Do want to know that the business has identified and remedied the cause of those failures.
  • May stay with (or return to) a business that has identified and remedied the cause of past failures.
Employees:
  • Want to work for a company that has a great reputation.
  • Feel motivated when they see they can be part of the process of identifying and remedying service and product failures.
Excellent companies engage in reputation management — the process of receiving and responding authentically and promptly to news and customer complaints. A business should only engage in reputation management when leadership is ready to commit time and money to identifying and remedying service and product failures.

Automated vs. authentic responses

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools can be useful for monitoring customer feedback, reputation management can not be completely automated because automated responses come across as “canned” and not specific to the needs of the customer. Automated responses to customer and employee complaints should only be used to communicate that a real person will be getting back to the customer with a substantive response within a specified time frame. Every complaint should be reviewed and should receive a unique and authentic response. Part of what makes a response authentic is to have a real person use his/her personal style in the written response.

Handling complaints

The customer or employee is not always right. If a customer is using the complaint process to harass or harm the business, other customers, or employees of the business, that customer should be corrected with facts and/or even the legal process when especially egregious. If there is any validity to a complaint, businesses should address the specific facts related to these valid points. Points that are purely opinion can be subtly attributed to the individual’s taste or opinion. Business need not respond to most non-factual points: businesses must trust that most people can discern a genuine complaint from an opinion.

Writing good responses

Short, concise responses typically produce a more positive response than long, redundant responses. If the author of responses can pull off humor well, then humor is acceptable, and many even draw a following. The bottom line is that reputation management may feel like magic when it is functioning properly, but those who put in the hard work to support it know it’s not magic: it is work that involves time, skill, and clear intention to improve processes and relationships.

Why does reputation management matter?

Many people search online for reviews for a business before contacting them for a quote or sale. According to a customer review survey by Bright Local, 86% of customers read reviews for local businesses they are considering and more than half will not buy a product or service from a business that has an average rating of less than 4 out of a possible 5 stars. Information received through reputation management can greatly help a business find those opportunities to become excellent and exceed their competition. Responses to reviews can help prospective customers learn how a business has improved in recent months and how they can get the best results from their interactions with the business. Responses also can help a business that has recently received new ownership/management or is in the process of re-branding. Finally, reputation management helps tell the business’ history and brand story!

Considering bringing your social media work in-house?

There are essentially two options for supporting social media posting, engagement, and reputation management. One option is to assign an employee the responsibility for posting, monitoring, and engaging with customers through social media. The other is to engage a contractor to do this work.

The benefits of having an employee support social media efforts:

  • An employee can make instantaneous posts. If you want a post about a certain product/service/event posted that very same-day, an employee who is currently on site can post it as it occurs.
  • Your employee already knows your business’s culture and operational procedures and can respond quickly to check-ins, comments, questions and reviews using personal knowledge of the business.

The benefits of contracting with a digital marketing professional:

  • A professional already has the skill set to create engaging, well-written, and edited content.
  • A professional can leverage experience gained through providing social support for other businesses and apply it to the needs of your business. They know what works in each platform.
  • A professional will be less likely to rush and make misstatements, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors.
  • A professional has more experience in measuring and reporting results so that leadership can make informed decisions regarding the return on investment of supporting each social platform

The cons of having an employee perform the work:

  • Most employees are already fully employed with other tasks. Adding this work to their plate is likely to cause stress as priorities must be more closely managed and this can produce less than optimum results in either their existing work or this new work.
  • Not all employees have the skill set to write and edit engaging posts and short tweets, take good photos, and respond to customers who may be less than happy. While many employees know how to use social media as a consumer, most do not have experience using social platform tools that are only available to businesses.
  • Employees are more likely to use internal language and acronyms and forget to explain things at a lay level that is more accessible to the public. Some employees are too close to the processes to be able to handle customers who use social media to denigrate the business. This can result in responses that are too detailed and sound defensive and less professional.
  • The cost for building and maintaining skills in posting and managing engagement in each platform is fully borne by your business.

The cons of having a contractor perform the work:

  • Requires a separate contract.
  • It takes time for the contractor to learn the business’ culture, language, and procedures.
  • Still requires an employee of the business to provide some direction, help with scheduling, and overseeing the contractor.
Social media marketing can have a high return on investment. It’s worth having someone do it right. You’ll see the difference it makes in reach, engagement, and conversions.

If you believe you have the right person in-house with sufficient capacity to do more, we can help that employee improve your social media work! We will gladly train your employee(s) to post specifically for your company and how to respond to check-ins, comments, and reviews in social media.

If you do not yet have that employee, we are happy to become part of your marketing team and staff your social media support needs until your business grows to the point that you are ready to bring the work in-house.

What is Reputation Management?

Reputation Management is the process of responding to reviews expressed publicly by customers and the media. Historically this work was performed by public relations professionals and was communicated through print, radio, and television.(1) The goal of reputation management is to maintain a positive image for a business or organization.

How has reputation management changed?

Reputation management has largely moved online since the development of online review platforms such as those available in Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook, and other industry specific online resources such as Houzz. Today businesses and online review platforms actively encourage people to leave reviews after interactions with a business. Invitations to review a business are posted on websites and through emails containing purchase receipts, invoices, and surveys. As a result of these frequent reminders, more customers leave a review after making a purchase and prospective customers have learned to read at least three online reviews before interacting with a business. The key to building a good reputation is to read and respond to reviews, ratings, check-ins, photos, and recommendations. Responses should be timely, respectful, and maintain a consistent voice. Product and service successes can be acknowledged and celebrated subtly, but business errors and product failures should also be acknowledged and remedied. Explanations of failures and remedies should be clear, concise, and non-confrontational. If an explanation is too wordy, people will perceive a response as being defensive; if it is too curt, people will perceive this as being dismissive.

Science + Art

There is science, as well as art, to solid responses to customer reviews and interactions. Some brands have perfected both and successfully developed a following for their responses to customer reviews. For example, people leave reviews for Wendy’s because they enjoy reading the funny, almost snarky responses that Wendy’s reputation management professionals have developed(2), while Amazon uses ratings and reviews to determine which products and manufacturers to include in its listings(3). Even small businesses can employ experienced Reputation Management professionals. If you would like a consultation, please call us at 206-244-9092 or you can email [email protected]. 1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reputation_management 2 https://www.fastcompany.com/90330377/behind-wendys-epic-social-strategy 3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/kirimasters/2018/05/31/4-ways-brands-can-get-more-amazon-product-reviews-without-breaking-the-rules/#7c3d220c4bb4

You and Your Business: The Importance of Online Reputation Management

I admire small business owners. In fact, I work for one. I’ve heard stories of how Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc. was established, and every day I see the long hours, hard work and smart, quick decisions it takes to thrive in a competitive marketplace.

Small business owners are comprised of a remarkable amalgam of dreams, brains, guts, passion, patience, resilience, sacrifice and flexibility. They contribute to their community by providing employment and internship opportunities, and sacrifice precious time and treasure to local charities. Along the way, positive relationships and reputations are formed that not only serve to strengthen a business’ status in the community but, in turn, aids recruiting top talent and attracting more business – a healthy symbiosis.

Yet, when I consider the years of hard work and sacrifice it takes to build, maintain and grow a business, it alarms me how easily a malicious online review or a few angry sentences placed on social media can initiate a process of unraveling a successful company. It’s called “Virality”, and can damage your company’s reputation before you are even aware the activity has begun.

Virality – The tendency of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another (The Oxford Dictionary)

Consider a 2009 incident in which a pair of bored Domino’s Pizza employees recorded themselves performing inappropriate acts with sandwich ingredients. The duo posted 5 videos of their activity on YouTube, and sadly before the videos were removed a few days later an estimated one million people had viewed them. Read how Domino’s managed this crisis.

Another crisis occurred in 2015, when musician David Caroll’s guitar was damaged during travel with United Airlines. When the airline refused to compensate him for his loss, Mr. Caroll wrote “United Breaks Guitars”, a song that racked up over 15 million views on YouTube. This cathartic externalization of Mr. Caroll’s discontent with United is widely reported to have caused a 10% drop in the United’s stock (worth around $180 million). Read more about this incident.

The New Rules of Consumer Engagement

These crises illustrate the Age of The Empowered Consumer has arrived, demanding a new respect for customers, as expressed through constant engagement in social media, blogs, forums and website chat applications to understand who they are and what they want from your business. Consumers expect to be heard, and they place high value on what other consumers have to say about your goods and services.

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A study on BrightLocal.com found that 88% of consumers read reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and 72% of consumers will take action after reading a positive review. – Gary Musler, “What Every Small Business Needs to Know About Online Reputation Management”

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Business who interact with their customers socially online, monitor feedback in review sites and develop plans to quickly respond when negative information appears are establishing their credibility, protecting their brand and giving their company a competitive edge in their industry.

Cascade e-Commerce Solutions can help establish and monitor you and your business’s reputation. Call us today at 206-244-9092 or visit us online at https://www.4cesi.com/ .

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Did you know that a good online reputation is only one aspect of a business’s online presence? Master the Digital Domain with a comprehensive marketing strategy comprising SEO, SEM, E-Mail and Reputation Management. Call Cascade e-Commerce Solutions today!

The Advantages of Social Media for Small Business

Since the early days of the 21st century, the use of social media for business has grown exceedingly, becoming an integral aspect of an overall marketing strategy. This is due to a growing awareness that cultivating relationships with potential customers is key to growth in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Using methods of social media marketing helps form relationships with potential consumers in ways previously unavailable to the business community.

Social Media Inclusion in Marketing Plans

Research confirms the necessity of incorporating social media into comprehensive marketing strategies. According to Jacques Bughlin’s July 2015 article, Getting a sharper picture of social media’s influence, “Consumers who use search engines to gain some initial knowledge of a product are also more likely to tune in to social media before a purchase.” * Although research shows that businesses that invest in SEO (search engine optimization) can increase conversions by incorporating social media in their marketing plans, this approach can be maximized further by also including email marketing, SEM (Search Engine Marketing), and Reputation Management into their marketing plan. Why? Because each of these channels cross-connect.

Social Media Activities that Influence Digital Shopping Behavior

As we have seen, consumers make connections with companies to obtain or deepen their knowledge of products prior to making a purchase. But, how are potential customers using social media to reach their decisions to buy or not? A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey conducted in September 2015** revealed the social media activities that influence digital shopping behavior. The report, based on a worldwide sampling of 22,618 digital buyers aged eighteen and above, shows that: 45% – Read reviews, comments and feedback 44% – Receiving promotional offerings 30% – View Ads 25% – Stay on top of current fashion and product trends 22% – Write reviews, comments and feedback 20% – Associate with particular brands or retailers 16% – Purchase products directly through a social media channel Businesses that understand and master the digital domain can use each type of contact in their social media marketing to guide consumers along the way, whether they arrive to the business’s website from an ad, a blog post, a review, a tweet, an image, etc. Each marketing channel can be an extension of the business through which the consumer gains knowledge, forms opinions, and develops impressions that will lead to making decisions.

Reputation Management through Social Engagement

An advantage of using social media is the ability to better track and respond to the information that is circulated on the internet. When a customer feels strong enough to leave a review or comment regarding a business, they will most likely go to that business’s website. Businesses who do not utilize social media in their marketing plan may not know the feedback they receive. However, customers pay close attention to such information and will use it to determine future actions. For small businesses, the opportunity for interaction and for conversions is great due to their ability to develop closer, more intimate relationships with their customers than larger businesses. Customers who frequent smaller, local businesses tend to spread the word online to friends, co-workers, and within community groups. Small businesses can use social media to: • Quickly release information about a service or a product going on sale • Post and discuss pictures of their products • Respond to customer service inquiries • Build e-mail lists for the purpose of alerting customers of specials, ads, community events or causes, contests or even personal announcements, such as births or weddings When a small business uses social media to interact with their customers, they make deep inroads into the community in which they serve. They get a better understanding of their customers’ wants, needs, and future desires which, when acted upon, may lead to greater success in the marketplace. Thinking of incorporating social media into your marketing strategy? Cascade e-Commerce Solutions supports small business with their SEO, SEM, Social Media, and Reputation Management needs. Contact us today at 206-244-9092 or [email protected] ________________________________________ * http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/getting-a-sharper-picture-of-social-medias-influence ** (February 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report, “They Say They Want a Revolution: Total Retail 2016.

Accidental Entrepreneur | A Review of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Accidental Entrepreneur | CeSI’s Review of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

I am one of those somewhat accidental entrepreneurs.  I never wanted to own a business.  Owning a business was my husband’s idea and even that was not something I knew about until after we had been married for seven years. When we started the business we were intentional about following advice from our business’ attorney and accountant.  We found a business niche that we were passionate about and paid for consultants who helped us build skills aimed at delivering effective and affordable services to small businesses.  From the start, we knew we wanted to build a business that would last beyond us. And yet I knew that my path to entrepreneur-ism was not typical. My double major in Early Childhood Education and Music had not included courses in business management, accounting or finance.  So sometimes I refer to my path to business ownership as a backwards approach. Now some 18 plus years into business ownership and leadership, I am doing the things that many people do before they form a business.  My husband and I have entered the “empty nest” phase of life and so I have simply begun asking what comes next. I am finding that I don’t want to radically change my life, I just want to continue to get better at what I am already doing. Recently one of our clients, a second generation business leader, encouraged me to read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  Once I had finished reading the book, my husband and co-executive asked “What have you learned from reading it?” I answered him that I have learned that:
  • I may not be the leader our company needs to get from good to great.  It’s not that I don’t want to be or won’t strive to be, it’s just that I don’t see myself as a Level 5 Executive Leader at this time.  However, I will continue to work towards becoming that type of leader and/or preparing for the right person to take my place.
  • We need to continue to build a superior executive team by getting the right people in the right positions as we continue to grow.
  • We need to continue to “Confront the brutal facts and yet never lose faith.”  I am hyper-analytical and yet still very much an optimist, so this one doesn’t feel heavy or hard. Except that it’s not always easy for a teacher personality like me to state the facts to others plainly.
  • We need to continue to develop a group of people who periodically question, engage in dialogue and debate regarding where our A. unique, core competency, B. economic drivers and C. passions meet, make executive decisions, and analyze the impact of decisions made.  This group looks very different for us than for a large public organization.  Because we are very small, we include input from one or more clients in this group as part of our advisory team.
  • We need to be disciplined people in thought and action.  This will entail making a “stop doing list” in order to focus on the services and tools that are most beneficial, and budgeting to the intersection of a, b and c stated above.
While it is not our current goal to become a large, great public organization like those described in “Good to Great”, it is our goal to become increasingly better.  Our goal is to help our clients, our staff, our community and our families can continue to prosper. I will start by getting back to the client who encouraged me to read this book to learn what he learned from the book and how it is impacting his business leadership.  Next, I will share what I have described above and key points from our client’s feedback with our staff to engage them in the questioning, dialogue, debate, and analyses of the work that lies ahead. I will also continue to read books that are recommended by clients and colleagues.  Next on my list of reading is “Book Yourself Solid” by Michael Port, which was recommended to me by a fellow consultant who is growing his own business.  After that will be “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman, which was recommended by a colleague who comes alongside owners to help them use a simple system to improve their businesses. I’m looking forward to this period of discovery as I more and more embrace my role as a business owner who is also enjoying life as a grandma.  You can expect more business book reviews in the future and feel free to recommend your favorites to me.