Do you need to find a new employee with a specialized skill? Should you respond to every single social media complaint or compliment? Join hosts Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks as they answer these questions and more on this episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.
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Elizabeth: Welcome to another edition of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. I’m here today, as always, with Gene Marks. Gene, how are you doing today?
Gene: I am doing fine, Elizabeth, how are you?
Elizabeth: I’m good. I’m good. Looking forward to the weekend. We’re recording this on a Friday, which is obviously the best day of the week. Gene, you told me recently that you actually work on Saturdays as well.
Gene: Yeah, there’s no … That’s a whole other topic of conversation we’ll have one day. I don’t know. When you run a business, I don’t consider myself taking days off. Yeah, I work on Saturdays and Sundays, at least responding to emails or working on projects or proposals, or whatever.
Elizabeth: Do you still get up at the same time?
Gene: No, I sleep in a little bit more. I usually get up at 5 in the morning during the week. Then, on the weekends, I’ll sleep in a little bit more. It’s much more chillaxed on the weekend. You’re not … You know, not the same level of work that you’re doing during the week. It always makes me laugh when people go away … They have a vacation message. That’s so company thing. You work at The Hartford, I guess you go away, and you have an out of office message. For me, I’ve never ever used an out of office message. I think my clients would be like, what the heck is he talking about? Whenever I travel, or even if I’m on vacation, or whatever, I’ve got this thing called a smart phone. I get emails that way, and there’s this-
Elizabeth: What’s that?
Gene: Yeah. There’s this internet thing that I hear is all over the world. I stay in touch that way as well.
Elizabeth: I’ve been seeing something lately, where people put an out of office message on their email, but instead of saying, I’m out of the office, they say, I only check email 3 times a day at these times. I think that’s a time management trick for them, because a lot of people, I think, just get stuck in their email, and they start responding to emails, and they never get out of it, and start doing their work. Would you ever consider doing that?
Gene: No, first of all. Who cares how often you’re checking your email? I don’t care about that. That’s like a pilot. You get on the plane, and he’s like, we’re going to be taking off to the West, and we’ll be crossing over Chicago, and then we’ll be cutting down to the South. Jerry Seinfeld has a routine on that, where he’s just like, whatever, just get me there. It’s the same thing with your email. I don’t care if you’re checking it twice a day, three times, just reply to my email, that’s what I care about. That’s what your customers care about, your clients, not how often. Just reply to your email.
Elizabeth: I also love the emails that I get back from people. I got your email. I’ll respond later. You could’ve just responded later. I don’t need to know.
Gene: That’s an interesting … You bring up another point. Again, email etiquette. We should break that down. I actually … The responding later thing, I don’t mind that maybe as much as you. First of all, it’s a quick response, maybe you should just respond now, but at least the acknowledgement is nice. What drives me nuts is when I email somebody, somebody I know, somebody or whatever, and you’re not getting any replies. You’re like, hello, did you get this? Can you reply back?
Elizabeth: That’s probably just your kids, right?
Gene: No, no, no, no. Not at all. My kids are terrible at that. No, in the corporate world, you’d be surprised how oftentimes I’ll be emailing somebody, hey just checking in on this, or whatever, and I’m not getting nothing. Nothing like … If you could just, two seconds, hey Gene, no thanks. Hey Gene, not right now, or I’ll get back to you next week. Busy right now. Takes two seconds to reply. I’m big on replying to emails, as least just acknowledging.
Elizabeth: You reply so quickly to emails. In fact, when you don’t reply to emails within 20 minutes, I’m like, should I call the Philly hospital or something?
Gene: I’m kind of big into just replying to emails. Even if it’s just a quick 1, 2, 3 reply. This morning, I’ve been a little out of pocket now, while we do our podcast, but I’ll check my emails later and make sure I get back to people. Twenty minutes is okay, it’s nothing, but within a couple of hours.
Elizabeth: Yeah, definitely. We’re going to be up with questions after we hear from our sponsor.
QUESTION #1: How Do You Find Employees with Specialized Skills?
Our first is from Sharon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sharon writes:
“I’ve always wanted to start my own dance studio, and I think I’m finally ready to do it, but I’m really worried about finding teachers and students, because I live in Oklahoma. That’s not exactly Prague or New York City. I don’t know the first thing about market research. What do I do? What are my next steps? Pun intended.”
Gene: That is actually pretty funny. I like that. Do you have any thoughts?
Elizabeth: I’m assuming that Sharon has probably been dancing in the Oklahoma area if she wants to open a studio. She’s probably got some contacts there. Can you poach some teachers from other businesses?
Gene: Here’s the best thing is, is she needs to be targeting on what her audience is. She doesn’t say is her dance studio for kids, is it for adults, is it for whatever? If it’s for kids, which, let’s assume that it is, Tulsa has schools like every other city. Tulsa has parents with kids that, I’m sure that they would love their kids to learn some dancing. As far as finding kids, I don’t think that’s a problem. I think you’re zeroing in on certain schools in the area, and trying to get the word out to those schools. If they have a bulletin board, if you can contact any advertising activities. A lot of these schools have their own newsletters, they have their own … They’re looking for sponsorship money if you want to sponsor the football team, or throw out an ad for something.
It won’t take you that long, and the dance business, which is nice, particularly with kids, if you spend some money on marketing, you’re starting up from scratch, and you’re marketing to kids, trust me, you start getting in a few students, all word of mouth. It is all word … It will grow from there assuming that you do a good job. You can assume that you won’t have to be spending a whole lot of marketing money like that in the future. You do want to do that to try and grab your first one or two dozen students to get them in. Finding teachers, that’s a whole other situation.
Elizabeth: That’s a tougher one. I think, what you probably have to do … I have a little bit of knowledge of this, because one of my friends here in Connecticut opened a music school for kids. What she did is she taught all the classes in the beginning. As parents came in that were really into it, got really into it, like the ones that actually wanted to sing in public in front of the other parents, which is rare, she recruited them to say, okay, do you want to start taking some of the classes? I think it will just take a little while, but I’m sure … I like Gene’s idea of going to a school I’m sure there’s some colleges. I’m sure they have dance teams and recruiting some instructors from there.
Gene: That’s also another great idea as well. You talk about dance teams, dance clubs, if a school, we’re talking as young as elementary school, could be middle school as well, if they don’t have a dance club, or a dance team, why not go and volunteer your time, and say, you know what, I’d love to start this up, and I can be an adult, the adult sponsor of it, and teach kids. You’ll be funneling off students from there as well. I think there’s a lot. .
Dance also is funny. It’s such a great form of fitness and exercise as well, that she could be marketing herself even to … I’m assuming dance is mostly for girls, so she could get girls teams, athletic teams, saying, hey, why don’t … Work with the coach of the teams, why don’t we do some fitness exercises, and I’ll lead them, and they’re dance oriented. Anything like that to get your name out there, so that you can start drawing in students. That would be a big thing.
Elizabeth: If you’re renting out a space for the dance studio, another idea … I’ve seen a lot of dance studios in the Hartford area do this. They’re also offering Zumba classes, because that’s still so popular right now. What you could do is just to supplement your income is also rent out your space to Zumba instructors, then you split the profits with them.
Gene: That’s a great idea.
Elizabeth: That’s another way to make a little money.
Gene: That is a great idea.
Elizabeth: If you’re going to invest in the studio, you should try to figure out ways you could constantly be making money from that space. Offering private lessons, group lessons, maybe Zumba, maybe bar fitness classes. Think beyond dance just for ways to just diversify your offering.
Gene: Funny that you bring that up as well, but that’s such a great comment. If you are going to invest in a space, your whole business is all about keeping that space occupied, at capacity, throughout the day. That is a … That’s such a great idea. It might not even be related to dance. Might be parties, it might be kid’s events, it might be … Renting out the space. Your whole job is to keep your space chargeable throughout the day, not just with dance. That’s great. That’s real life answers to real life questions.
Elizabeth: To real problems.
Gene: Go and dance your you know what off in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Go.
Elizabeth: The other thing is after you … Going back to your original question with the teachers, is after … If you are teaching adults, after you’ve been teaching for awhile, you can probably pick out the ones who are just really good, and who might want to pick up some extra income, and you can train those teachers to be your … Can evangelize your dance lessons. We’re going to be back with our second question after we hear from our sponsor again. That was a good question.
Gene: It was good. It was fun.
QUESTION #2: How Should I Handle Social Media Complaints?
Elizabeth: Jessica from Illinois writes, oh sorry. Jessica from Illinois writes,
I have a deli, and I’m wondering how I should handle complaints that are posted on social media. Also, what should I do if someone posts an awesome review or compliment?
Elizabeth: If someone complains on social media, I think you need to respond as respectfully as possible, and move on. You really just want to defuse that. You’re not going to win an argument with someone posting on social media. Don’t get into a flame war with people, because I’ve seen small businesses do that. Do you agree, Gene?
Gene: Disagree. I think you need to find them on Twitter and troll them. Find out where they live, and egg their house and TP their house. Who do these people think they are? Complaining. Yeah, you’re 100% … And the other thing is on social media … I don’t know if you know this or not, but sometimes people on social media can be kind of mean. Who knew? You get behind a computer screen, and you turn into a dragon. It’s amazing. You got to grow a little bit of a thick skin. I can tell you this. You have to be the same Elizabeth. Answer me this: If you’re thinking of going to a deli, or restaurant, and you go onto Yelp, and there’s a few hundred reviews on Yelp, and there’s a few bad ones. Does that stop you from going?
Gene: Right. It really doesn’t.
Elizabeth: If I went onto Yelp, and I saw every single review as bad, but that never happens.
Gene: It never happens.
Elizabeth: It never happens.
Gene: That’s right. It’s usually relatively good. I’m kind of curious if somebody has a bad review, it sticks out so I’m curious like, why? Okay, I’m just gathering the facts, but it’s never turned me off of going anywhere. What would definitely turn me off, though, is if I saw the business owner, get involved in some kind of-
Elizabeth: Yeah, like flaming someone online.
Gene: Yeah, I might be like, Jesus, that guy is a bit of a nut.
Elizabeth: That’s not a good idea.
Gene: Don’t even go there. Always respond respectfully and positively, and what can we do? We’re trying our best to get better, and thank them for their comments. You always take the high road. Always take the high road.
Elizabeth: Definitely. For the second part of your question, what should you do if someone posts an awesome review or compliment? This is something that I see business owners ignoring all the time, which I think, it would be so easy to just log in and say, thank you so much for taking the time to post a positive review or compliment. The other thing you could do is ask that person if you can use their review or compliment in your marketing materials.
Gene: Perfect example, or ask them to find out the address of that person who posted the bad review for you, on your behalf. Just like, would you mind going to this guy’s house and beating him up for me, because I’m not allowed. You’re absolutely right. Saying thank you is great. Using them as a reference is great. You’ve got a real fan there, and I think that’s a really, really nice thing to do. Don’t make the mistake of giving, offering discounts, or promotions to people that give good reviews. Again, the internet is the ultimate in transparency, we get it. If there’s anything nefarious going on. If somebody writes a good review, a simple thank you is a very, very good thing to do.
Elizabeth: That happens to me all the time. We were just talking about, in another episode, we were talking about hair dryers. A lot of salons … I feel like I bring up salons all the time, but those are small businesses that I interact with a lot. Most women do. Most women are at a salon getting their hair done, or their nails.
Gene: Nails and eyebrows and hair.
Elizabeth: All kinds of stuff.
Gene: Mani, pedis.
Elizabeth: They’re mostly small businesses, for the most part. A lot of them will say to you, if you leave me a positive review on Yelp, and you print it out and bring it in, I’ll give you a 10% discount or something. I feel like that always turns me off.
Gene: I agree with you. There’s something a little disingenuous about it. It’s like you’re paying for people. Just get back to the influence or marketing we had talked about in a previous episode, where you’re paying people to say something nice about you. The whole point of social media is supposed to be organic. People say something nice about you, you’ve earned their praise, you shouldn’t necessarily have to be buying it from them. I do think that other users get that. If they hear that people get discounts because they’re saying nice things, it really discounts what you’re thinking of the overall place. I agree with you.
Elizabeth: Definitely. The other side of that is, and not social … Well, kind of social media, but if I’m going down the rabbit hole of comparing products on Amazon, and I see that a product has gotten a lot of positive reviews within a day, or in a certain date, and then no other reviews-
Gene: That tells you something.
Elizabeth: It always pops a red flag for me. I wonder if they paid a bunch of … Or I wonder if they gave a product away for free, and said to someone, hey, we’re going to give you our product for free in exchange for a review.
Gene: Be wary of that.
Elizabeth: You can still post your true feelings about it. No one’s going to post a negative review.
Gene: Trust me, if you and I are talking about this, okay, at least on my behalf, I am not, by no means, the brightest bulb in the bunch. If I figured this out, trust me, the rest of the internet has figured this out as well. Those kinds of disingenuous ways of marketing yourself are easily exposed.
Elizabeth: How do you feel about business owners saying to their customers, leave us a review. If someone says to … Let’s say you own Gene’s Deli, and someone comes in and is like, Gene, your chicken cutlet sandwich is awesome. I love it, and you say to that person, well, write us a review on Yelp.
Gene: Nothing wrong with that, of course. That’s completely fine. As an individual, I hate being told to do anything by anybody anyway. I was going to write you a review, but now that you’re telling me to write a review, I don’t know if I feel … I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with that, just to say, hey, we’re on Yelp, if you give me a thumbs up there, that’d be really great. Thank you. That’s all.
Elizabeth: So to recap, try to defuse complaints by being as respectful as possible.
Gene: Take the high road.
Elizabeth: Take the high road. If you can, offer to give that person … Come to an agreement on how to fix that problem. If you can. If it was an employee being rude to them, you can say, on behalf of the establishment, I’m the owner, I really apologize for that. That’s not how we normally do business.
Gene: I have flogged such employee. No longer will that happen.
Elizabeth: If someone found a bug in their meal, you can say, if you come in again, I’ll give you a free sandwich or whatever.
Gene: Or make a joke, I didn’t charge you extra for the bug.
Elizabeth: There’s a lot of protein in that. If someone does leave a positive comment, then definitely thank them for that. We’re going to be back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance right after we hear from our sponsor.
WORD OF BRILLIANCE: Slack
Elizabeth: Yes. Okay, we’re back with our Word of Brilliance from Gene.
Gene: Word of Brilliance.
Elizabeth: It is one word. This is a really popular word right now.
Gene: Slack is a very popular word. Elizabeth, you’ve ever heard of Slack, right?
Gene: Do you guys use it here at The Hartford?
Elizabeth: No, but I’ve heard of it mostly among younger people.
Gene: I haven’t. I haven’t. I’ve heard it all over. Slack is a messaging service, very inexpensive, Cloud based technology, and by the way, a lot of people don’t know this, but I thought I’d give a shout out, Slack’s biggest competitor is Microsoft’s Yammer. If you have Office 365, it comes with Yammer, and Yammer does mostly what Slack does as well. Just saying. You don’t have to … You might already own something very similar.
Elizabeth: What is Slack?
Gene: Slack is this. The best way I can describe it is to explain through a story, and the story is this. Let us suppose you’re at a customer, and you’re having a big problem. You’re text messaging back and forth with your customer, and with your employees, and you’re emailing back and forth about the problem, and maybe you have an instant messaging … You all discuss the problem, whatever, and you fix the problem. Oh, that’s right, it was the [discombobulator], fabrication device, that should have been turned on. You fix the problem. Six months later, you have the same problem with another customer. You’re looking at each other, and you’re saying, what was it again? Remember, we had this like six months ago, or whatever? You go into Slack, you type in the keyword, whatever for the problem, discombobulator is the problem, whatever. Boom. It pulls up all the messages that went back and forth about that keyword, or about that problem, whether it was instant messaging, text messaging, emailing, whatever. What is Slack? It is a database where all of your company’s messages are being stored. Imagine. For everybody in your company.
Elizabeth: That includes text and email?
Gene: Text and email. You can configure it so it integrates with your email system as well. It’s a mobile application as well as desktop application too. People love it. Then, of course, you can create groups as well. You can have certain groups for conversations going on back and forth about certain things, and that all gets saved as well. It’s just this big collaboration messaging system that integrates with your email system, text messaging, instant messaging, and all the messages go into one place. Awesome tool. Slack is now valued at $3 billion. It’s wow, because we’re in Hartford, so anything valued here a million dollars sounds like a lot, but in Silicon Valley, $3 billion is like nothing. You can start up a company in your garage and you’re a billion dollar company. But no, it’s a very valuable company, very well respected, growing. Big fan, big fan.
Elizabeth: Great. I have a word of brilliance this week. It’s actually … It’s one word. I’m going to just … I’m going to condense it down to one word. It’s newsletter. If you are not signed up for the Small Biz Ahead weekly newsletter, which I think I’ve talked about before, but I’m going to talk about it again today, you need to go and sign up. Small Biz Ahead. Google it. You’ll find us. You can sign up for the email right there. We send out an email to you every week. We never spam you, and we have tons of great content in there.
Gene writes for us, we’re going to … We promote this podcast in it, so you’ll never miss an episode. We’ve got resources. We have a cash flow calculator, which is so cool. We have tons of articles on managing your employees, how to hire people, how to fire people, how to manage your cash if you’re a seasonal business, lead generation, everything that you need to run a small business, really. We’re right there for you every week. Sign up for the Small Biz Ahead weekly newsletter at Small Biz Ahead. That’s my word of brilliance this week. We will be back next week with another episode. Gene, thanks for being here again today.
Gene: Always happy to be here, Elizabeth.