Many small business owners and professionals collect payment from clients by invoicing. This is common and convenient for makeup artists, interior decorators, and event planners, just to name a few. Parties sign a contract and at the end the professional sends an invoice to the client for the amount owing. Clients make payment when they receive the invoice.
This sounds simple enough, but what if the client doesn’t pay the invoice? How should you handle the situation and what can you do to get paid?
Remember: the goal is to get what you’re owed without burning bridges.
Here’s a ten step guide for dealing with non-payment. These tactics maximize your chances of getting paid without making the situation worse.
Tip #1: Have a standard process
Establish protocol to follow when non-payment happens. This way, you can handle each case similarly and fairly. You’ll feel less stress if you’ve already thought about the process and have an idea of what to do next. Don’t leave payment due dates open ended, even if your clients are your friends and neighbors. Set a firm date at the beginning of each contract and standardize how you’ll proceed if it isn’t met.
Tip #2: Contact the client immediately
If the invoice isn’t paid on time, approach the client immediately. Communication is the best strategy for securing late payments. Some professionals send emails or re-send the invoice, but phone calls tend to be more effective because you can discuss complicated details right away.
Perhaps the client simply forgot and one phone call is all they need? Maybe they’ve had unforeseen expenses and can’t settle the invoice until pay day?
Calling the client directly helps you work toward a solution more quickly than an email and feels less passive aggressive than a repeated invoice.
Tip #3: Ask about their satisfaction
When you call the client, ask if they were satisfied with their experience. It’s possible they haven’t paid their invoice due to a problem with your service. Some clients are hesitant to confront professionals due to the misconception that you won’t do anything to fix the problem. Asking about their satisfaction lets you offer a resolution to any problems and re-evaluate payment from there.
NOTE: If a client happens to be dissatisfied with your service, you might also want to check this out: How to Deal with Bad Reviews
Tip #4: Agree on a new payment date
Set a new payment date that works for both parties. Don’t settle for vague promises to “as soon as possible”, but remain understanding if there was a legitimate reason for non-payment. Working with your client rather than against them can salvage the business relationship.
Tip #5: Re-evaluate your approach
Some professionals send reminder emails or repeat invoices before they call the client. If you’ve done this, change your strategy and call them. For some people, going from receiving emails to a sudden phone call is enough pressure to get payment.
If that doesn’t work or you’ve already spoken to the client with no luck, maybe assess your tone and language. A formal tone and official wording might be more effective than your usual friendly greeting and warm, casual speech. You don’t want to be rude, but you do want to communicate that you mean business. Remain polite and professional, but get straight to the point.
Tip #6: Send a written warning
A written warning is a formal letter sent to the client. This documents the steps you’ve taken so far, and informs the client of the steps you’re prepared to take.
Never make empty threats! If you aren’t sure you’ll actually take legal action, don’t mention it. Falsely intimidating clients will only make the situation hostile. You’re simply giving the client additional motivation to pay. Instead of threatening legal action if you’re not prepared to go that far, tell the client you’ll be forced to permanently withdraw future services if non-payment continues.
Tip #7: Get professional advice
Facebook groups and professional forums are useful, but they shouldn’t be your only source of information. If you want to pursue the non-payment further, consult a professional. Speak with a lawyer about whether the situation is serious enough for claims court or approach a collections mediator about the details of forwarding the case to a collections agency.
Networking is helpful to get an idea of other professionals’ experiences, but don’t take the information there as concrete fact. The better you educate yourself about your options, the more effectively you can handle the situation.
Tip #8: Decide how to proceed
By now, you’ve tried negotiating with the client, accommodating their needs, and warning them that you’re prepared for further action. If the client still won’t pay, the best strategy in most cases is to permanently withdraw your services. Write them a letter informing them that they are in breach of contract and letting them know that your services are, from this date on, withdrawn. This means that you won’t take them on as a client again.
Legal action might also be an option, but remember that this can be very expensive and time consuming. The cost of hiring a lawyer and taking the client to claims court might be much larger than what you’ll lose from accepting non-payment and moving on. Forwarding the case to a collections agency is also an option. Evaluate whether the cost outweighs the size of the payment.
Tip #9: Stay professional
No matter how frustrated you feel, make sure that you stay professional. You should not, under any circumstances, speak badly about the client to your other clients or colleagues. How you handle non-payments says more about you to the public than it does about your client. Losing future contracts because you were rude or unprofessional isn’t worth getting the money you’re owed by one person. Your private financial dealings with each client should stay private.
Tip #10: Know when to cut your losses
The unfortunate reality of non-payments is that sometimes you’re best to let the contract go unpaid. If the cost of pursuing the payment is higher than it’s worth and negotiations have broken down entirely, continuing the process becomes a waste of time and resources. Account for the loss of profit from the non-payment in your budget and move on to other contracts. Are there aspects of this case that you could have handled better? Are there ways that you could improve communication next time? Learn from your experiences and adjust your non-payment protocol accordingly.
Bonus Tip: Minimize your risk!
It’s not unusual for a professional to require an up-front payment for services. Of course this will depend on the service you provide, but many professionals will at the very least require a deposit from the client when they sign the contract, usually about 30-50% of the estimated cost of the job.
If it’s a large job, such as a home redesign or a luxury wedding, you can also consider a payment schedule during the course of the contract instead of waiting until the job is done. For example, you can require a 30% deposit at contract signing, then another 30% payment on a date about half-way through the job, and the remaining balance at the end of the project.
Collecting payment throughout the job will not only ensure that you will get what you’re owed from your clients, it will also help your client meet their obligations by allowing them to make smaller, more manageable payments instead of one large lump sum.
Non-payment is a frustrating experience. You are a professional, however, and handling yourself with tact is the best strategy. Remember that getting the money from one contract isn’t worth a poor reputation.
Have you ever had an issue with a client who wouldn’t pay their invoice? How did you deal with it? Let us know in a comment!
In any industry, attending tradeshows is a great idea. They are an opportunity to network with other professionals, discover new vendors and suppliers, keep up with the latest trends, and advance your training. They can also be a lot of fun! Tradeshows are a break from the norm that educate and inspire design professionals.
Attending local tradeshows stimulates the local industry and encourages healthy competition and better support between colleagues. Attending tradeshows nationally and internationally provides insight into how things are done elsewhere and how you might adjust your own design strategies to benefit your clients. It also sheds light on what you’re doing right. Finally, international tradeshows are an amazing travel opportunity! Here are some tradeshows from around the world that exemplify how different and exciting design showcases can be.
Interior Design Show West, Vancouver
The Interior Design Show West, based in Vancouver, Canada showcases vendors, ideas, and trends from around the world, with emphasis on North America and the Vancouver industry itself. The show displays vendors that provide high quality products, well-known figures within the local and international industry, and even a few celebrity guests. Vendors use the show as an opportunity to unveil exclusive looks at their latest products, giving professionals a peek of upcoming trends before they hit the market. Attendees can also learn from leading experts during a variety of lectures and presentations. This annual tradeshow is designed specifically for professional attendees.
The London Design Festival, London
The London Design Festival in London, England, is an annual festival designed to show the world what the London industry is capable of. Open to professionals from all over the world, the festival offers a series of lectures, product showcases, and artistic installments created by local designers. Attendees are encouraged to experience rather than observe. While vendors and professionals from around the world are invited to take part, the emphasis of the show is to let people see the talent and innovation stemming from London specifically. Attendees are encouraged to network and conduct business, but an air of celebration is maintained throughout. Featuring award presentations, lectures, project showcases, and business events put on by hundreds of partners, this show is a great opportunity for design professionals to expose themselves to how diverse, innovative, and influential the people around them can be.
Own Home, Helsinki
The Own Home tradeshow in Helsinki, Finland, is one of the biggest and most diverse tradeshows in the area. The show focuses on homebuilding and renovation, letting an audience of industry professionals and public attendees discover expert methods of remaking and rejuvenating their spaces. Attendees are encouraged to learn from notable guest speakers and suppliers and to share knowledge with each other in order to improve everyone’s renovation and homebuilding experiences.
Room + Style, Dresden
The Room + Style show in Dresden, Germany is an annual, publicly accessible event intended to showcase how fashion, lifestyle, and interior design are related. The show is exceptionally stylish, with exhibitors displaying products related to fashion, interior decoration, home accessorizing, and general wellbeing and lifestyle. Regardless of whether they are professionals in the industry or merely curious homeowners, attendees are given insight into upcoming trends that might influence their personal, professional, and home lifestyles throughout the year. They are also provided with great deals on furniture and accessories from suppliers that might not otherwise sell directly to the public. Design professionals can benefit both personally and professionally at this show by paying attention to what the people around them are most impressed by.
The Mobitex showcase in Brno, Czech Republic is an annual international fair that showcases furniture styles and design techniques from around the world. Suppliers of furniture and home furnishing products travel from international locations to exhibit their goods, and Czech vendors are included to give foreign attendees a taste of the local style and talent. The tradeshow is accessible to the public as well as professionals, encouraging networking and education. Professionals can gain an international perspective on upcoming trends while public attendees become informed about their home furnishing options from a very professional source.
IFFT interiorlifestyleliving, Tokyo
The IFFT interiorlifestyle living tradeshow in Tokyo, Japan is an annual event thrown specifically for design professionals. It is Tokyo’s largest event of its kind, boasting innovative and design-oriented exhibitions that introduce professionals to new trends from around the world. Suppliers showcase their most unique products for interior decoration, accessorizing, and lifestyle, presenting options and ideas for both indoor and outdoor design. Professionals are encouraged to network with representatives from retail chains, wholesalers, and boutiques that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with so closely.
Salone di Firenze, Florence
The Salone di Firenze exhibition in Florence, Italy is an annual showcase that is open to public and professional visitors alike. It focuses on presenting both modern and classic furniture styles and ways to accessorize spaces according to the furnishings. Additionally, exhibitors are encouraged to show products that serve a functional purpose in the home rather than just a decorative one, including the latest trends in lighting and flooring. To make sure visitors balance work and leisure, this tradeshow also boasts specialty food tastings, free workshops on design related topics (as well as some fun ones that aren’t directly related), contemporary art exhibitions, and performances by musical guests. Visitors benefit from the professional development opportunities while still making time to enjoy the local Italian culture.
Boutique Design New York, New York
Based in New York City, Boutique Design New York is an annual fair that focuses on design aspects of the hospitality and leisure industry. It features boutique spaces created from the latest and most innovative design styles, as well as galleries displaying current trends in artwork, accessories, bathroom spaces, fabrics and furnishings, lighting and wall coverings, and flooring and carpet options. Public and professional attendees are invited to observe and experience the design elements that make hotels, restaurants, and cruise ships impressive and appealing. They’re also encouraged to network with the innovators behind each unique piece and style. When they’re finished networking for the day, guests can kick back and socialize in sitting areas of all styles, created by local design visionaries.
World of Furniture, Sofia
The World of Furniture showcase in Sofia, Bulgaria is an annual tradeshow that welcomes professional and public visitors to witness innovative furniture designs created by Bulgarians, as well as other exhibitors from around the world. The intent of the show is to provide local design professionals and homeowners the opportunity to interact with suppliers from both Bulgaria and elsewhere. Hotel and restaurant owners also take part, as the exhibitions showcase interior decorating and design elements that will interest all types of clients and businesses.
National Women’s Show, Ottawa
The National Women’s Show in Ottawa, Canada is a biannual fair that welcomes professionals and public audiences. This exhibition is actually intended to showcase products and services that might specifically interest women or relate to their professional endeavors, so it boasts content related to far more than just the design industry. Even so, it’s a great opportunity for local and foreign professionals who want a particular insight into what interests women today. The show exemplifies how interior decorating and design elements relate closely to other aspects of clients’ lives, as well as their likes and dislikes. Besides interior decorating and home furnishings, attendees can check out displays about cooking, fashion, beauty, and health and wellness.
Interested in a career as a designer? Check out QC Design School’s Online Design Courses to get your career started on the right track!
If you’ve ever looked for a job, you know how stressful it can be. It can be pretty depressing to put yourself out there, apply to a bunch of jobs you think you’d be great for… only to be rejected by some or most of them.
Guess what though: the interview process can be equally depressing for the interviewer! As someone who’s interviewed a LOT of people over the past few years, I can tell you it’s shocking just how many candidates we’ve had who clearly were never educated about what NOT to do during an interview.
Here are a few of my favorite worst interview stories, and what we can all learn from them.
Please Stop Speaking to my Chest
We once had a young gentleman come in who barely made eye contact the entire time. We were two women interviewing this guy, and he spent the entire interview looking at our boobs. Now maybe he was nervous and didn’t realize he was doing it… but if that’s your default response when you’re nervous… you still rank pretty high on the creep-o-meter.
Here’s the kicker: he was actually quite qualified for the position. But there’s NO way I’m hiring a sexual-harassment-suit-in-the-making.
The takeaway: not only should you avoid creepy behavior, but you should also make a conscious effort to make eye contact with your interviewer(s).
Property Destruction Fiasco
Last year a lady came in for an interview and did a great job. She was clearly nervous but she answered all questions well, had some great questions of her own, and I was pretty sure we had a winner on our hands.
When she was backing her car out of the narrow driveway, she slammed dead-center into the wooden deck at the side of the building (where the main entrance is). Seriously, this hit was hard enough to move the entire structure backward a few inches. A colleague saw this from the window and rushed out to see if everything was ok. I guess she was embarrassed and/or didn’t know what else to do, so she just quickly drove away.
What’s worse, when she sent a follow-up email to thank me for the interview, she didn’t even mention the incident. It was like it had never happened.
Again, this was a candidate who had the qualifications to do the job and had a decent chance… but if this is the way you handle bad situations, I don’t want you working here.
The takeaway: If there happens to be a situation where you damage something during an interview, just own it and offer to fix it. Whether it’s backing your car into a deck, breaking the chair you’re sitting in, or even clogging a toilet, there’s no better way of proving that you’re a responsible, accountable person.
The Pompous Jerk
I want candidates to be confident in their own abilities. What I DON’T want is arrogance. There’s a huge difference between the two, but unfortunately this seems to be a blurry distinction for most people.
If you spend your interview time explaining to me why you think you’re a good fit for the job, I’ll call that confidence. What this guy did, was spend the “tell us about yourself” portion of the interview telling us how another company had screwed him over and how he couldn’t understand because he was a perfect fit for THAT position.
I wasn’t there. Maybe he did actually get screwed over, but I’m not a therapist. He was asked to interview so that we could learn about his abilities. Not about how his former employers were horrible human beings.
The takeaway: Be humble and be positive! It’s perfectly ok to be honest about why you left your last job. I encourage it. But don’t throw anyone under the bus and certainly don’t hover on the point! You should spend the majority of your time talking about how awesome YOU are, not how everyone else sucks.
Diaries of a Nymphomaniac
This is a story from a previous job, but it’s worth reliving.
A lady came in for an interview… I think it was for a customer service role. She was very nice and friendly, a perfect candidate for dealing with the public on a daily basis. I walked her to a private meeting room, for which we had to walk through office space and she got to informally meet a lot of the staff.
When I got her into the meeting room, she immediately started commenting about how many “hot guys” there were working in the office, and how excited she was to work there for that reason. She then proceeded to rank all the men she’d seen on a scale of 1 to 10, and even mentioned she had slept with (and I quote) “quite a few coworkers in the past.”
Yeah. I don’t know what she was thinking.
The takeaway: Even if the interviewer is close to your age and you think you could be good friends, they are there to judge your abilities. Talking about sensitive topics like your sex life is not only inappropriate, but tattoos a huge “immature” on your forehead.
How to Improve
Here’s the sad part. I’m sure all of these candidates are very nice people and more than likely their strange behaviors were simply due to nerves. Interviews can get the best of anyone!
The key is to know yourself. If you’re the kind of person who does strange things when you get nervous, work on that. Get some feedback from people who have seen you in stressful situations, talk to strangers in coffee shops, prepare a list of what you will and won’t say during the interview, and if necessary bring that list with you. Try different relaxation techniques before going into an interview and be as prepared as you can be to help calm your nerves.
Like anything else, the key to good interview skills is to practice as much as you possibly can. If you’re getting a lot of interviews but are having trouble landing a job, odds are your interview skills aren’t up to par. Look for employment assistance services in your area that can help you by setting up mock interviews and providing objective feedback. You’d be surprised how much this can help!
Have you ever done something in an interview you’ve regretted? Let us know in a comment!
Starting a small business is super exciting, incredibly rewarding, and a challenge worth taking on. As your own boss, you’ll have a chance to set the pace for your business and make all the decisions. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
There are certain tasks you’ll have to perform on a regular basis (probably daily) to make sure the business runs smoothly. These tasks are the backbone of any business, regardless of size or profit margins. Today, we’re going to look at a typical day in the life of a small business owner.
If you have employees who work for you – even if they’re just volunteers – you need to complete some basic human resources tasks to ensure you stay on top of things.
Interviewing candidates, scheduling employees, providing feedback on employees’ work, doing payroll, etc. are all tasks that will need to be completed regularly.
Especially when you’re just starting a small business, odds are you’ll have to do a little bit of everything. That includes answering the phones and communicating with customers and inquirers by email and on social media.
Ideally, during business hours you’re available to answer that phone when it rings. If messages are left outside of business hours, then you’ll want to return those calls first thing the next morning.
Same goes with emails. Try to answer emails within about an hour or two of receiving them (the quicker, the better)… and try to respond to all emails first thing in the morning before moving on to other jobs.
Finances & Accounting
As the business owner, it’s your job to deal with all of your business’s finances. This includes cash flow, setting up a line of credit, ensuring clients are paid up, submitting documentation for taxes on time, and so on. Sound like a lot of work? Likely an accountant is one of the first people you’ll want to consult when starting a business.
Purchasing & Ordering fall under your domain as well. This might not necessarily be a daily task… but at the very least it’s a weekly one. Do you have enough supplies to get your company through upcoming projects? Is there anything you’re going to need in the next month or two?
Thinking further ahead, are there any upcoming events or expected spikes in business that you need to prepare for now? This is often the case with retail businesses (they’ll start ordering Christmas inventory in July!) and it could be true for your business as well.
We’ve talked a lot about a small business owner’s marketing responsibilities on this blog, but I’m quickly going to mention it again. Marketing is an ongoing mission and one that shouldn’t be ignored. At the very least, your daily marketing tasks should be posting to social media and writing for your blog. About once a week, you’ll want to either work on your newsletter(s), or your website, or your search engine optimization.
I’m going to lump networking into this category as well. For many small businesses, some of the best marketing is still word of mouth. Are you keeping in touch with your past clients? What about vendors you’ve worked with in the past (and enjoyed it)? All these little things need to be done!
Maintenance & Upkeep
If you have a home office, maintenance can be anything from cleaning your desk(s) to changing a burnt lightbulb to vacuuming your workspace or washing the windows.
If you’re renting a commercial space or office, you might be lucky enough to have a cleaning staff provided by the landlord. These are the people who will take care of vacuuming and making sure the bathrooms are clean. If you don’t have that luxury, then guess who that job falls onto? That’s right! But even if there is a cleaning crew at your office, you’ll still want to take on the job of spot-dusting furniture, cleaning the kitchen area (if you have one), etc.
Note: Especially if you’ll be meeting with clients at your office, don’t skimp on the maintenance of your space. I can’t tell you how much a messy or dirty office truly turns off potential clients. Let’s keep it clean!
Let’s not forget the reason why you own this business!
I know this seems like a lot. But with proper planning, these tasks shouldn’t take more than an hour or two a day, leaving the rest of the day wide open for your real, actual, work. The key is not to let any one of these build up by ignoring it. So when you’re just launching your business, set yourself a schedule of daily tasks and follow it! You’d be surprised how much this simple method helps. And hey, if things get a little out of control, check out this guide to stress management!
QC’s courses come complete with business training to get you off on the right foot! Check out our business training series for more information!
Running a business is always stressful. Sometimes you don’t have some of the securities that are attributed to most employees, like a regular paycheck, paid sick leave or vacation time. It’s especially stressful if you don’t have any employees, since that means if you’re not working the business isn’t making any money. For that reason, it can be very tempting for designers to always be working!
When we talked about stress management tips we discussed the importance of taking care of oneself, especially business owners! If you let yourself get burned out, you’ll lose focus and you’ll be far less effective at running your business.
What’s a sure fire way to avoid burnout? Why, taking a vacation, of course!
By planning ahead, a designer can take a stress-free vacation without putting their business at risk! Sound like a good idea? Read on for tips on how this can be done.
When to take a vacation
Likely if you take a vacation your business will close during that period of time. So, think ahead and don’t plan a vacation around the busiest time of the year! As an designer, avoid vacations during peak home renovation season, hot home buying/selling season etc. where your services will be most required. If your business has a natural “slow season”, try to schedule a vacation around that time.
Whenever you run your own business, you should pay yourself a set regular salary as the business owner. Additional business income should then go into the company reserve and earmarked for expansion, development and/or emergencies.
If you follow this formula, you can also permit yourself a week or two of “paid vacation” each year. Financially, this is the most sound way of going about taking a vacation, because it will be factored right into the business budget.
Keeping Clients in the Loop
The vast majority of clients are intelligent, reasonable people. They should understand that as an owner (and sole employee!) of a business, you need time to recharge your batteries sometimes, just as they do.
Usually if a client becomes frustrated or irritated due to a “temporarily closed” business, it’s likely because a lack of communication from the business owner.
Be sure to give your clients plenty of notice before you close your business for a vacation:
As soon as your vacation is scheduled:
- Inform your current clients that you won’t be available for that period of time. If possible, try to include your vacation in the initial planning of your client’s project. In other words, try to have few (if not zero) items “in the air” while you’re gone. The more you can convince them you’re on top of the design project before you take off, the less stressed they’ll be!
About a week before closing:
- Call or email the clients you’re actively working with and remind them that you won’t be available during that week, but they’ll be your #1 priority when you get back;
- Consider sending an e-mail to your marketing list in case they may try to get in touch with you;
- Prepare an “out of office reply” for your emails and phone line. In this message, be sure to indicate a date when you will return the person’s message, and honor that date.
Just before closing:
- Put a notice front-and-center on your website indicating your business is closed and when it will reopen;
- Add the same type of notice on your main social media accounts (and “pin” those to the top of your page);
- Enable your “out of office” messages for your email account and phone line.
NOTE: When communicating this information with clients, don’t apologize about taking a vacation! Instead, simply own it. Yeah, you deserve a break too and you’re taking it. Clients will be happy for you!
Now, unplug for real
Have you ever been on vacation and just couldn’t resist the urge to check your emails? We’ve all done it. But in order to truly benefit from time off, you really do need to turn everything off.
Trust me, my friends. No one wants to hear this, but your emails will keep. Your phone messages will wait. There won’t be a disaster while your business is closed for a week.
If you work out of a separate office, that’s great. Leave your laptop and smartphone at the office where you’re not allowed to visit during your vacation.
If you have a home office, it can be a little trickier. Unplug your computer and put it away. Put the business phone on “silent”, and same goes for your business smartphone. If you happen to only use a single smartphone for your business and personal use, at the very least turn off the email notification icon and reminders on your phone. Please, please just… leave the email alone for a week!
If you think this will be particularly difficult for you, come up with an alternate activity to emailing. For example, every time you desperately want to check your email, you have to spend 30 minutes gardening instead. Or walking the dog, or lounging by the pool, or take the kids to the park. After a few days, you’ll forget all about that pesky smartphone, and that’s exactly what needs to happen!
Are you planning on taking a vacation this year? Let us know in a comment!
Email marketing can be one of the most effective ways to connect directly with your audience. Having people “opt-in” to your email list, you’re assured to reach people who WANT to hear from you. This is usually a very small yet extremely highly qualified pool of potential customers and influencers.
So how can you integrate email marketing into your business and marketing strategies? What are some of the rules and best practices you should follow? Hopefully this short guide will help!
Rule #1: Differentiate Between Business Emails and Marketing Emails
If you’re communicating one-on-one with customers, even if it’s in response to a quote request or some other automated function, these are not marketing emails. These are considered “business” emails. In 99% of cases, the email recipient will have initiated the email conversation by reaching out to you first. Business emails can be conducted without much fuss, and are directed at one single recipient – or a very small group of recipients – at a time.
Marketing emails, on the other hand, are usually blasted to a large audience who are on a list owned by the business. These recipients must have given consent to be placed on this list, and understand that they will be receiving regular communications from that business. Since marketing emails are sent to a broader audience in a less personal way, they are held to a much higher standard to protect the recipient. This guide will focus on marketing emails.
Rule #2: Use an Email Service Provider (ESP)
Many small businesses make the mistake of using the same address to send their marketing emails. They will simply write out their marketing email in Outlook or Thunderbird, maybe even attach a well-designed PDF newsletter, add all the email addresses from their list into the “BCC” field, and send the email to their entire list.
This is probably the #1 greatest mistake you can make when starting out in email marketing!
Why? Because it only takes a few people to click on the “SPAM” button upon receiving that email before all your emails (business ones included) start going directly to EVERYONE’s “Junk” folders.
In order to ensure this doesn’t happen to you, there are countless services out there built exclusively to help you send out marketing emails. These are called Email Service Providers, or ESPs. They will help keep your email list clean, and will ensure that your emails conform to most email best practices.
They will also allow recipients to “unsubscribe” from your list, which is a far better solution than those users marking your emails as spam!
If your marketing emails do happen to be marked as spam and start ending up in people’s junk folders… your business emails (from your own business account) won’t be affected, as long as you use an ESP.
The benefits of an ESP
In addition to protecting your business emails, an ESP will help you design appealing marketing emails. Most ESPs provide multiple templates that can be customized for your business, without having to mess around with the code yourself.
You’ll also get some amazing metrics from an ESP that you won’t get with your regular email software. After sending out a marketing email, you’ll be able to track how many people opened the email, clicked on a link, which links were most successful, etc. This can help you gauge what type of content is most appealing to your recipients.
Rule #3: Don’t Be Sneaky About Opt-Ins
In order to build your email marketing list, you’ll ask users to “opt-in” to that list at some point. For most businesses, this is a simple “sign up for our newsletter” form on their website. Others will have an opt-in as part of other forms. (i.e. “Fill out this form to receive a quote, and check this box if you’d also like to receive our newsletter”).
However you choose to do it, make sure it’s crystal clear to people what they’re opting into and why they should care. Don’t use sneaky methods to grow your email list. They’ll come back to bite you. Many businesses are obsessed about the size of their email list and not about the quality of the email recipients.
Think of it this way: There’s no point in emailing someone who has no need for your services and no intention of ever becoming a customer. These are the recipients who are most likely to mark your emails as Spam, which is something you don’t want to happen. You want people on that list who WANT to hear from you.
So, while you want to make it easy for people to join your email list, you want them to be informed about it as well.
Rule #4: Keep your Lists Clean
After sending marketing emails, you’ll probably get a few automated replies of incorrect or invalid email addresses. These are called “hard bounces”. Make it a point to delete these names and addresses off your list. They’re worth nothing.
Going back to rule #3, you want your email list to contain email recipients who WANT to hear from you. It’s not a bad idea to conduct a more thorough cleaning of your lists, at least once a year. Here’s how:
If you’re using an ESP (please, please use an ESP!!!) then you’ll have information on who’s opened and/or clicked on every marketing email you’ve ever sent through that ESP. Periodically, you’ll want to take everyone who hasn’t so much as opened an email from you in the past 6-12 months, and send them a one-time email asking them if they really DO want to hear from you. These are called “re-confirmation” emails. A recipient needs to 1) Open the email and 2) Click on the link you provide in order to confirm that they want to continue receiving your emails. If they don’t, then they’re permanently removed from your list.
This type of regular list maintenance ensures you keep your list to a targeted, qualified group.
Rule #5: It’s All About the Content
We’ve discussed this many times before: People don’t like to be “sold to”… especially not by service businesses. When someone opts-in to your newsletter list, it’s because they believe they’ll receive something useful out of your emails.
When we talked about how to write a blog, we discussed the importance of useful content. When I say “useful content”, I mean useful for the READER, not for YOU! Many businesses send out marketing emails that talk about nothing but themselves, instead of talking to their audience.
What’s in it for ME?
That’s what readers will be asking themselves the second they see your email. They might even ask that question in order to decide whether your email is worth opening!
So be sure your emails feature content that your audience wants to read about. Next, convey that message through a punchy subject line that will encourage them to open the email.
Don’t overdo it
It’s easy to stuff content into emails. Try not to. Your email should have one clear focus or “top story”, and can have two or three secondary messages that are less important… but try not to go much beyond that. A reader will likely only take a single action with each email. If you have two important messages competing for first place, both messages will suffer.
Rule #6: Be Consistent
Be consistent with your timing
Set an email schedule and stick to it. If you decide to email your list once a month, then make sure you have enough content every month to send out an email. Same goes if you email bi-weekly, weekly or even daily! With any luck, once you’ve built up a solid marketing list, those recipients will come to expect to receive your emails at a certain time. Don’t disappoint them!
Note: That having been said, there’s nothing wrong with sending out “one-off” emails once in a while if you have a special announcement or some piece of content you know your audience will want to see right away.
Be consistent with your design
Choose one design for your marketing emails and try to stick to it. Recipients will come to recognize your brand by your email’s design, and will become familiar with how to best navigate your emails. Take your time to select a design that’s unique, user-friendly and useful for the type of content you’ll be emailing!
Be consistent with your writing style
Marketing emails should be written in short sections that are easy to navigate. Don’t send out emails that feature long paragraphs of text unless you’re 100% certain that it’s what your audience wants (hint: there’s almost always a better way)!
Just like when you’re building your website, you’ll want to use headers, bullet points, and images to separate your email content and make it manageable for the 90% of users who will simply “scan read” it.
What’s more, choose one style of writing and stick to it. I’ve seen emails that start off in a formal 3rd person voice, to move on to a 1st person conversational tone, then go back to a third completely different voice, and so on. It’s very confusing to the reader, and gives the impression that the sender used multiple copywriters who didn’t bother communicating with each other.
Rule #7: Testing is not a Dirty Word
Some business owners are terrified of testing their marketing collateral. Generally those are the ones who don’t like to learn they’ve been doing something wrong (and would simply prefer continue making the same mistakes in perpetuity).
Please don’t be that person.
While you do want to be consistent, there’s nothing wrong with testing varying subject lines, email themes, times of day, etc. when sending your emails.
In fact, most good ESPs will have that function built into your interface. When you build your email, you’ll be able to tell the ESP what you want to test and enter a few parameters, then the program will select a random sample size out of your email list, send them the test variables, and send the winning email to the remaining members of the list.
Testing in this fashion can be incredibly useful to learn more about what your audience likes, what they’re indifferent to and, above all, what works for your business.
Rule #8: Follow the Rules
Emailing is a great way to raise your bottom line. Just be aware that in certain countries or jurisdictions, there maybe be legal requirements you must follow to send marketing emails without being fined.
Regulations can relate to how you obtain email addresses, to what information must be made available to recipients in every message, to the type of content you are or aren’t allowed to send in a marketing message. These regulations might apply to you even if your business is not located within the boundaries of the jurisdiction. For example, if one of your email recipients resides in that area or even if you simply have an email server located in that area, you may have to follow that jurisdiction’s laws.
Be informed about what you can and can’t do with your marketing emails. Luckily, most of these laws and regulations simply force businesses to conform to the best practices mentioned in this article!
I hope this guide has helped answer some questions you might have about email marketing, and you now feel more comfortable trying it for your business! With strong content and a good ESP at your side, you have a recipe to succeed.
It might take a while to build that list, so give it time and don’t give up!
Are you thinking of starting a design business? Check out the Full Business Training included with QC’s online courses!
Have you ever gone to Google and typed in “Do a Barrel Roll”? Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.
How about changing your default language settings on Facebook? You’ll find a few options in there that are worth trying out. I recently changed my account to “English – Pirate” as a language… and I swear I’ve used Facebook a little more since then.
These are classic examples of “Easter Egg” Marketing: fun little surprises on your website, made to delight customers.
The great part about an Easter Eggs is, you let your users discover it on their own. You build it… and if it’s worth mentioning customers will market it (and therefore your brand) for you!
Why Easter Egg Marketing Works
People today have an aversion to “being sold”. Alternative forms of marketing are therefore growing like crazy because more and more customers are developing a blindness to classic-type ads. Even paid search ads on Google are being ignored by a majority of searchers!
Instead, consumers want to choose brands based on trust, reliability, and yes – fun!
Easter egg marketing works because to the consumer, it’s a surprise they weren’t expecting. It helps them identify with your brand on a more personal level than if they were to stumble upon your ad on Facebook or Google for instance.
Think about it. If you were on a site and found a gem you weren’t expecting… say, press the Tab and B keys on your keyboard and have a picture of a Tabby Cat appear on your screen (thank you, Asana!).
If cats are your cup of tea, you’d instantly share this discovery with friends, wouldn’t you? And most likely, those friends will then go see that Easter Egg for themselves. At least, that was the case when I discovered the Pirate English on Facebook. 🙂
What Makes an Easter Egg Successful
There are a few elements you’ll want to consider before going ahead and committing time to developing your Easter Egg.
The most important factor in deciding to hide an Easter Egg, is you want to make sure it’s suitable for your brand. I hope you have a specific brand identity, right? If not, you’ll want to read this.
For example, if your design company stands for timeless décor and elegant style, you’ll probably want to avoid suddenly changing your site to pirate speech on “talk like a pirate day” (which is September 19th, by the way). Whereas having classic wallpaper patterns unroll on a user’s screen when they, say, click a button on your site or press a key on their keyboard might be just the ticket.
If your Easter Egg conforms to your brand’s identity, it should therefore appeal to your target audience! Once you have that down, you’re half-way there!
Easy to Find
If an Easter Egg is never found… then it’s not worth the effort!
Yes an Easter Egg is hidden… but you WANT people to find them. Consider the two examples I mentioned at the start of this article. It’s very likely that some people will genuinely type in “do a barrel roll” into the Google search engine… or want to change their language settings on Facebook. Those Easter Eggs – though “hidden” as in no one’s announced their existence – are very easy to stumble upon!
Consider that when you build your own Easter Egg. Develop them in such a way that gives any random user a decent chance at discovering them.
It’s not enough that your users find your Easter Egg. It needs to be fun, interesting and/or surprising enough to warrant users sharing it with their friends.
Think about it: the whole point of an Easter Egg is that you don’t share it yourself. So if you want it to work from a marketing standpoint, then you need your users to do the work for you! Odds are a good Easter Egg will be shared by 5-10% of users who discover it. Make sure you have a method of measuring these results.
What else should you know?
Alright, so I’ve convinced you: Easter Eggs are a great way to increase brand awareness through user sharing. Now I’ve got a few more tips if you’re going to go down that road.
A good Easter Egg doesn’t happen overnight for most businesses. Especially in your small business… you’ll want to do careful planning and discuss with a web developer before you execute on your decision to build an Easter Egg. If it’s one that’s time-sensitive (perhaps something that’s only active for a special occasion or day) then you want to give yourself enough time to develop and test your Easter Egg properly. Which brings me to my next point:
User testing is always a good idea when building a website, and this is also true when adding new features to your site. Make sure your Easter Egg works properly in all browsers, and that there are no unexpected side effects to having it on your site.
It might also be a good idea to have a few users go through your site and test it for you. You can use some friends or family if you want, or use services like UserTesting.com to have strangers go through your site. This might also be a great way to see if those users can actually FIND your Easter Egg. 🙂
Engage with Users
You’re a small business, which means you have the advantage of being able to engage with people one-on-one.
The point of Eater Egg Marketing is for users to spread the word for you, right? So help them along! You can set up alerts to monitor for mentions of your brand on social media like Facebook and Twitter, so that you are notified when someone is talking about you and your Easter Egg. If you find a user who mentions finding your Easter Egg, you can write a reply to that person and maybe even start a discussion about their discovery. This will in turn help other users discover that little delight for themselves!
The whole purpose of Easter Egg Marketing is to make something fun for your customers. But it should also be fun for you! An Easter Egg should convey a message about who you are as a brand on a very real level. So if Pirate Talk isn’t something you find appealing, don’t bother trying to work it into your content! (And if you don’t like pirate talk… I’m sorry but I don’t think we can be friends anymore).
What do you think about Easter Egg Marketing? Do you think you’ll try it in YOUR business? Let us know in a comment!
STOP STRESSING BEFORE I SLAP YOU!
I’m sure every professional has heard those words once or twice. Just in a moment when you’re about to have a panic attack, someone comes along and very helpfully suggests that you should just calm down. “Thanks, friend. Never thought of that!” It’s the equivalent of the dentist telling you to relax before she pulls a tooth. Doesn’t help.
That said, I’m on board and totally agree that people need to calm down in general. There seems to be a strange cultural phenomenon that says if you’re not stressed by your job, you’re not working hard enough. I really don’t understand where this one came from, but all you have to do is observe people in a business environment to know it’s true.
If you take a step back and investigate further, you’ll notice that the most successful and happiest entrepreneurs and professionals are some of the most easy-going people in the world. These are the people who understand how to keep their stress levels at bay.
Here’s how you can do it, too!
#1 – Keep your work at work
Smart phones are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, who doesn’t love having an internet machine in their back pocket at all times? On the flip side, it means that your emails are always with you, and that flashing notification light makes you feel lazy if you ignore it for too long.
But the number one most useful piece of advice I can give you when it comes to stress management is to actually disconnect when you head home at the end of the day. Focus on your family, your pets, your hobbies. Your work will be waiting for you the next day, don’t worry.
Turn off the email notifications on your phone. You really don’t need a “beep” and flashing light every time you get a newsletter delivered to your business inbox. If it makes you feel better, check your email once (yes, only once) in the evening in case of emergencies (which is very unlikely to actually happen, by the way). Before long, you’ll stop even doing that and you’ll actually find yourself looking for something to do on your evenings and weekends. You know, something OTHER than “catching up on work”.
So disconnect when you get home and only use your smartphone for what it was intended: ordering pizza and playing Candy Crush.
#2 – Plan to work, work your plan
Have you ever sat at your computer desk for the better part of a day only to leave thinking you’ve accomplished absolutely nothing? That’s probably because emails, meetings, colleagues, phone calls, more emails, and social media got in the way. It happens to everyone, and is an especially prominent issue with small business owners.
Do yourself a favor: start making it a point to block out a 1-2 hour period of time each day for “work”. Put it in your personal calendar and make sure your colleagues/employees know you’re busy during this time. Again, turn off your email notifications (including the desktop ones!) and don’t answer calls unless you know they’re crazy-important. Now take out your long-overdue “to do” list and start knocking off the important stuff. You know, the stuff you know NEEDS to get done but that you never have the time for. Here’s your chance. You’re welcome.
Trust me. This is a very difficult habit to adopt but once you have, it’s amazing just how much you’ll get done.
#3 – Eat, Drink and be Merry
In other words, look out for #1 (that’s you, by the way).
A healthy body breeds a healthy mind. Give yourself permission to take a good half hour for an honest-to-God breakfast in the morning and a good wholesome lunch during the workday. Drink lots of water, and try to get a good uninterrupted night’s sleep. A good workout once or twice a week can also do wonders for your overall stress levels.
And on the flip side, make some time for yourself to truly and completely unwind at least once a week. For me, that’s a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine and a book, or a nice long walk at the dog park. For others, it might be a wilderness hike or dinner with friends. Whatever works for you!
Let’s pause. I know what you’re thinking.
“That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m TOO BUSY to do any of that! That’s why I’m stressed! Don’t you get it?”
Trust me. I do get it.
But the fact of the matter is, most of us are actually caught in the belief that our work life defines us. And it really shouldn’t!
Think about it: if you were to take a half hour every week for a bubble bath, would your business go bankrupt? Would you lose clients? Would your colleagues end up hating or resenting you? For 99.99% of you, the answer is “no”.
I’m hoping most people realize this truism BEFORE they burn out and have to take a few months’ stress leave. Once you admit to yourself that you can afford to take care of yourself, believe me you’ll become a calmer, happier person.
And isn’t that everyone’s ultimate goal?
So try it. Just for a week or two at first. Think of it as a mini-challenge: turn off your notifications, don’t answer emails after working hours, set aside some time to work every day and adopt a healthier lifestyle. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me! Just because. Try it.
What are some of your favorite ways to unwind after a long day? Or are you someone who never takes the time to do so? Let us know in a comment!
When you think of owning your own business, you think of doing what you love, setting your own hours, being your own boss… sounds just wonderful, doesn’t it?
And it can be. It really can be a wonderful fantastic experience. Many business owners I know swear that they would NEVER go back to working for someone else. They absolutely love being in charge.
That having been said, odds are these people knew what they were getting into when they started on their journey. Owning a small business isn’t always fun and games. The reality is there is a lot of work that goes into it… and work that you don’t get paid for. Luckily, there are many different tools that can help you with managing your business.
Here are some you’ll want to research NOW!
A good Content Management System (CMS) for your website
I really, really hope your business has a website. If it doesn’t, you need to build one, yesterday. With any luck, your site will be built on a platform that makes it easy to edit the content, add pages, move content around, build your blog and more.
With a good CMS, you’ll be able to spend less time coding your web pages and spend more time focusing on top-quality content!
Social Media Management Software
Assuming you’re in charge of your business marketing efforts, you’ll probably be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. at least once a day, if not more.
Social media is essential for any business to keep in touch with its customers, but keeping on top of all those different channels can be exhausting and overwhelming. Luckily there are a few awesome tools to help you schedule posts in advance, monitor comments, and even read and reply to direct messages on multiple platforms and accounts – all with one login!
Much like a CMS, Social Medial Management tools are available in all shapes and sizes, and you’ll want to find one that suits your goals and tech-savviness. Two tools that you’ll at least want to consider are Hootsuite and Buffer.
Need more info on social media? Check out this post: Social Media for Beginners
Project Management Tools
The lists… the lists!
It can take a while to find a good project management software that will actually save you time and not add to it! But once you find that software, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
A good project management tool will work with you, not against you. The best advice I have is, look for one that doesn’t feel like work. If you’re a very organized, list-driven person who already writes everything down, then something like BaseCamp or Microsoft Project might be right up your alley.
Again you’re not short on options here. Most of these tools are free, or if they’re paid you can at least get a trial version to test them out. Give yourself enough time to truly evaluate these types of programs. Commit to one for at least a week or two before you make up your mind!
Email Service Provider
You probably use Outlook or Thunderbird for your business emails, and that’s just fine. What many small businesses don’t use, is an email provider for their regular client communications like newsletters.
While most aren’t free, most email service providers can be very inexpensive depending on your list size and can save you SO much time. What’s more, an email provider will protect your business emails! Especially when you send out content such as newsletters, there’s always a chance your email will be flagged as “spam”.
Now if you follow best practices this is extremely unlikely, but it can happen to anyone. If you use your regular business email to send out newsletters and (God forbid) your newsletter is flagged as spam, there’s a very good chance that your regular one-on-one client emails will start going into people’s “junk” folders without you even realizing it.
For a small business, this can have devastating financial consequences.
For that reason alone, I strongly urge all business owners to create an account with an email provider who can help you send out quality newsletter content to your email list, safely. Some of our favorite providers include MailChimp, Emma, and StreamSend.
I love Microsoft Excel… it’s awesome. But Excel alone can’t help you with your business accounting. Unless you’re a genius, do yourself a favor and invest in a good small business accounting software. (You might want to do yourself an even bigger favor and at least pay an accountant to help you set it up!).
Trust me, it’s never too early to start with this one!
Are you planning on starting a small business? What types of tools do you think you’ll need to get off on the right foot? Let us know in a comment!
A resume will NOT get you a dream job. But a good resume can help land you an interview for that dream job.
When looking for a new job, too many people will simply pull up a job board website and send the resume they wrote in high school to every single job posting that “kinda matches their skill set”. Guess what: most of these applicants will never hear from the employer.
Thing is, when you apply for a job you should have a reasonable expectation of at least hearing back from the hiring manager for an interview. In order to do this, you need a resume and cover letter that sell YOU.
Even if you don’t have all the skills the job might require, if you can show your enthusiasm and abilities via your resume and cover letter, you’ll probably hear back from someone at the company. Today, we’re going to focus on how you can write the perfect resume that will get you noticed!