Tap into the festive spirit: holiday love for your customers!

We’ve all seen the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk as we walk past our favourite small business: “Customer Appreciation Day!

shutterstock_240636277_jpgWhy not take a day this holiday season to give a little something back to the people who support your business?  The season is tailor-made for expressions of gratitude.

If there’s one thing customers remember about a business, it’s when they feel their patronage counts. Or better yet, when there is a concrete offering that shows how your business respects and acknowledges its customers.

Of course, you can’t give each of your customers a week’s vacation, but you can take the time to provide some gestures that will go a long way towards ensuring repeat business until the next holiday season and beyond.

The handwritten card

To be sure, if you run a coffee shop, it’s impractical to offer a handwritten appreciation card to each and every customer who walks through the door.

However, if you run a small business with a limited (and manageable) number of clients/customers, a small handwritten note or card is a classy, thoughtful touch, especially if the content is personalized and authentic.

This can’t be emphasized enough: in an era of instant gratification and disposable everything, opening up a handwritten note on eye-catching stationary is a throwback moment that really hits the sweet spot of communication.

Pro tip: at the beginning of each year, start a spreadsheet or some other type of database where you can plug in personal details about clients. For example, if you learn during one of your conversations with a client that she is expecting a child, record this detail and make reference to it when it comes time to send your appreciation note/card. Or perhaps your client mentioned in passing that they’ve always dreamed of retiring in Costa Rica: you can mention this whimsically in your appreciation note.

The baked goods

ss_bakedgoods_220614172_jpgGot a kitchen? A few baking pans? Then you have every reason to put them to good use and show your customers your little-known culinary prowess.

Brownies, festive Rice Krispie squares, Nanaimo bars, colourful cookies…the baked options are endless. If you want to get ambitious, a chocolate fondue with some chopped fruits for dipping is a sure fire hit in any setting.

Distribution obviously depends on the nature of your clientele and business, but even if you’re simply shipping a few batches of cookies, a simple and stylish presentation always helps. There are specialized businesses that will ship you personalized cookies.

Here’s a thought: integrate the handwritten note with the baked goods.

Just remember to mind your food-handling practices so you don’t turn holiday appreciation into a gastro-intestinal situation!

The cross-promotion

The opportunity to show appreciation for your customers is also a chance to further cement your brand in their imagination (especially if you can cleverly tie your messaging and brand into an inexpensive object or trinket).

For example, let’s say your business is named “Sally’s Start Ups.” At Sally’s Start Ups, owner Sally aims to support start-ups with resources, business information, tools, and financing.

Sally has arranged for a shipment of a few hundred samples of a choice blend of ground coffee beans (enough to brew a small pot of coffee). Sally has attached a little label to each package, reading “Sally Wants You to Start Up Your Day Right.”

This may sound like a cynical approach to appreciation, but it’s anything but. People love swag and people love free stuff. They will only love your business more when they see your gift and make that association when they are brewing their unique coffee.

The promotional leverage

New PictureThis concept works really well in the age of social media and contests. It can serve as a win-win-win if done right and if your business model supports it.

Nail down a decent prize (e.g., a new iPad, a drone camera, a weekend getaway to Vegas) and structure a simple image-based contest via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and/or Instagram. Make a few posters for your establishment and talk it up during transactions.

If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, the contest idea still works as an online-only offering. Get the word out via social media and make sure your web page mentions it in a prominent place a few weeks before the holiday season.

The hook can be whatever works well for your product/brand. You can ask for customers to submit a picture of them using your product in the most innovative way or in the most unusual place. Or you can offer your customers a chance to contribute directly to your product (e.g., the next great tagline or the next best flavour). Multinational companies have large promotional budgets for these types of contests, but you really only need an internet connection and a social media account to make it work.

The best part of these gifts is that is also acts to promote your business and create goodwill, as well as potentially generating creative new ideas.

A word of warning: make sure you cover your legal bases for any contest you hold. There are a few pitfalls related to the odds of winning, paying tax on contest winnings (in Quebec), disclaimers against fraud, copyright, and complying with social media site rules.  Canada’s Competition Bureau has guidance on holding a promotional contest.

‘Tis the season to show your workers some love

photo-1415653041436-cf1c766512ce-resizedIf you could share the world with your staff this holiday season, you probably would.

Most small business owners appreciate how valuable their employees are. Small businesses tend to live and breathe the values of the people who work there, which is why it is so important to recognize them at a special time of year.

The holiday season is fast approaching and wouldn’t it be nice if you could close up shop for a couple of weeks to take your staff of five on an all-expense paid Caribbean cruise?

Probably unrealistic for most start ups, considering the delicate nature of finances at such an early stage of a business’ life history.

You want to properly show some love for your people, yet if your cash flow will only take your recognition so far, you need some alternates that aren’t cynical or cheap, and that sincerely show your appreciation for their hard work.

shutterstock_153632636_jpgIf your start up is in a position to reward employees with monetary gifts or bonuses, there is no doubt that this is going to be well-received.

If you aren’t quite ready to provide a profit-sharing scheme or to divvy up stock options, remember there is a middle ground! Consider whether some of these simple and affordable ways of honouring your staff over the holiday season will meet the need for your small business.

For example, look around your own life and see if you have a surplus commodity of value that you’re willing to share with your workers. In my case, I’m lucky enough to have relatives from Europe who ship over a once-a-year vat of pure olive oil. My gift to employees was simple but personalized (and delicious!). Each worker received a bottle of the olive oil with a personalized message of gratitude and appreciation affixed to the stylized bottle. Small details make a huge difference and the thoughtfulness was what made this gift memorable.

When in doubt, always remember the wisdom found in the expression, “It’s the thought that counts.” The most impressive gestures aren’t expensive, but they have to be thoughtful.

Time off – Allow employees time off to attend holiday concerts or a half day for shopping.

Flexible work schedules – Give your employees a chance to move their schedules around or provide some alternating flex days to cover off scheduling and resources. Also, if you notice one of your top performers shows up early and leaves late more often than not, don’t think twice about acknowledging this and offer a few afternoons off during quiet times.

Banking hours – Allow employees to bank hours for use during the holidays, or a time of their choice later in the New Year.

photo-1414235077428-338989a2e8c0Staff/Family Luncheon – Plan a company luncheon to celebrate the season and build team morale in a “non-work” environment. Expense is usually not an issue for providing a few treats, some snacks and beverages, along with an innovative, inexpensive local caterer.

Gift Certificates – Consider providing gift certificates to another small business as recognition to employees during the festive season.

Personalized Notes – If resources don’t allow for some of the options above, just saying “Thank you” in a personalized note of appreciation can go a long way in letting your employees know how much you appreciate their hard work throughout the year.

Tour of Duty – If your small business has a few loyal suppliers or clients, you may wish to arrange a meet and greet tour of their space or facility. This could be a great way to develop relationships and connections, while further linking your people to the broader flow of your business.

A Recreational Outing – The Gift of Time is always valuable and nature provides a bounty of fun activity, basically for free: tobogganing, ice skating, nature hikes, snowman-building competitions…winter outdoor activities offer a long list of options. Add some hot chocolate and snacks and you’ve just created a fun team-building event where your people will bond and take away warm memories.

SociaLIGHT in Toronto – 50% off

You’re invited to join & connect with 1000+ entrepreneurs, startups and innovators this November 21 & 22 for the SociaLIGHT Conference, “Canada’s Ultimate Entrepreneurship & Leadership Event,” at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Marketing Guru SETH GODIN is the keynote and there is an incredible line-up of amazing speakers including Bruce Poon Tip, Rhada Agrawal, Hal Elrod, Jairek Robbins and more!  Listen to stories, learn insights and strategies to help your ongoing personal and professional success! This event gathers international and local thought leaders and over 30 of the top business organizations committed to business as a force of good and positive global impact. Get your 50% discount off ticket prices by entering the code CFIB when you sign up online!

sociaLIGHT poster


Give your financing wings with an angel investor

angel investing cartoonPraying for start-up growth? Maybe it’s time to find an angel.

An angel investor, that is.

Angel investors play a vital role in the world of start-up finance, filling the gap between informal networks of funding (such as borrowing from family and friends, or digging into personal savings) and the more formal, robust offerings available through venture capital or traditional banking sources.

The angel investment movement is finding its wings as a source of funding for Canadian start-ups. According to 2014 Report on Angel Investing Activity in Canada published by the National Angel Capital Organization, angel investors contributed over $90 million through 237 investments in 2014. This is a 66 per cent increase in new investments over the previous year, with the great majority (80 per cent) of funding going to the information technology and life sciences sectors.

Where can I seek angel investments for my start-up?

The National Angel Capital Organization is a not-for-profit umbrella group that aims to support the angel investment community in Canada, offering networking, professional development, and research to its 2,000 members. This is a great starting point to get background and intelligence on angel investing, and many searchable connections are available in one place.

Here are a few other Canadian sources for angel investments:

VA Angels
WECAN Angel Network
First Angel Network
Maple Leaf Angels

Five tips for pitching to angel investors

  1. The heart always knows what the mind tries to obscure: if you are delivering your pitch from the source of your passion and drive, your pitch is going to be heard. That’s the beautiful thing about a pitch that comes from the heart: there is no faking authenticity. If you sincerely believe in what you’re selling, and you’ve done the necessary homework to back it up, your legitimate enthusiasm will capture your audience’s attention, and help you score the big deal.
  2. The mind fills in the blanks the heart has skipped over: all passion and no reason can make a pitch sound flakey. While a few heartwarming reference points can charm a room and capture attention, be sure to fill in those heartbeats with hard, raw numbers that make a business case for your passion. Even the most heartfelt proposal coming from a good place will fall flat if there is not a market for your product, or if you haven’t done a thorough assessment of the cost to market your product.
  3. Own. Your. Pitch.: You need to be so familiar with your pitch that you could be woken up in the middle of the night and deliver it, without skipping a beat. This means all of the details, context, background, projections, sales, revenues, customer bases, demographics, and most importantly, your targets and exactly what you going to do with the investment you’re seeking. Many entrepreneurs will get lost in the numbers and will forget about the nature of the ask itself. Your angel wants to know exactly what you are going to do with the investment and how it is going to take your start-up to the stratosphere of success.
  4. The devil is in the details: what’s in it for me? Perhaps the most crucial question an angel investor is asking. For all of the potential behind your start-up, an angel is looking for a piece of your action, whether that means convertible debt, shares at an IPO launch, or a percentage cut of the equity of the business upon exit. How you slice it is up to you and your investors, but never take your eyes off the prize when it comes to knowing how you plan on paying back your investors and when you expect this to happen.
  5.  A picture sells a thousand pitches: The data is in and it is clear: the use of powerful imagery can be a pitch-changer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s embedded in a tweet or projected on a digital overhead screen; strategically incorporating visuals into your pitch can achieve a variety of positive outcomes. You’ll create mood, empathy, humour, tone, and ultimately, a much more lasting impression and memory. The key word here is “strategic.” A picture for the sake of a picture is not even worth the bother, but a well-played visual can truly make or break a pitch.

Now that we’ve given you general advice, please stay tuned as we will have more specific tips and info from a leading industry expert and angel investor in the coming weeks!