Dante’s Inferno – A Restaurant Trying to Stay in Business

We are going to do something a little different with our posts for you. Across the next three days, we want to show you a longer story with a lot to learn from. This is the story of “Dante,” a client of ours who ran a restaurant. Nearly 700,000 restaurants exist in the U.S., but the number of privately-owned ones by small business owners dropped off in the past few years. There are a multitude of reasons, but at the top of the list a lack of understanding of some critical business fundamentals and access to financing. Trying to stay in business isn’t easy, but we wanted to help Dante as best as we can.

Feeling like your business isn’t going the right way? ProStrategix knows how to help. Read some of our other articles below, or feel free to connect with us and get a complimentary thirty-minute consulting session.

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Dante's Struggle to Stay in Business

A Great Start

When we met Dante, he owned a struggling small upscale dining establishment in Manhattan. During his first few years, Dante has had great success with his restaurant. He had a good location. He had solid reviews. His cuisine was new, and the design of his restaurant was appropriate for his target. But then…

Then People Stopped Coming

When we came in, that initial picture had changed. During his second year of operation, he noticed that he had more tables open than usual. He thought he would change up the menu, spend some money on advertising, and push for more Yelp! And Google reviews. 

After 6 months of this, he started to become increasingly concerned. People had simply stopped coming as often. He didn’t know why. The lack of customers was putting a financial strain on the business. He was late paying some suppliers so his business credit has taken a hit. There were unfortunate problems beneath the surface of the company that Dante couldn’t identify. A friend recommended that he talk to us to help stay in business.

Dante's Worries

In our initial interview, Dante said:

I started my business to follow my dream. The business started out fine, but lately, we haven’t been doing that well. Sales are falling and bills are getting harder to pay. I’m spending so much time thinking about the business that it’s not as fun as it used to be. I’m beginning to wonder if I made the right choice. 

Dante was worried about how he was going to stay in business. He had all the normal concerns. He was worried that the risks they took were the wrong ones. Dante blamed himself for how the business was going. He was anxious about what people would think if it didn’t work out. He was worried about living paycheck to paycheck in order to keep himself afloat. 

Next Time...

How to Help Dante

With companies in trouble, the first step we take is to analyze their business model. In other words, we looked at how he made or lost money, and what the biggest mistakes were behind the scenes. 

Next time, learn how Dante stayed in business and learn about what you can do to prevent yourself from the same problems he faced.  

Fast-Growing Businesses: 3 Things They Get Right

We’ve been in the small business sector for over 25 years, and it’s safe to say that the environment has evolved and changed dramatically in that time. Yet with all of these changes, there are a few trends we can’t help but notice, namely when it comes to small business successes. We’ve seen three things that fast-growing businesses get right, time and again. They are: 

      1. Talent – People are your #1 asset. As machinery and materials were the drivers of the Industrial Revolution, people are the driver of the Digital Revolution. Those who have a competitive edge with talent win. There is a little caveat I would add. It’s not always the best talent on paper, but the more often the best talent that works as a cohesive team.
      2. Staying Current –Most fast-growing companies begin as agents of change, but then, human nature sneaks in. A reluctance to change in hard-wired into human nature. You need to have a natural curiosity and desire to always want to learn more. This can go back to talent. Hiring younger workers can enfuse an organization with new ideas. 
      3. Showing up – Do what you say you are going to do. Prove your value quickly both internally and externally. 

To help you understand how these successes work, we want to introduce you to Jake. 

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Your business is doing well. But what’s next? ProStrategix knows how to help. Read some of our other articles below, or feel free to connect with us and get a complimentary thirty-minute consulting session.

Jake’s Story – A Fast-Growing Business and a Rocky Future

Jake runs a tech company. He started out a small start-up that grew quickly. This rapid growth put strain on his team. When we met him, he was concerned about keeping up the pace of growth. His team was starting to show some symptoms of burnout, but he didn’t have the time to set aside to think about how to fix it. 

People are your #1 Asset

Clients often ask how can you keep costs to a reasonable level while keeping people happy? Hiring and retaining talent is hugely important, as it was to Jake. The golden rule that employers tend to forget is that people stay for the intangibles more than the money. Money is important, but other things can matter more, such as: 

      • Flexibility 
      • Sense of belonging 
      • Clear and copious recognition 
      • Transparency 

When we talked to the team, we found they felt that Jake was running short on recognition and transparency. When we shared that with Jake. He was open to the feedback. It was clear to us that it wasn’t that he did want to do. He just didn’t have time to breathe with his business growing so fast. 

Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn

Mistakes happened infrequently as Jake’s team got stretched too thin. The team was getting frustrated with each other. They were frustrated for a good reason. Mistakes had a domino effect. One is mistake from someone meant more work for someone else. This was adding to the tension. When we worked with the team, we used this as an example. The mistakes were a symptom of the larger problem. They needed more people. We used this as an opportunity to learn the root cause of the mistake, so we could fix it.

Empowering People to Make Decisions Makes Them Feel Like They are Part of Something Bigger

This is often a scary proposition to business owners. It’s your baby. How can you trust it to someone else? Luckily, Jake did have this problem. He had clear rules for delegation, and his small business’s team felt that they had the ability to make decisions. This is the key to keeping your business growing fast. Delegation is about setting boundaries and accountability. Allow someone to make a decision means they need to know they are responsible for the outcome. It doesn’t need to be draconian or punitive, but it does need to be enforced.

Jake’s Solution

It was pretty clear that Jake was doing a lot of things right. His business wouldn’t have been growing so fast if he wasn’t. However, it was also clear that he needs to hire if he wanted to maintain his trajectory. We recommended and created a hiring plan for him, which we helped him execute. We created job descriptions. Posted them on several hiring sites. Screened applicants. Finally, we recommended those to bring in for a formal interview. Jake hired two people, who were desperately needed, and his business continues to thrive. 

Summary

The key takeaway from Jake is acting before the strains from growth become highly visible. It’s easier to cure a disease if caught early. The same is true in fast-growing businesses. The longer you wait the more repair work is need, and the harder it is to expand. But Jake was able to find his problems and come out stronger overall. 

Will 401ks Become Easier for Small Business to Offer?

401ks: not as easy to access as you might hope

401ks are some of the most important retirement plans that are available to employees in 2019. And there is an important question to ask: are 401ks going to be able to be offered by small business owners easily in the near future? 

The answer is… maybe. It’s not simple, and as far as we can tell, it’s not cheap ⁠— especially if you have fewer than 20 employees. 

Thinking about making changes to your business? ProStrategix knows how to help. Read some of our other articles below, or feel free to connect with us and get a complimentary thirty-minute consulting session.

The New U.S. Department of Labor 401k Rule

What is it?

Well, it broadened the definition of employer associations. On paper, the rule makes it easier for small businesses to group together to offer 401(k) retirement plans. This is done through what is called an Association Retirement Plan, ARP for short. Wow, that sounds great, you may say. But, how are we going to group together? Who’s going to foot the bill or do the work? Ah, and there’s the rub. Like most of the proposals from this Administration, it’s big on words but benefits only a few.

What does it mean to us?

Let me share our story. Like most small businesses, we want to offer healthcare and retirement benefits to our employees, but we can’t afford it. When we heard about this rule, we were encouraged. We thought, awesome, great, let’s check this out. We researched the NYC area for business groups and open plans, thinking surely someone is going to jump on this. What did we find?  

Zilch!  

Yep, nothing. We found myriad Professional Employer Organizations. But they’ve been around for years, as has the Chamber of Commerce. So, we were left with the same choices that we had before.

Professional Employer Organizations (PEO)

What are they?

“Professional Employment Organizations generally contract with employers to handle administrative employment responsibilities, such as payroll and tax withholdings, workers' compensation insurance, and other benefits.”

Jackson Lewis

PEOs have had a somewhat rocky history. While there are plenty of reputable ones. There were laws passed in several states in the early 2000s due to charges of impropriety. At least in New York State, you need to be registered with the State and comply with state regulations, such as requiring yearly financial audits, etc. While under this new rule, small businesses can technically create these groups, the overhead and the expense of running and maintaining one is significant. So, no real win there.

What does it mean to you?

If you want to offer healthcare, retirement, and other benefits, you can contract with a PEO. They do offer premiums that are better than you can get on the open market, but they generally charge about $1,000 – $2,000 per employee for their services. It does take the headache of complying with payroll taxes, withholding, etc., so for some, it may be worth it. One might expect premium costs to go down if more people enroll, but as of yet, we’ve not seen it.

Here’s  brief video on what PEOs are and how they can help you

So, Will the Changes Help Us?

The sad truth is nearly 40 million employees, or roughly, 25% of the total workforce lack workplace retirement benefits. One would think that this executive order and subsequent rule would help. However, in the harsh spotlight of reality, that seems unlikely. While the option exists, the cost remains prohibitive. Going to a PEO was an option before as it will be after the rule takes place. It would seem that they, not us, are the real winners in this case. Again, this is no different from the myriad of actions by this political administration(like Tax Cuts), that sounded great but only benefited a few.

At ProStrategix, we know you have concerns.  We’re designed to help give you the business support you need so you can focus on doing what you love.  If you would like to learn about how we might be able to help you, please contact us.

What to Do if You Get a Bad Review

A one star review can be very bad for business

There are so many review sites these days, it’s hard to keep up. But a bad review can be hard to manage, especially when you’re new. Shifts in technology trends can change many things for a company, and our client Donna learned that lesson the hard way. 

Donna owns a small retail shop that had recently opened in Manhattan. She was growing well and was off to a good start. But while I love New Yorkit isn’t out of the question to say that New Yorkers can be blunt and harsh critics. Donna had one difficult client interaction, which turned into several months worth of headaches. The client left unsatisfied and left a scathing 1-star review on Google. Initially, Donna wrote it off and went on with her day. Unfortunately for Donna that was the wrong thing to do.

Unsure of how to take your business from good to great? ProStrategix knows how to help. Read some of our other articles below, or feel free to connect with us and get a complimentary thirty-minute consulting session.

What Donna Didn’t Know About Bad Reviews

A recent study showed that a bad review on Google My Business can hurt you much more than one on Yelp or Facebook. The study showed that the impact of a poor Google rating had twice the effect of a bad review on Yelp. It had nearly 4 times the negative effect than Facebook. Ouch, right? We can only speculate as to why, but it’s likely that review ratings are part of the local search algorithm. Therefore, businesses with a lower review rating may be shown less. It’s also easier to leave a Google review so that could be a factor as well. 

What Donna Should Have Done

A Bad Review is all it takes to hurt a business

No matter how big or small your business is, someone should be checking and responding to customer reviews regularly. You might be thinking“of course, doesn’t everyone?” But, it’s easy to think that when you are not pulled away by a thousand different things. Plus if it was a negative review, the interaction probably wouldn’t be pleasant for you, either. It would be hard not to get emotionally invested in it. The first step is to try to depersonalize the situation. It’s hard, but that separation is necessary. Otherwise, you can’t follow this golden rule:  the first one who acts irrationally will lose. Acknowledge that you heard them. Focus on the facts. Be professional. Never lose your cool. 

What We Did for Donna

Since Donna didn’t act on the review, it stuck. She started to see her local search numbers fall and her organic traffic took a nosedive. How could one review do that? It was her 1st review. Donna needed to fix this quickly. We started a program offering discounts for a Google review. We were clear that we wanted their honest feedback. It was solely a means of encouraging them to act. And most importantly: it worked. Within 2 weeks, we had 20 reviews. It took a month or so to recover fully. But recover Donna did, and her bad review problem went away. We also encouraged her to hire a social media manager to monitor her comments and act on any comments within 24 hours. 

 

A bad review isn't the end of the world

With how much business is done online nowadays, it is easy to see how a bad review can sink a business. But by keeping on top of it and staying smart, you can avoid problems like Donna’s. And importantly, we are happy to help you do that, because it is important to help your business grow, and we want to be there for it. 

At ProStrategix, we know you have concerns.  We’re designed to help give you the business support you need so you can focus on doing what you love.  If you would like to learn about how we might be able to help you, please contact us.

How to Use Marketing to Boost Slipping Sales

A woman attempts to boost her sales through marketing techniques

Today, we want to tell you a story about of client of ours named, George. George runs a decent-sized small business and has for a few years, but his sales have started to slip. So we showed him how used marketing to boost his slipping sales.

George’s business might not be the same as yours, but his challenge was one that we all face. How do we understand our customers enough that we can communicate with them effectively? By communicating effectively, how do we get their attention, keep it, and motive them to do something different? If you’re facing marketing challenges, then read on to see what tips we shared with George. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky… and remember to come back to us if you do face problems.

Unsure of how to take your business from good to great? ProStrategix knows how to help. Read some of our other articles below, or feel free to connect with us and get a complimentary thirty-minute consulting session.

George’s Story: A Classic Marketing Challenge

George’s business model was a bit old school. George produced products that he sold through distributors, and then those distributors sold the products to brick and mortar stores. Yes, this still is the dominant way people buy products. While e-commerce is growing fast, it still only accounts for around 10% of total retail sales. It also varies widely from category to category.

You can use social media marketing campaigns to boost sales

Jason is in health and beauty. This is one of e-commerce’s weak spots. In health & beauty, e-commerce sales account for less than 5% of total retail sales. Nevertheless, Jason was starting to see some negative impact from that shift. His volume was starting to drop off and his marketing needed a booster shot to help the sales. His e-commerce sales were tiny. He’s tried to sell through Amazon’s marketplace but he’s had a hard time breaking through. He has his own e-commerce platform but has struggled to gain traffic and conversions.

How do we understand our customers enough so that we can communicate with them effectively?

So, what exactly did we change in George’s marketing to help boost the sales of his company? And how could we achieve that without wasting everyone’s time and money?

Spend some time walking in their shoes

George was in a tough spot. He didn’t sell much directly to his customers, so how could he reach them? Luckily, he did have some sales through his e-commerce portal. We re-contacted those former customers and offered a nominal fee to participate in a moderated Zoom call. We spent that call discussing their challenges and how Jason’s products helped them meet them. Then, we spent time to understand their motivations. We asked them to take us through their day. We uncovered a lot about how they wanted to feel after using Jason’s products.

After spending time in the customer's shoes, craft a message relevant to what’s motivating them

marketing can help boost sales for a small business

After conducting a few Zoom focus groups, we had a clearer picture of what was motivating George’s customers. They wanted to look naturally beautiful. They were motivated by wanting to look their best, but not looking like they tried. We are own worst critics. We see all the flaws because we know they are there. As long as we know they are there, we are self-conscious. When your self-conscious, it’s hard to project confidence. And, that’s what this was all about, finding the marketing plan that worked

Communicating our message consistently and effectively

Armed with this new information, George was able to upgrade his website, Amazon page, paid digital ads, landing pages, ran social media posts, and more marketing platforms to boost his sales. It was no longer about shades and colors and the like. It was about how to use a combination of his products to look natural, letting the real you shine through. And it was a major hit, helping Geroge in the long run of his career.

How Can You Boost Your Business's Sales with Marketing?

The steps that we took can be used by anyone. It takes time and effort and a little bit of money. However, it is time well spent. Understanding your customer is key to unlocking sales. We hope this case study helps clarify how that might work.

At ProStrategix, we know you have concerns.  We’re designed to help give you the business support you need so you can focus on doing what you love.  If you would like to learn about how we might be able to help you, please contact us.