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Organizations Hitting You Up for Donations? Here’s What to Weigh

Be careful of getting yourself stuck donating to every medical benefit, fundraiser and poker run.

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IT HAPPENS AT LEAST TWICE a year in my store: They enter, confused or looking a bit lost. They head to the front desk and timidly take out a sheet of paper and hand it to the first employee they see.

It’s the dreaded donation/advertising letter.

Whether it’s for a high school yearbook, a benefit to raise money for medical expenses, or a school fundraiser, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been approached by students, their parents, volunteers, a friend’s cousin’s wife’s best friend, a customer I haven’t seen in four years … you get the picture.

I feel a knot in my stomach every time. Do I say yes? Do I say no? Am I going to offend a customer? Where do I draw the line?

I’m all about alternate forms of advertising, and over the years, I’ve tried it all … the cover of the local county map, high school football schedules, even handheld fans for sporting events (never again on that one).

What works and what doesn’t? It depends on where your store is located and who your target audience is. My experience might be different from yours, but learn who you will be advertising to, and it will help you make the right decision.

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For example, our retail store and separate doggie day care are both located in a small town of around 40,000. We get our fair share of yearbook ad requests, and I try to hit at least the two biggest. Depending on the price, I’m usually open to at least a half page ad. I try to be creative by putting both businesses in the same ad.

By advertising in the yearbook, I’m hoping that parents still read those (mine did!) and look at the ads in the back. If you are considering yearbook advertising, make sure your ad is clear, neat, to the point, and more important, contains a photo of a dog or cat. That’s the best way to get people’s attention.

I’m much more likely to say no now to athletic schedules and magnets than I used to be. The paper schedules are thrown away as soon as the season is over, if not before. The magnets might have more staying power … at least for that year … but after that, they aren’t as effective. Use your best judgment on these.

When it comes to benefits, poker runs, fundraisers and so on, you might find them to be more troublesome than beneficial.

I donate to the local private school auctions if a representative actually comes in and asks. A phone call isn’t enough for me. Make them work for it! Chances are, the person asking for the donation is a customer, so I do have some obligation already. What I have found, however, is that if you pick the right items, your donation will be sought after at these events. I’ve had customers tell me they look for my items at these auctions because they know there will be a free self-service dog wash coupon, a bag of treats and a small gift card. To me, that’s a win!

If someone who isn’t a customer bids on and wins the item — and then comes in — that’s a win for both of us. They get to see how awesome we are, and we get a new customer … just for donating to a good cause!

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But, not all donations bring new customers. Be careful of getting yourself stuck donating to every medical benefit, fundraiser and poker run. If you feel obligated, give something small, like a dog wash coupon or a small gift card. Services are always easier to donate than goods. Or, check with your manufacturer or distributor reps about bags of treats or small toys.

One final piece of advice: Document everything you donate and when. If the entity is nonprofit, it should supply you with a tax letter to give to your accountant. I also recommend asking your accountant about what you can write off as a donation. In my state, I can donate anything (goods or services), but I am supposed to pay tax on any goods I donate. That’s why I hit up my vendors for free stuff and donate my own services like the washes or gift cards. Plus, those services and cards are more easily written off on taxes.

Stacy Busch-Heisserer owns Busch Pet Products, a holistic pet supply store, and recently opened Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp. She is currently working on a clinical pet nutrition certification through the Academy of Natural Health Sciences. Email her at stacyb@buschpetproducts.com.

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8 Ways to Collect New and Existing Customer Information

Incentivize new and existing customers to give you more of their information.

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LAST MONTH, I SHARED with you why collecting customer information is critical to your success. Now that you know what you want to collect from your customers, I’m focusing here on how you can incentivize new and existing customers to give you more of their information. In this three-part series, I’ll help you move from sending a random monthly mass email newsletter to truly building an engaged and active customer base. This not only means having your customers’ information, but collecting information as much as possible so you can keep growing your business!

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The most obvious example of where/when to collect their information is at the register and/or the time of purchase. (P.S. This should be a non-negotiable standard for your team when ringing people up). Here are eight alternatives to getting oh so much more information:

1. Require people to register in advance for your events. Google Forms is free and provides a link for you to share on social media or in emails for easy online signup. Eventbrite is also a fabulous tool since you can charge for the event, allow people to attend for free, and you can even ask for a donation! Some of the CRM platforms from July/August 2019 issue will allow you to build landing pages that integrate with their software, as well.

2. Do a raffle. Make sure you have each participant’s cellphone, email and address. An idea for this would be to do an online “getting to know your customers” contest on social media. Have them fill out a survey (all their info), and they get entered to win a gift card for the store.

3. Create an “opt-in” to use in a variety of places. Share it on your business cards, social media, website, emails, videos. An opt-in is when you give something away of value in exchange for your customers’ information. This can be a 10 best tips PDF, an educational video, a gift certificate — the options are endless!

4. Implement a texting service. A texting platform will help you automate the opt-in process in a wide range of places. Use your short text in keyword to get people to join a VIP Club, use it events for easy signup, add it to signage in your store and call it out on Facebook Live videos.

5. Utilize surveys, contests, polls and competitions. Outgrow.co, Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Rafflecopter and Poll-maker are among a few websites that allow you to create these for distribution as well as capturing the data you want.

6. Do a pop-up ad on your website that asks anyone visiting to fill out a brief survey for an instant 10 percent off sent to their email upon completion.

7. Offer a “whatever you can fit in [this box] in 5 minutes is yours” shopping spree giveaway on a Facebook Live video. Or if that’s too much of an expense, do a surprise grab-bag giveaway. Fill a box with whatever you want, cover/wrap it up and tell people it can be all theirs if they enter! Really talk up the goodies in there, saying they can have enough gifts and goodies for the next six months! Include a link where they can register to win.

8. Offer a coupon on their next purchase if they leave an online review of their experience. Platforms like Nextpaw + Broadly can help make this easier.

Last month, you learned why it’s important to collect customer info and what you should collect and track (petsplusmag.com/9191). And now, you have ideas to incentivize new people and current customers to opt-in. I’ll share with you ways to best communicate on a regular basis in the last installment of this three-part series in the October issue. Because aside from sending regular newsletter emails, there are lots of strategies to building raving fans who support your business!

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Track These 5 Kpis to Transform Your Marketing

These are absolutely critical to any pet business’s marketing strategy.

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THERE ARE A few key performance indicators (KPIs) that are absolutely critical to any pet business’s marketing strategy. Do you know them all for your own business?

1. Set an annual marketing budget.

Setting yourself up to restrict total marketing costs is a key part of making sure you don’t overspend and, more importantly, don’t try to do too much. Having a marketing budget forces you to prioritize and leave things out of your marketing plan, making sure that only the most important and impactful marketing tactics make the list.

2. Set an annual sales target.

Having a total amount you’d like to bring in in sales for the year lets you know in a brutally straightforward way whether your sales and marketing are achieving what you need. Here’s my pro tip: Make sure that whatever sales figure you set as your annual target is actually achievable. While setting a pie-in-the-sky sales figure invigorates and excites some, it freezes most of the pet business owners I work with. Then, when they don’t hit it (because it was unlikely they would from Day One), they feel terrible. Let your sales target energize you by setting a realistic goal you feel excited about, then watch as you get closer!

3. Check quarterly where you are in relation to each of the above.

Are you hitting your numbers? Great! Stick to your marketing plan and don’t change things up. Are you falling behind or spending more than you’d planned? It’s time to go back to the drawing board and reassess your marketing tactics, what’s working and what’s not.

4. Figure out which product or service has your highest profit margin and which is your best seller.

If this one surprises you, you’re not alone. Very few small businesses I work with know these two figures off the top of their head. The twist is that every single medium and large pet business I work with knows it, tracks it and uses it as a central piece of its selling strategy. Why? Because focusing on selling one to two products or services is infinitely easier and cheaper to do than trying to sell everything. What would be better to focus on than the thing that makes you the most, and the thing your customers love? So, sit down and do the math, and then try running your next sales promo just for these two. You’ll be surprised at the results!

5. Determine your average customer acquisition cost.

You now have a budget, know what and how much you want to sell, and have an idea for how you want to get there. Now here’s the trickiest part: How much do you spend to acquire a new customer? This KPI can be a bit nebulous and hard for even the pros to figure out, so feel free to think of it as a cost per email address or follower on social media instead. (If you use Facebook ads for email collection, this is super-simple: A target of about $2 per pet owner email is a good goal.) While this doesn’t give you a true 1:1 cost to drive a sale, it gives you the cost of finding and beginning to court a new customer. After that, your regular communications fill in, and there’s usually very little difference in cost in talking to 100 or 10,000 potential clients.

There you have it, the top five KPI to watch first to make sure your marketing plan does what it should.

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Repurpose Your Business News for All Platforms

This will leave you more time to run your business.

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LAST ISSUE, I shared advice on how to write a compelling media pitch. While proactively requesting news coverage is one way to enhance brand awareness, you can also reach your target audience by repurposing your store news through social media channels, website newsroom, blog posts, e-newsletters and press releases or media alerts.

The good news is, any content that you create can be condensed, expanded or reworked to fit another platform rather than starting from scratch. Approaching it this way will leave you more time to run your business.

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Whether you’re announcing a new hire, employee promotions, new products or services, awards or an event, there are many ways you can slice and dice to further amplify your news.

First, once you apply my tips for developing a pitch and land a media placement, you can expand visibility by sharing it on your social media channels, your website and even an e-newsletter if you have one.

If the article or news segment is available online, tag the writer and/or news outlet, and include a brief summary of the coverage with a link to the story on the outlet’s website. Journalists appreciate it when you help drive traffic to their stories and give them proper recognition.

If it’s a print piece without a link, snap a pic on your phone and post on your blog along with a brief summary including the name of the reporter and outlet.

Next, if your goal is to engage media, draft a press release or media alert including all of the details you want to share.

If you’re promoting a store event, develop a media alert that includes the who, what, when and where along with a short summary about your business and your contact information. For the headline of the alert, specify if it’s a video or photo opportunity, as well as the name or type of event and scheduled date to grab their attention.

For news related to new services, awards, partnerships, etc., develop a press release as I detailed in my April column (petsplusmag.com/9192).

Condense the content you already created for the media to reach business contacts, sales targets, employees, etc. via Instagram, Facebook, your blog or an e-newsletter. Consider including an image or video to accompany the text like a staff headshot for employee news, a video from an event or a product image. Visuals can help drive traffic to your site by improving search engine optimization, which is an important tool to expand your business. Encourage your contacts and staff to help promote your content by sharing on their social media channels as well.

As you begin to follow these tips, you’ll discover what works best for your business. I wish you luck in enhancing your visibility and meeting your goals! Keep an eye out for my next column on free media tools to help market your business, in the October issue.

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