There’s no qualitative way to grade tips. What works at one store, may prove ineffective at another. What represents a fresh approach in one market, may be old hat in another. Still, as a publication that prides itself on finding and sharing good ideas, we’d like to think we stumbled across a few nuggets worthy of repeating in a year-end list. And worth trying to implement in the new year.

Here are our 10 best tips of 2017.

Yessify Your Yesses

There is always a better answer than a mere “yes,” says author Dale Dauten, author of The Gifted Boss. He gives the example of asking a number of auto repair shops if they repair Lotuses. Most say “no,” a few say “yes,” but then one says, “Absolutely, we specialize in imports and the shop’s owner drives a Lotus.” Who do you think got the business? So the next time somebody asks you if you carry no-bark collars, find a better answer than just “yes". 

Serve up a Sandwich

You may have already heard of the concept of giving “sandwich” criticisms to employees. (Short version: Say something nice, make your criticism, end with something nice.) One other thing to watch out for, according to T.J. Schier, author of SEND FLOWERS TO THE LIVING, is using the word “but” as part of the sandwich. That one small word can ruin the taste of the whole sandwich. Instead, use “and,” as in the following example: “Jane, normally you are my best employee, and it’s critical you are here on time so you can do that awesome job of client service. Now get out there and make it happen.”


The WOM Test

There’s no advertising force more powerful than word of mouth. But sometimes it’s awkward asking your customers to spread the good word about your business. Want to identify good candidates? Joe John Duran, author of START IT, SELL IT AND MAKE A MINT tells of a businessman who has a little test. He asks his customers if they know a good restaurant he can take his wife to. They can’t think of one? OK, probably not a good person to ask for referrals. They give you a name? There’s some potential. They tell you a restaurant, tell you to use their name while making the reservation, and check back later to see how much you enjoyed it? This is clearly somebody who feels good about helping people. And a great candidate to spread the word about your business.

  

List Your To-Don’ts

OK, just about everybody regularly creates “to-do” or “start doing” lists. But Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, wonders whether you have a “stop doing” list. Think of all the harmful, unproductive (or even less productive) behaviors you engage in ... and put them on your list. Let your “stop doing” list help you focus on the things you need to do to make your business great.

Goodbye, Dirty Bills

Nobody really likes old, dirty money. In fact, when researchers at the University of Winnipeg gave students $20 and told them they could buy as much as they wanted from a mock store and save the rest, students given crisp $20 bills spent an average of $3.86, while the “dirty money” students spent $8.35. Researchers believe worn bills generate feelings of dirtiness and contamination in the holder, thereby devaluing them. The takeaway? Take grubby notes out of circulation. Each time a customer uses an old bill to pay you, stick it in a jar for emergency expenses, like the repair bill for a computer that goes down. Don’t return such notes to your customers or use them to pay staff.

Get a Three-Month Review

From Seth Godin’s THE BIG MOO: Do what entrepreneurial hotelier Chip Conley does at his Joie de Vivre hotels. Make it a habit to sit down with your new hires at about the three-month point. But don’t give them a performance review — have them give YOUR operation a performance review. After three months, their eyes are still fresh enough that they’ll be able to see things you’re missing. And they’ll have been on the job long enough to know how things work. Chances are good that they’ll have a few great ideas to contribute, Godin says.

Blogging Made Easy

Can’t figure out where to start blogging? Business blogger Marcus Sheridan, whose relatively small Georgia-based pool and spa company is rated No. 1 in Google for pool manufacturers in his region, can tell you. Says Sheridan: “Start with the questions you get every day. Take those 100 questions, and turn them into 100 blog posts with those questions transformed into the titles.” Even if you only hear the same 10 questions, blog posts answering those will get you started. Aim for one “frequent question answered” post each week, and supplement with posts about new products, events and promotions.

Scout Out New Customers

Contact local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. Both organizations have pet care badges/medals to complete. “Recently, we hosted a group of Girl Scouts at our doggie day care where worked with our dog trainer on dog behavior and light dog training,” says Stacy Busch-Heisserer of Busch Pet Products and Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp in Cape Girardeau, MO. Doing so cultivates the next generation of customers, and in the meantime, they bring their parents back.

Too Good to Be True?

Test new advertising mediums with an offer that’s “too good to be true.” Let’s say you plan to spend $5,000 with a radio station. Try spending the first $1,000 this way: Create an ad offering a $75 bag of high-end dog food for only $5 for the first 10 people who come in with the secret code word. Your cost is $500 for the advertisement, and a couple hundred bucks to subsidize your product cost. If 10 people don’t respond to your ad, you’ve likely saved yourself $4,000 on a medium that probably wouldn’t have worked for you. Of course, if they’re lined up 20-deep outside your store, you will certainly be advertising again soon (though probably not with such a jaw-dropping offer).

Speak, Wait, Listen

Just about everybody believes they need to improve their speaking skills. Yet just about nobody wants to do the one thing that can help them improve fastest: to listen to recordings of their voices. Christy Fletcher, a spokesperson for QVC, advises you use this trick: Don’t play the recording back immediately. “You must allow time to separate yourself from whatever you have recorded, so you can be more objective,” she says in a column for eHow. “Record something. Wait a day. Then listen to your voice.”