Monthly Archives: August 2016

Steps to Turn Your Customer Complaints Into Business Ideas

Do you cringe when a customer complains? If so, it’s time to start thinking of those complaints as possible opportunities instead of problems – opportunities that could lead to new product lines, services or a new venture. But how do you actually identify new business ideas hiding in your customer complaints? Here are five tips to get you started.

Be open to closing the gaps

To get useful inspirational tips and leads from your customers, they must know that you’re open to hearing about the gaps in your product lines or services.

“Ask your customers what you could do better,” said Kevin Barnicle, founder and CEO of IT consulting and software firm Controle. “This seems like simple advice but it is very powerful.” Barnicle said that asking one of his customers this simple question uncovered a potentially profitable need that wasn’t being fully met.

While the customer acknowledged that the product Barnicle sold him did what it was supposed to do, the client needed more than the product provided. As a result, there was a gap in communications between two critical teams in the client’s company – the IT team and the legal team. “If you could offer a service to help me bridge that gap I would buy it,” Barnicle recalled his client saying.

When Barnicle left his old company and started Controle, he offered exactly the service the client had pointed out was missing, and even named it for the complaint. “Our Bridge the Gap service is one of our most profitable and popular services we provide,” Barnicle said. “It was all created from a customer complaint.”

‘Simplify’ may signal business opportunity

Is there a demand for a simpler or faster version of your product or service hiding in your customer complaints? This was the case for the folks at 99designs.com, an online graphics design contest platform.

“Our new products are a direct reflection of the feedback we receive from our customers and designer community,” said Shayne Tilley, general manager of Swiftly. “A great example of this is our newest offering, Swiftly, a service for quick design jobs.”

Tilley said that although customers are happy with the services they receive through 99designs, they often had other smaller or simpler jobs that didn’t fit the service offerings of 99designs. “After our customers had their logo, website, banner ad, business card, etc., created on 99designs, they would ask us, “How do I get this updated or integrated with other existing marketing collateral like brochures, social media creative, et cetera?” Tilley said.

And the 99designs team had the same problem with their own simple jobs – it didn’t make sense to ask the company Web designers to stop working on important projects to complete something like a simple business card update, Tilley said. “Given that our customers were experiencing the same problems as us, we decided to do something about it and thus Swiftly was born,” Tilley said. Swiftly lets customers post small design jobs and have them completed within one hour. “Our average turnaround time is actually 30 minutes,” Tilley said.

Pay special attention to the loudmouths

Do you have a handful of customers that complain frequently? Instead of labeling them troublemakers, start thinking of them as your idea-generators.

“Realize that a customer that complains is sometimes the best customer,” Barnicle said. Though no one likes to deal with some who’s constantly whining about something, Barnicle said the customers that complain the most usually are the most passionate. “If you can solve their complaint or problem, you will most likely have a customer for life,” he said.

Look to your own complaints

Are you a customer? Take a look at your very own complaints – there could be a new business hiding in your pet peeves. And chances are, if something isn’t working for you, there are others out there with the same problem.

“In 2009, when I was moving, the shipping company broke my TV,” said Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of online customer support and help-desk company Freshdesk. “I sent multiple emails to the shipping company, but they just asked me to jump through hoops and made no signs of intending to settle my claim.”

Mathrubootham was so frustrated, he finally wrote about his experience in an online forum. Within a day, the shipping company paid him what they owed.

“This experience taught me that customers have social power, and it inspired us to build a customer support solution that leverages social media,” Mathrubootham said. Freshdesk now has 23,000 customers using their customer-support solution worldwide.

Will your customers pay for a solution?

While there may be multiple new business possibilities in your customer’s complaints, how can you find those that will lead to profitable new business? Evaluate each complaint carefully. If the issue shouldn’t have occurred, or been solved by the service or product they’ve already purchased, simply fix the problem. If not, it could mean there’s a potential new business idea right under your nose – and to find out, ask.

“Simply ask customers,” Barnicle said. “Be up front, and just ask them, ‘If I could solve your problem would you pay for it?’ Doing so you will immediately find out how much of a complaint it really is,” Barnicle said.

When one of Controle’s clients constantly complained about inefficiencies dealing with a software manufacturer’s customer support, Barnicle did exactly this. “We simply asked them, ‘If we offered a service to take that completely off your area of responsibility, would you purchase it?'” The result? A new service, and a new long-term contract.

“Solving customer complaints can be very helpful to organizations, and profitable for any company,” Barnicle said. “We now provide that same service to many other clients, all of which came out of a customer complaint and a simple question. Would they pay for it”?”

The Best Cities for Starting a Business

Getting ready to launch a new business? You may think proximity to major cities like New York or Los Angeles would benefit you, but you actually might find the most success by opening up shop in a state in the heart of the Midwest.

Seven of this year’s 10 best cities in which to start a business are in states in the middle of country, including this year’s top-ranked city, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, according to a study from the personal finance social network WalletHub.

Sioux Falls jumped to the top this year, up from sixth in 2015, for having a friendly business environment and low startup costs. Springfield, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, were the only two other cities to be ranked in the top 10 for a second consecutive year.

To help aspiring entrepreneurs maximize their chances of success, WalletHub analyzed the relative startup opportunities in the 150 most populous U.S. cities. Researchers ranked each city on 16 key metrics divided into three categories: access to resources, business environment and cost.

Access to resources focused on financing accessibility, employee availability and prevalence of investors. Business environment was judged on factors like average workday length, five-year survival rate, number of startups per 100,000 residents, industry variety and average growth of business revenue. Also considered was office space affordability, labor costs, corporate taxes and cost of living.

This year’s top 10 cities for starting a business, and their rankings in each category are:

1. Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Environment: 9; Resources: 55; Cost: 12
2. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Environment: 16; Resources 43; Cost: 13
3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Environment: 7; Resources 81; Cost: 18
4. Lincoln, Nebraska. Environment: 34; Resources 4; Cost: 66
5. St. Louis, Missouri. Environment: 55; Resources 11; Cost: 7
6. Salt Lake City, Utah. Environment: 98; Resources 3; Cost: 26
7. Charlotte, North Carolina. Environment: 6; Resources 60; Cost: 48
8. Springfield, Missouri. Environment: 90; Resources 38; Cost: 1
9. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Environment: 66; Resources 21; Cost: 4
10. Amarillo, Texas. Environment: 18; Resources 31; Cost: 76

Choosing where to launch your business is a very important step, said Anil Gupta, the Michael Dingman chair in strategy, globalization and entrepreneurship in the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

“It is the eco-system that provides the new company with ideas, team members and early investors, Gupta said in a statement.

Cities in the western part of the country appear to be the worst for entrepreneurs. Six of this year’s 10 worst cities for starting new businesses are located in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon.

Ontario, California, is listed as the worst city for startups, as it ranks near the bottom in all three categories: available resources, business environment and cost.

This year’s 10 worst cities to start a business in, and their rankings in each category, are:

1. Ontario, California. Environment: 101; Resources 150; Cost: 118
2. Providence, Rhode Island: Environment: 149; Resources 29; Cost: 100
3. Washington, D.C. Environment: 56; Resources 18; Cost: 149
4. Portland, Oregon. Environment: 105; Resources 103; Cost: 124
5. Jersey City, New Jersey. Environment: 44; Resources 91; Cost: 143
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Environment: 129; Resources 75; Cost: 121
7. Gilbert, Arizona. Environment: 117; Resources 129; Cost: 107
8. Fremont, California. Environment: 62; Resources 24; Cost: 146
9. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Environment: 147; Resources 98; Cost: 64
10 Rancho Cucamonga, California. Environment: 41; Resources 124; Cost: 133
Patricia Lee, an associate professor at Saint Louis University’s School of Law, said there are a number of steps state and local authorities can take to help stimulate entrepreneurship and new business development.

“I would like to see state and local authorities become more innovative, reduce red tape, create inclusive networks that foster leadership and stimulate entrepreneurship,” Lee said. “A few good ideas are supporting incubators and taking the lead on identifying successful ecosystems that are actually getting results.”

State and local authorities should also aim to reduce the barriers to starting and running a business, said Luke Pittaway, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a professor of management systems at Ohio University.

“Consider tax incentives for informal investors, such as those providing love money and angel finance,” Pittaway said. “Look to improve support mechanisms, such as accelerator programs, entrepreneurship education in schools and colleges, incubators, business advice and support and access to entrepreneurial mentoring.”

Tips to Find the Best Business Ideas

If you’ve come to the conclusion that working for someone else isn’t for you, becoming an entrepreneur may be a shrewd move. While starting a business on your own may be difficult, the hardest part might just be coming up with an idea that can be successful.

The International Finance Corporation’s SME Toolkit advises potential entrepreneurs to create three separate lists to determine what might be a good fit. The lists should focus on what you’re good at, what skills you’ve acquired over the years and the things you like to do.

“Keep these three lists in an accessible place (for instance on your desk) for several weeks, and when small business ideas come to you, jot them down in the proper category,” the SME Toolkit advises.

Jason Nazar, co-founder and CEO of Docstoc, believes the best way to generate a business idea is to think of a problem that can be solved. But, he also noted, it’s imperative the problem not just be your own.

“What’s a problem that a lot of people have?” Nazar says in a video on the Docstoc website. “That’s a really good starting point for a great business idea.”

Brad Sugars, founder and chairman of ActionCOACH, wrote in an Entrepreneur.com article that the best business ideas tend to be ones that are most narrowly focused.

“Category leaders tend to be highly focused, and many times, that focus can appear too narrow,” Sugars wrote. “But companies with focus grow precisely because their niche is so distinctive.”

While some like to be as secretive as possible when crafting new business ideas for fear of having a great concept stolen from underneath them, entrepreneur Chris Dixon believes the opposite approach is best.

In his blog, Dixon, the co-founder and CEO of Hunch, advises those who want to start a company to create a spreadsheet where they list every idea they can think of. He advises they then take that spreadsheet and get feedback from as many people as possible, such as venture capitalists, other entrepreneurs, potential customers and people working at big companies in relevant industries.

“The odds that someone will hear an idea and go start a competitor are close to zero,” Dixon wrote. “The odds you’ll learn which ideas are good and bad and how to improve them are very high.”

Money also needs to be taken into consideration. When deciding the best business to pursue, author and franchising expert Joe Matthews believes any idea that is deliberated should also be measured by how profitable it can be.

Matthews encourages potential business owners to run three different financial scenarios — best-case, average case and worst-case — for their prospective business.

“Shoot for the best case, but make sure your decision is based on the average case scenario,” Matthews wrote on Entrepreneur.com. “Also, make sure you can survive the worst case.”

Many good ideas for a new business can be found where you’re already working. In his book “The Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By” (Yale Press, 2008), author Scott Shane writes that interactions entrepreneurs had with customers in previous jobs is a great source of inspiration.

He points to a study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses that shows that a business founder’s prior job was the source of the idea for a new business 43 percent of the time. In addition, 61 percent of new businesses serve the same or similar customers as their founder’s previous employer and 66 percent of the new businesses were in the same or similar product line.

Some Etsy Alternatives for Crafty Entrepreneurs

Third-party online marketplaces have made it easy for crafters and artists to turn their hobbies into businesses. Many of these entrepreneurs choose the popular Etsy as their primary virtual storefront, but it’s certainly not the only one out there. In fact, many sellers operate on multiple platforms to maximize their visibility and sales. Check out this list of alternative marketplaces to help you decide which one is right for your business.

1. aftcra

This Milwaukee-based site promotes handcrafted products made exclusively by American artists and artisans. Erica Riegelman, president of the company, told Business News Daily that her family-owned business promises great customer service and person-to-person responsiveness. aftcra is also dedicated to listening to its buyers and sellers when implementing changes and promotions on the site. Website: aftcra.com

2. ArtFire

Artists from across the globe can gather on ArtFire, a community-oriented marketplace selling a wide variety of handmade items. You can shop by category, occasion, colors or trends. ArtFire even offers the option to post a “wanted” ad for a custom-made product if buyers can’t find what they’re looking for. This is great for sellers who can turn projects around quickly. Website: artfire.com

3. ArtYah

ArtYah is a global creative marketplace for handmade and collectible goods. Artists, crafters, and sellers of antiques, vintage and supplies can all come together to reach buyers from around the world, with no membership or listing fees. CEO Craig Weiss said ArtYah promotes sellers via the marketplace’s social media channels and pay-per-click advertising, so your shop could get instant recognition throughout the ArtYah network. Website: artyah.com

4. Big Cartel

Though it lacks the social community aspect of some smaller sites, Big Cartel is a great place for sellers who want a lot of options for shop customization. The site prides itself on being an “easy-to-use, customizable and awesome” way for artists of all kinds to sell their work. There are four different monthly pricing levels, which determine the number of products you can list, but no further fees are collected from sellers. Website: bigcartel.com

5. Bonanza

Bonanza offers comprehensive category searches, eBay and Etsy importing options, and a ton of features for its community members, like coupons and promotions. There are no membership or listing fees, but Bonanza collects a commission based on the price of items sold: 3.5 percent on items up to $500 and $17.50 plus 1.5 percent on items sold for more than $500. Website: bonanza.com

6. Craft Is Art

When Craft Is Art started in 2009, the site sold only retail jewelry and accessories. Today, it offers handcrafted items in a wide range of categories, as well as fine art pieces, vintage products and wholesale craft supplies. The site boasts no listing or sale fees, unlimited items, and instant payments. Website: craftisart.com

7. DaWanda

DaWanda, a German handmade- and vintage-product marketplace, is populated primarily with European sellers, but with worldwide shipping and PayPal payment systems, U.S. sellers can get in on the action. Staff members monitor trends on the site, and compile lists and features for DaWanda’s members, and detailed search options ensure that you’ll find what you want. A unique feature of DaWanda is its search function for gifts, which populates gift ideas based on recipient and budget. Website: dawanda.com

8. Handmade at Amazon

Want to sell your products to a huge audience? Amazon’s handmade artisan marketplace gives you access to the e-commerce giant’s 285 million-plus active customers. Potential sellers of handmade-only products must apply to join the platform, and once accepted by an Amazon team member, they can list items for free, with a 12 percent fee on sales. Learn more about Handmade at Amazon in this Business News Daily article. Website: services.amazon.com/handmade/handmade.html

9. RebelsMarket

RebelsMarket serves as both an online community and an e-commerce platform for people interested in fashion subcultures like steampunk, goth and pinup. While it doesn’t sell exclusively handmade items, the “world’s largest alternative marketplace” does offer free online stores for sellers, who are screened by RebelsMarket to ensure only the best in “unique and edgy” products. Website: rebelsmarket.com

10. Silkfair

Named for the ancient “Silk Road” trade route, Silkfair aims to be a premier destination for e-commerce buyers and sellers. The site features a wide range of handmade items, collectibles and unique vintage pieces. Silkfair provides numerous benefits for sellers, including security features (fraud protection, SSL encryption, McAfee daily certification) and community social tools to connect with your customers. Website: silkfair.com

11. Storenvy

Storenvy’s website says it’s more than just a place to shop: “It’s about discovering and connecting to amazing brands, people and products.” The site focuses heavily on the unique stories of its indie sellers and offers the opportunity to create a free, completely customized store. Storenvy also takes advantage of social shopping trends and promotes products that its community of buyers have purchased and recommended. Website: storenvy.com

12. Supermarket

Sellers need to apply to Supermarket to join its curated design community, so you’ll need to have a great product. There are no membership or listing fees, but the site collects a 15 percent commission on the sales you make. Supermarket also offers help with SEO and inventory managements for its sellers. Website: supermarkethq.com

13. Yokaboo

Yokaboo is based in the United Kingdom and offers three membership levels. The free version allows for only six product listings, but the second level, which costs roughly equivalent to $25 USD, bumps you up to 50 listings. The third level (costing the equivalent of about $35 USD) gives you 500. Regardless of level, the site will never collect any commissions or fees on your sales. With an easy setup process and a wide variety of payment options, including PayPal, Yokaboo boasts that no technical experience is necessary to design and manage your store. Website: yokaboo.com

14. Zibbet

Zibbet prides itself on featuring individual handmade-only sellers who manage their own creation process, from conception to packaging to shipping. The site eliminates listing and commission fees for its sellers and offers tons of tools and support for sellers. These include a stand-alone, customizable website; Etsy importing; order management; and statistics. Zibbet co-founder Andrew Gray said his site’s customer-service philosophy — “If you ask a question, you deserve an answer” — has earned the company an excellent reputation among sellers of handmade products. Website: zibbet.com