Engaging Generation Z with Your Small Business

Generation Z was born from (roughly) 1995 on. They are the generation of technology. They are brilliant, forward-thinking, socially-conscious, emotionally-aware, positive, and they are anxious, impatient, disengaged, and entitled.  They have the attention span of 8 seconds.

If you have not caught their attention span in 8 seconds, you have lost them.  If you’re only using one streaming method for internet engagement, you have lost them.  If your website looks like it was from 1995, you have lost them.

Your business cannot afford to lose Generation Z.  By the time 2020 happens, Gen Z will make up 40% of the consumers. Marketing to Millennials is no longer enough. Gen Z wants everything faster and they’re not going to buy your old sales-y tactics.

Gen Zs equate their personal environment to happiness. Happiness = spending. They like “disruptors” – ideas and “think tanks” that break out of the old way of doing things. They know how the old way works – they watched their siblings and parents still cling to the old way.  But, by the time Gen Z kids are full-grown spending adults, new information will be processed every 12 hours. Every 12 hours. That means, in the future (for Gen Z), this blog would (theoretically) be irrelevant by the time I woke up and got to work the next morning.

They need these disruptors because they are the embodiment of rapid change. They believe in fostering creativity – an engineer, doctor, or lawyer are no longer the only “successful” careers. They understand you can make money gaming, making videos, streaming, branding yourself. Generation Z is the prime example of entrepreneurial spirit.

When it comes to engaging Generation Z with your small business, you need to hit two major areas of relevance:

  1. Global Relevance – How is your small business related to the world today?
  2. Personal Relevance – Why is your small business important to me?

For them, it all starts with the aesthetic. They’ve both been taught, and now value, the ability to analyze, evaluate, and then create. Because this generation is the generation of creators, they understand the value of the aesthetic. So, start with your website – if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, beautiful, and easy-to-navigate, they will automatically judge your business as one that doesn’t have any global or personal relevance.

Pick a cause. Whether this is a specific charity, purpose, drive, or whatever best fits your business, Gen Z’s perspective on global relevance for small business is how your small business should be enacting positive change.   If your business makes an impact, it has global relevance.

Another way you can make your small business personally relevant to Generation Z is by offering choices. This is the generation of personalization and customization – if you can offer a way to make whatever product or service you sell completely customizable, you’ll be directly speaking to Gen Z.

As a final point on engaging Generation Z, you need to spend time where they are – that’s on Snapchat, Secret, and Whisper. They are attuned to the destructive forces of permanent social media, so they prefer anything that offers a self-destruct or incognito mode. Offering snippets and tidbits with the lure of secrecy just may be the way to get the Generation Z fish to bite.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

Vine Vendor Network Meet & Greets

As President of the Vine Vendor Network, I set several goals for our growth for 2018, one of them being regular meet-and-greets. This past Friday was our second one of the year.  I sincerely enjoy this time that I get to spend with my members. I learn about their businesses, their dreams, their challenges; I get to be a part of their incredibly busy lives with the objective of making their small businesses grow.

Our meet-and-greets are Vine-member-exclusive benefits. We spend time workshopping each individual’s business, speaking about business as a whole, discussing challenges that are specific to our locality and second-income-entrepreneurs.

Our first meet-and-greet for 2018 was in February. We discussed plans for the Vine, how businesses can get legal, tax laws, vendor shows, and more.  Our March 2018 meeting was focused on identifying a target market, how to market to that market, and if we’re actually marketing our products to the right people.  April’s event (which has not yet been scheduled) will focus on using social media to engage customers.

We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback for future meet-and-greets.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

Creating a Return Policy for Your Small Business

One of the leading competitive edges that major retailers have over small businesses is a generous return policy.  Return policies give buyers faith in the company and generally make buyers more comfortable with shopping.  This especially holds true when it comes to making purchases online. Even though they’re shopping online, buyers want to still have the “try it out” experience as when they shop in person, knowing that they could return an item if it doesn’t suit their needs.

Why big guys *USED* to do it better?
They count on the fact that only 8% of sales will be returned; they would offer extended length return policies knowing full well that most people would make the purchase because of the policy, but never take advantage of it.

A short story about returns:
When I was 16 years old, I worked at a large retail sporting goods store. I was a cashier; my responsibilities included checking out customers as well as serving customers who returned items.  I once had a man come to my counter with one single flip-flop shoe. He wanted to return the shoe because he lost the other one while wearing them in the ocean.  I was taken aback, of course, but I followed protocol and asked him if he had the box and a receipt – he replied no to both.  So, I did not allow the return – he wasn’t having it and demanded to speak to my manager.  I was confident in my decision, so I had no fear of calling the manager in the back of the store and letting her know that a customer wanted to speak to her about a return.  When she came up to the front, she listened to story, verbally chastised me for not accepting the return and proceeded to accept the single flip-flop.  Aside from the clear lack of professionalism by rebuking me in front of a customer, the manager’s choice to accept that return was based on the old philosophy that the customer is always right.

Firstly – The customer is not always right. 

Secondly – With a solid and reflective return policy, you can prevent this kind of extreme situation from hurting your business.

Here’s the problem – The return rate for brick and mortar stores is 8%, but once the decade of e-commerce studies made its full circle, research has shown that online sales returns spike to 20% during the year, all the way up to 30% during the holidays.  So, while that manager at the sporting goods store was able to accommodate such an extreme return, it’s because it was so extremely rare, as well. But now, with the overwhelming majority of shoppers making purchases online, retailers have to become much savvier about dealing with returns.

The big guys are starting to learn their lessons. Famous for 100 years worth of forever-returns, even L.L. Bean has decided to limit their former infinite return policy to one calendar year, upon the reasonable condition of the product.

According to Consumer World, “Best Buy has added a 15-percent restocking fee for built-in appliances, drones, DSLR cameras and lenses, and a few other items,” while Target has employed the policy that “Items that are opened/damaged/receipt-less may be denied a refund or exchange.”

As you create your policy, be sure to check with your state’s retail return and refund policy code. Follow the laws of your state while simultaneously considering how to best appeal to your customers and still turn a profit.

When creating your policy, consider several factors:

  1. If the products you’re selling can be resold upon return (think apparel, toys, etc), you may be more inclined to offer a longer return policy.  If the products you’re selling cannot be resold, such as food, wine, or cosmetics, I would recommend a smaller window.
  2. Set clear and distinct time limits for returns. Be sure to make this information extremely easy to access.
  3. Create clear and distinct rules for conditions of acceptance. Will you take back only unused merchandise? Does it need tags? Does it need a receipt? Does the customer need a return authorization?
  4. Make purchases meaningful by using return-deterrents such as restocking fees.
  5. Consider your own margin of error in the return policy. For example: “There is a 15% restocking fee on all returns except in the case of manager’s defect.”
  6. Offer precise instructions for how a person should get the return to you.  I recommend that you write in that each person should insure their packages.
  7. Be clear about your acceptances – Will you accept returns? Only exchanges? Only store credit?
  8. Give timelines for when the refunds should be posted. Most banks will say between 7-10 business days.

One of the best ways to work on your own return policy is to read the policies of the companies you admire.  Don’t be discouraged by not being able to compete – your return policy compared to a big box store.  You are a small business and you need to do what is right to earn money for that business.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

5 Tips for how Your Small Business can Stand Out for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is an excellent holiday to market your retail or service business, and it really doesn’t even matter what you sell. Honestly, before I opened my business, I always scoffed at Valentine’s Day – I was looking at it through the eyes of a consumer, which has served me well when helping small businesses strategize.   I can’t wait to share some tips with you to help you take advantage of Valentine’s Day as a retail giant.

  1. Promise Fair Pricing. I consider this a guerilla tactic because everyone else is padding their pricing on a ridiculous level, if you market as fair, unchanging pricing, you’re establishing your business as one that cares about the consumer.  Flowers, red roses, in particular, will go up nearly 100% in cost during Valentine’s Day. There are numerous factors which contribute to this price increase, including needing to import roses from warm-weather areas, hiring extra help, and extended hours, but the average consumer doesn’t consider all of these points – they see an increase in price. Many of whom will pay this price because of the convenience of delivery, which brings me to #2.
  2. Offer Valentine’s Day Delivery. If at all possible (even if it’s just local), offer Valentine’s Day gift delivery. Offering this extra service will definitely make your business more appealing to a consumer, especially one who is stuck at work and can’t personally make a big gesture for the one he/she loves. This one extra service (whether you charge or not, and it’s typical to charge) can appeal to numerous last-minute shoppers and multi-taskers.
  3. Create Gifts for All Couples. In our ever-changing world, it’s ironic that consumerism holds steadfast to hetero-normativity, especially when there is so much to be gained by widening your business audience. If you work to appeal to LGBTQ couples on Valentine’s Day, you’re broadening to an entire target market who is traditionally pushed by the wayside – you can bet that will not only translate into Valentine’s Day business but into appreciative long-term customers.
  4. Offer a Handwritten Card. What’s almost as amazing as receiving a gift from your love on Valentine’s Day? – Reading the adorable, sweet card he/she wrote for you. Offering this service (especially as a free add-on with a certain dollar-amount purchase) will put you above the rest. Anyone can print out a card or even the little note that comes with flowers, but offering to actually handwrite a Valentine’s Day card is incredibly endearing, personal, and customized – creating a next-level for small business customer service.
  5. Partner Up with Another Small Business. Think about the incredible add-ons you can choose when you order Valentine’s Day flowers online – add a box of chocolate for 9.99, a teddy bear for 24.99, a mylar balloon for 8.99, etc. These partnerships aren’t an accident and having those partnerships ensures every small business wins. Work with another local small business to create these sales partnerships in order to help grow both your businesses and create truly appealing gifts. For example, if you sell jewelry, you could offer a ceramic holder or wood-carved box as an add-on; if you sell soaps and bath and body products, you could offer a candle as an add-on. Partner with these other small businesses by making wholesale purchases from them, or even drop-shipping. However you decide to partner, it’s definitely an amazing way to stand out compared to what big-box stores will offer.

When it comes to making your business stand out for Valentine’s Day, the trick is to think like a consumer – What will make my life the easiest? What will be most appealing to my partner? What can I purchase that will already be beautiful without me having to do any extra work?

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

SMART Goals for Small Business

About a decade ago, there was a huge trend in education called “SMART Goals.” Teachers, myself included, had to write a SMART goal for each one of our students and ask our students to write SMART goals for themselves in each subject area. While the idea was born in the education system, the concept of SMART goals is perfect when it comes to small business – your small business.

SMART is an acronym.

This concept is ideal when it comes to small business because you have the ability to analyze numeric data as well as know every part of what goes into your business.

Before you decide to create SMART goals for your business, you need to gather some information:

  • Gross sales
  • Net profits
  • Breakdown of costs (Supplies, Marketing, Human Resources, Transportation, Postage, etc.)
  • Top-margin items
  • Best-selling items

Once you have this information in front of you, plus all your internalized anecdotal experience, I want you to sincerely think about an area of improvement in your business that can fit each aspect of SMART goals.

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What does SMART really mean?

S = A specific goal means identifying exactly what you plan on doing without ambiguity or room for interpretation. The difference would be between “I’m going to clean the house today” versus “I will wash the kitchen floor.”  Keep it simple.

M = It’s so important to choose a measurable goal to fuel a sense of accomplishment and to track progress. When choosing a measurable goal, be sure it follows the rule of specific. For example – “I will write one blog every week” compared to “I will blog more.”

A = An achievable goal is one you can complete in a timely fashion (see T). You must break down your goals so they are smaller and achievable because we, as humans, need to feel a sense of accomplishment. If we’re constantly working toward one lofty goal without anything smaller, we can lose hope. This is where knowing your numbers is vital – for example, if your average sales are $600 a month, an achievable goal would be to reach $700, even if your ultimate goal is $2000.

R = A reasonable goal is one that is sustainable. Setting a sustainable goal means choosing something you’re able to maintain. While it would be amazing to set a goal to call 100 potential clients every month, that’s hardly sustainable (or reasonable). Consider a goal that you’ll be able to recreate consistently.

T = Timely goal-setting is an integral part of the process. This ensures that we continue to create smaller goals in reasonable time-frames. Most small businesses use the quarterly model (every 3 months), this is a great tool for timely goals. You may need something even smaller, like once a month or once a week, no problem. The trick with timeliness is to not allow yourself too much time to lose focus.

The trick with creating SMART goals in your business is to ensure your goals meet each of the criteria. You may be ultimately working for one large goal, but a SMART goal is much smaller leading you towards your ultimate goal.

Good example: I will send out two email newsletters every month for a full year.
Specific – It gives a clear and simple directive for what the plan is.
Measurable – It states two every month.
Achievable – This is definitely something that can be done. You can set aside a little time each day to write the newsletters or even pre-write and schedule the delivery.
Reasonable – This goal makes perfect sense for business. You don’t want to inundate your customers with emails (especially if you haven’t been sending them), and it’s just enough where you can come up with something to write for each.
Timely – Specifically explains every month.

What are your SMART goals for business this year?

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

Our Process for Choosing Vendors for Our Events

I have received several phone calls this week about becoming vendors for our Springtime Shopping in the Vine event and second annual Holiday Shopping at the Hilton event.  I am always grateful and honored that people are trying so desperately to become vendors at our events – that tells me we’re doing something right! In seriousness, I, along with my team, have worked and continue to work incredibly hard at building powerful events that are well-advertised and draw a crowd. Our events are organized, beautiful, and run smoothly. We have earned the respect of our vendors.

I believe in business transparency, so I decided I would make this post to be clear about our expectations for vendors. This is what we’re looking for to become a vendor at one of our events:

The Order of Priorities

First Priority

  • We give first priority to our network members who were previously vendors at our events.
  • We offer invitations to those vendors who respected our rules and created an aesthetically pleasing display.

Second Priority

  • Second priority goes to members of our network.

Third Priority

  • If we still did not fill up our spaces with our own network members, our third priority will be for vendors who are not members of our network.


The Expectations – This is precisely what we’re looking for.

  • We love unique items! While we cherish and respect our MLM (multi-level marketing) vendors, we’re always looking for something different. Whether it’s handmade or just something we’ve never seen before, we prefer vendors who offer a special something that shoppers cannot get anywhere else.
  • We expect you to read our contracts thoroughly. If you ask us questions that can clearly be answered by the contract, we know you haven’t read it. We spend time writing a meticulous contract to ensure that we’re clear and transparent. We only want to work with vendors who display the same level of professionalism that we are by creating a contract.
    • With that being said, there are several parts to our application – including sending display photos. If you don’t send these, we don’t consider you.
  •  Your display needs to be aesthetically on-point. Our customers expect a high-end event and that means a carefully curated display that is beautiful and organized. This is why we ask for photos.
  • We need you to be internet-savvy. We work 100% digitally because that is our organizational process. We need you to be on-board with that because it will maintain our level of workflow.
  • We don’t make exceptions. If you start your application asking for exceptions, we’re not likely going to consider you. Honestly, we have hundreds of applicants for 50 spaces, we respect the people who follow our restrictions (because often it’s a restriction passed down to us from the venue).
  • We do not take more than one from any company or more than three from any type. This is why we may have space, but not accepting any more jewelry, or bath & body, etc. We aim to keep a diverse pool of products and we do that by limiting product categories.
  • We take into consideration longstanding members of our network. We call it seniority.
  • We need you to be a legitimate company. We are not okay with you trying to skirt taxes or regulations. If something goes wrong, it’s a poor reflection on us, and we can minimize this by only working with people who are serious about their business.
  • We do not accept food vendors for our hotel events. I know this is disappointing, but we are not allowed to bring in outside food as per the hotel regulations.
  • Did you fill out your application correctly? If you mistype your own name or email address, we’re not going to chase after you. Attention to detail is important.
  • Your behavior and demeanor at previous events. There are times when we don’t invite back certain vendors and it could be because of how you acted. If you were a misanthrope, late to set-up, early to leave, pushy, crabby, rude to customers/other vendors, or we received complaints about you, we will not invite you back.
    • *We also pay attention to how you are at events not sponsored by us.

The main point to understand is that we have established our reputation as a premier vendor network offering the highest quality small business professionals and events in the local market. In order to continue to provide champion service to our vendors and customers, we need to be meticulous in how we run our programs.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

Copywriting: Write It Right (Now)

I have seen this vicious, silent killer. I have watched it move in the darkness, creeping, then silently staring like a stoic predator hunting its prey. It glares, quietly, yet blazes and burns the focus of your vision. All the beauty of the website, the photography, the products are shut out by the pervasive and penetrating grammar error. It laughs in the face of profits, scorns the opportunity of success, and sucks the last breath of trustworthiness in your brand.

Just today I witnessed two marketing campaigns on Instagram with such potential, but a glaring error in spelling made me turn away. Call it arrogance, but how can I trust you to make my skincare or purchase life insurance from you if you do not know the difference between to, too, and two?

The character, Grendel, in John Gardner’s Grendel, calls himself a “ridiculous, hairy creature torn apart by poetry.” Gardner uses the legendary monster of Beowulf to show us the power of diction, syntax, tone, and figurative language. If this breaker-of-bones, cruncher-of-men can metacognitively appreciate the power of language, most certainly you, as your own copywriter, must respect language.

Not everyone is a gifted writer. Actually, hardly anyone can write something once and find perfection in it. One of my most beloved writing teachers, Dr. Marilyn Aronson, used to say: “Hard writing makes easy reading.” Writing takes skill, patience, practice, and the will to revise it all over again. If you, as a business owner, do not have the patience to perfect your practice, it is in your best interest to pay someone to either write for you or to edit your work.

On the other hand, if you do not want to pay someone else to write for you, there are some foundational rules for copywriting. You can use these tips for marketing, blogging, copywriting, respectively.

  1. PARAGRAPHS! Never, ever write a blog/newsletter/product description in ONE paragraph.
  2. Revision. RE-VISION. This means seeing your writing in a new way. Look again!
  3. Read your work OUT LOUD. Our ability to hear language far surpasses our ability to write it.
  4. DICTION = Word choice = Choose Words = Words came before bold and italicize. Make words your strength.
  5. Creativity doesn’t mean being a genius. Creativity is thinking about what would make the ordinary extraordinary.
  6. Verbs are a terrible thing to waste. Jenny can be excited about her new jewelry purchase, or Jenny can be enthralled by her new captivating statement necklace.
  7. Syntax can save lives. “Let’s eat, grandma!” versus “Let’s eat grandma.”
  8. Know your homonyms!
    1. To = direction, Too = excessive, Two = 2.
    2. Their = ownership, They’re = they are, There = location.
    3. Lose = not a winner, Loose = not tight.  *(Not really a homonym since they’re pronounced differently, but a common mistake.)
    4. Advise = verb, to instruct, Advice = noun, the helpful info. *Also not a homonym, but people drive me crazy with this one.
    5. Here = location, Hear = sound.
  9. Write out your numbers. Eleven is so much more elegant than 11.
  10. Short, simple sentences clearly communicate your message. Leave run-ons for your workouts.

These are just some basic steps you can take to begin writing more clearly and effectively to create authority and trust in your brand. At the very least, you can use free apps, like Grammarly,* to help improve your writing as you write – or you can hire us at the Vine Vendor Network to get your business writing in tip-top shape.

*This is not an affiliate link, but a program I personally recommend and believe in.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

What to Do When You’re Disillusioned by Your Small Business

It happens to every small business owner. There’s a day, a week, a month, even longer, when you’re just disillusioned by your business. It can come from a streak of no sales, a customer returning a product, a bad review, a poor investment, and sometimes it can even come from not being able to keep up with the demand. Disillusionment strikes when something about your business just isn’t as you expected it to be.

If you’re starting – or have been – feeling this way, there are a few steps you can take to reinvigorate your love of your business:

  1. Step back for a while. I know this may seem counterintuitive, but taking some much-needed time off from your business can be exactly what you need for a fresh perspective, to avoid burn-out, and just rejuvenate.
  2. DO NOT FEAR CHANGE. One of Albert Einstein’s many famous quotes is: “The definition of insanity is repeating the same behaviors and expecting different outcomes.” This philosophy absolutely needs to apply to your business. Analyze and evaluate what needs to change – and your guts will usually guide you – then take small steps to move in that direction. Let me not kid you, change is tough (I’ll write about that in another blog), but, like the phoenix, we must rise from our ashes to begin again.26001345_1998747733738389_7411091910613651996_n.jpg
  3. Check your timing and environment. If you’re not making the sales you want, or the customers seem to be walking by, consider the planning of your activities. When are you sending out newsletters? When are you running sales? Are you choosing fairs after the holiday season? Reevaluate when people spend money on your products and vow to give it your full juice during that time period. Also evaluate the fairs you’re vending – are they serving your market? Is it well advertised?
  4. Reevaluate your product line. As a small business, we’re not the big guys in blue – your goal is probably not to be a one-stop-shop for everything. Slim down your product line to make managing your inventory easier and focusing on your target market a clearer objective. Offering too many products can be overwhelming for customers, as well.
  5. Invest in better marketing. This is not the same as taking out ads. I’m talking about quality packaging, professional photos, a beautiful and coordinated display, shelf-talkers, post-cards. You want materials that people walk away with and are “wowed” by. Get yourself some cool brand swag, and even grab some swag to give away!
  6. Survey your customers. We can’t always see what’s right in front of us when we’re so personally invested in our business, which is why I recommend creating a survey for your current customers. Ask them their opinions about your products, your service, your marketing – offer them an incentive like a discount or free gift to get people to take the time to take the survey. Use this new information to make changes to your business.
  7. Be your own customer for a day. Go through the whole process of introducing your brand to yourself through making a purchase. What is your elevator pitch? What problem are you solving? What is your brand story? How easy is it to navigate a purchase? Shipping? Customer service? You will be your own harshest critic and you can use this information to make your business run smoothly.
  8. Find the passion in your brand. Whether you’re selling caskets or vacations to Disney World, you must have a passion for your brand in order to truly sell it to someone else. Think back to why you originally started in your business – was it a favorite product you used or made? A mission that the company has (whether it’s your company or a direct sales company)? The empowerment you feel by owning a small business? Find your passion, write it down, and look at it every day.
  9. Be honest about your presentation. Check your social media presence, your website, your blog – is everything going well and aesthetically how you want it to be? Are you using hashtags to attract your customers? Are you participating in groups that will better serve your needs?
  10. Check yourself. Are you projecting your disappointment to new customers? Do you sit during fairs and not engage customers? Are you not listening to the needs of your current customers? When you’re not enjoying that business, sometimes we allow that to trickle down. We have to have “dog-mind” when it comes to customers, meaning we need to live in the present moment and not bring in our own baggage to the table. Keep your whining to yourself (or your business network). One great way to make OTHER people disillusioned by your business is to complain about your business. Yes it’s hard, yes it takes work, yes it’s exhausting, but showing that face to the world just makes you less appealing to purchase from.
  11. Too much, too soon? Did you start your business a few months ago and you’re expecting thousands of dollars in sales? At my first fair, I barely made back my $150 table. I was so disappointed, but I knew I was the new kid on the block and no one had heard of me before. Keep pushing forward, touch base with any contacts you made and forge ahead.
  12. Build your network. Whether it’s expanding your customer base or signing up for a business network, building a business lies greatly in who you know. Your friends and family will only go so far, but once you get your name recognized by other people in a network, they will spread that information. Invest some time and some money by joining local and product-based networks. At the very least, you will have a sounding board of people who are in the same boat.
  13. Ask for help. One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is thinking they can do everything themselves. You can’t or you will burn out. Whether you need to outsource for help, or you need someone to give you honest criticism, ask for the help and listen to sound advice from people with expertise.
  14. Know when to call it quits. This may be an extremely tough decision, and one that should certainly come with lots of thought, but if nothing is invigorating you for your business again, then start planning an exit strategy. This should be a slow process that informs your customers, gives you time to sell off your inventory and materials, and either pass on the reigns to a buyer or close completely. Do not make this decision lightly, and be sure you have given it your best shot first – a successful small business doesn’t happen overnight (just think of all the people on ABC’s Shark Tank). 

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Entrepreneur Resolutions: Learning to Say NO

As you work on your business, you may find various opportunities for you to expand or grow. You’ll be excited about these opportunities, of course, but while many of them will work to your favor, there are some opportunities that function as wolves in sheep’s clothing. These opportunities require more labor, time, or change, which create stress and anxiety  This year, I want you to resolve to say no to any opportunity that doesn’t serve your business vision. If it doesn’t drive success, it’s not worth the stress.

The first step as you move into the new year is to decide what your goals are for your business. Do you want to

  • expand your customer base?
  • create better service for your current customers?
  • start selling to stores?
  • expand your team or downline?
  • introduce new products?
  • build a more focused brand?
  • expand your social media and web presence?
  • educate more people about your products or services?
  • create a community around your brand?

You may be tempted to say ALL OF THE ABOVE, but these are some lofty goals which often lead us to the temptation of mistaken opportunities. Pick one goal and work on that while you work on your business. As you achieve different goals, you can start adding more, but the key to success is to have a clear business vision.

Once you’ve honed-in on your vision, you want to start creating a business plan that will lead you towards achieving that goal. For example, let’s say you’ve chosen to create better service for your current customers. You will want to start collecting information from your current customers about their satisfaction levels and directly ask them what they need. If suddenly you’re posed with the opportunity to expand your downline, it may be tempting, but you should reconsider the timing. Expanding your downline requires a whole new set of responsibilities, such as training, advocating, determining team guidelines – this will distract you from your initial vision.

Another mistake I see many entrepreneurs make is to try and be everywhere and do everything. Avoid signing vendor contracts for every vendor event that comes to your path. Instead, do your research on which events are geared towards your customers and your vision. Ask the event organizer or previous vendors about the event to give you a better idea if that event will serve you; if it doesn’t, then simply say no and move on.

Sometimes you will have a customer who asks you to customize your service. This could take the form of creating a whole new product for him/her or personalized delivery, etc. If the request does not fit your business model, then have no fear is saying no and referring him/her to someone else. Balance time and effort against the rewards. You may have this same customer who is willing to pay for you to fulfill customized requests (and anytime there are custom requests, you should expect compensation for that), but again, consider the time and effort against what you would be gaining.

Also, while you may not have the means or funds to employ others, it does not mean everything has to land on your shoulders. You could hire someone to help clean up around the house or ask whoever you live with to chip in their time. Use various time management tactics to help you organize what you say “yes” or “no” to.

Do not be afraid of losing customers to “no.” In reality, you may lose some, but you’re not losing the customers you want to maintain anyway. Instead, recognize that the “no” you’re giving to one will guide you to opening the doors of many “yeses” to the people you want and are able to serve.

Sometimes saying “no” goes beyond your customers to your personal life. While your small business should never overwhelm you to the point where you’re only focusing on the business, it’s okay to say no to different events or activities. For instance, your friends may want to go out late the night before a big vendor event – while you should absolutely spend time with your friends, you can say no to that one invitation and offer to reschedule to a time when you’re under less pressure. Your true friends will understand as long as you make the effort to reschedule.

Prioritizing your needs as a small business owner is key. You have to take care of your health and wellness above all, and sometimes that means even saying no to your business. Give yourself time off to relax, recharge, and even think of new ideas. If you’re consistently under pressure, you will wear yourself out rendering you unable to make wise business decisions.

What drove your decision to say “no” and how do you feel about that choice today? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

What the FCC Net Neutrality Repeal Means for Small E-Commerce Business

If you were old enough to watch TV prior to the late 1980s, you were aware of the main monolithic broad channels (using their names today): ABC, NBC, Pix 11, Fox, CBS, Thirteen, My9. You had a perfectly clear view of these channels until cable came into your town. Once cable came in, unless you paid for television, even these public channels were gritty or unable to be accessed altogether. This was the beginning of widespread monetizing public access.

Net Neutrality was introduced because of the same issues. When the internet was first introduced on a broad-span for the public, it was dial-up access for AOL or Netscape. If you didn’t pay for one of these services, you didn’t have access to most of the internet. Fast forward 20+ years later, and anyone with access to the internet in the United States has an equal chance to access any legal content.

USA Today explains how this translates to the repeal of Net Neutrality:

Maybe you prefer Netflix content, but if AT&T’s own DirectTV content doesn’t count against your data cap, there’s ample reason to choose that instead. Instead of paying a flat price for access to use any app or service free of charge, companies could start bundling services into “social,” “video,” and so on. Maybe you prefer Twitter — but instead of a free download, you’ll have to buy access to it in a package with Facebook and Snapchat, to the tune of $4.99.

This means that an ISP (Internet Service Provider) has full reign to determine what websites you will have access to.

  • ISPs can slow down your service to websites as they see fit
  • ISPs can completely BLOCK service to websites as they see fit
  • They can speed-up access to websites that you pay extra for, or bundle up for. For example, if an ISP has a deal with Netflix, you can find quick access to Netflix, but may block or slow-down access to Hulu.
  • Force subscribers to pay for an extra fee to access certain websites

This is completely detrimental to small e-commerce businesses. If your website doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of an ISPs service, that service may altogether block your online store from user access. Forget the problems e-commerce business owners already face trying to boost social media posts, pay for Google Adwords, none of this will mean anything if users can’t physically access your website, or it takes them too long to load.

More so, this empowers big business over small business because the almighty dollar will win in the end. The less likely scenario is that an ISP will block an e-commerce store altogether, but you can bet that a big-box company who offers millions of dollars to an ISP will have easier, faster access to users compared to small businesses who do not have that kind of access to liquid cash to pay to compete.

This can affect all e-commerce businesses on varying levels. Most likely, your hosted website will try and work with an ISP to continue to get ranked and quick access for people to shop, and the cost of that will come down on you as the business owner. Whether you use an e-commerce shop like Shopify, Squareup, Big Commerce, or you’re on a hosted site like Etsy, Amazon, or Ebay, you will have to pay more. Paying more means you either cut into your own profits, or you will have to raise the prices of your goods, potentially losing customers to a big-box business.

While this vote has already happened and left the internet ablaze, there is still something you can do. Remain cognizant and aware of the next steps of ISP providers. Text BATTLE to 384-387 to let Congress know this is a terrible move, especially for small business. It’s not enough to just send the text, you have to actively use your voice by connecting and following-through to leave a message, write an email, send a letter to your representatives. With enough voices, some action can be taken.

You also will need to start thinking out-of-the-box to get the word out about your business. Build your email subscriber list, get active on social media, use the postal mail, attend more vendor events. Use this time to connect with customers on a deeper, more personal level so they feel a commitment to your business and will shop with you despite the changes.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident