How to Increase Customer Engagement with a Loyalty Program

A new customer is good for business, but it is repeat customers who make the business a success. Once a client has purchased your product, what strategies do you have in place to promote customer retention? One strategy to consider is a customer loyalty program to reward returning customers every time they make a purchase.

Many small business owners wonder if a loyalty program is worth the financial and time investment; however, it costs companies seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. In fact, 51 percent of the top 100 retailers in the US have a type of customer loyalty program. The retailers who offered rewards programs earned two to three times as much annually as the retailers who didn’t have a loyalty program in place. Based on the research, loyalty programs are highly effective.

 

Types of Loyalty Programs

There are different ways to create a loyalty program, and the one that’s right for you depends on your specific industry.

 

Points System

A points system is the most common type of customer loyalty program. Credit card companies are famous for offering reward points to customers, but many other businesses do so as well, such as Bloomingdale’s, Walgreens, Gilt, Best Buy, and more. This is done by offering repeat customers points for money spent. The main caveat to this type of loyalty program is not to make the conversion difficult or hard to understand, which many companies inadvertently do, or place strict limits on point redemptions, such as blackout dates. A simple and efficient program would offer 1 point for every $1 spent.

It can be advantageous to offer points not just for purchases, but also to encourage customers to market your business. You can reward clients who share your site’s link, write a review on a social media site, bring in new customers or check into your business online.

 

Member Only Cards

Another way to promote customer retention is to utilize member only cards that give access to exclusive discounts and promotions. CVS offers a free ExtraCare card that tracks customers’ purchases to suggest items based on their shopping history, as well as offer store coupons and other membership rewards.

Customers need to provide contact information to receive a member only card, which allows the brand to communicate with them via coupons, announcements and sales, thereby actively encouraging customer retention.

A disadvantage is that some individuals may forget or lose their card or coupons, which is why many retailers have created apps for members. By setting up an account on a store’s app, customers can access exclusive coupons and promotions on their phone without having to keep track of a physical card.

 

Punch Cards

Punch cards are good options for businesses that offer inexpensive products or services that are needed often. A customer is rewarded with a free item or another perk after receiving all the punches on the card. Businesses that can benefit from punch cards are carwashes, hair salons, fast food restaurants, children’s indoor playgrounds, etc.

The problem with punch cards is that they are small and made out of paper, so they often get lost or damaged. Instead of giving out punch cards, consider keeping track of your customers’ purchases on your end by creating a digital punch card through a customer retention management (CRM) system. This software allows business owners to enter and track clients’ information and alert them about their transactions and points through text messages.

 

There are many ways business owners can increase customer retention with loyalty programs. However, setting up and advertising these rewards is a financial investment not many small business owners can afford. A small business loan from IOU Financial can help in purchasing the required software and other materials to increase sales with a loyalty program.

Get Your Small Business Found Online with Content Marketing

Remember when you launched your small business’ first website? It was probably an exciting day. Thoughts of new customers and an ever-increasing number of visitors had you patting yourself and your team on the back for a job well-done. Of course, it probably didn’t take long to realize that a website isn’t something that is launched and simply forgotten. Real effort must be put into earning credibility with search engines, attracting more traffic, engaging those visitors, and encouraging them to share your message with others. The constant race to rank higher in search engine results in order to be found by new customers can quickly consume a lot of time and attention. Constant changes to search engine optimization (SEO) protocol and site ranking algorithms can be hard to keep track of and make reaching those upper echelons of search results harder and harder to achieve.

 

Rest assured though, that if you treat your website like one of your top sales people, you’ll have less to worry about. The constantly changing world of SEO typically revolves around trying to weed out the imposters, and reward the authentic players.  One of the ways that search engines such as Google evaluates a website is whether it contains unique, original content that engages real visitors. By arming your website with new content on a regular basis like you might do for a sales team, you can demonstrate that you have a lot of knowledge and valuable information to share.

 

Now, we admit there is a lot more to increasing a website’s rankings and “findability,” including website code structure, metadata and tags, etc.  However, today we’re going to stick with covering a handful of content ideas that should be within reach for most small business owners.

Brush Up Your Writing

Written content, which can cover everything from blogging to forums, on your website can be used not only to attract new visitors, but engage them for longer periods of time once they arrive.  Ensuring that content is constantly refreshed, updated and innovative will make it easier to climb to the top of the proverbial SEO mountain. Making sure that your blog has new entries on a regular basis will alert search engines’ algorithms that your business is an active online participant and deserves the public’s attention. It is important to note that you should write content for your customers, not search engines!

The Power of Video

One area that is often overlooked when it comes to SEO-focused content is video. Embedding videos into your website can be a great way to not only engage your customers, but also trigger Google to recognize your site quicker. When posting videos, ensure that they are tagged with the correct keywords that are relevant to your business or what you’re selling. For example, if you own an online-based clothing store you wouldn’t want to title your video “Video 1”. Instead, a title such as “New Spring Dresses” will add valuable keywords to your video and improve search results, as well as show up in the new “Video” section of Google and Bing’s results page.

 

In addition to adding important keywords to your videos, you also want to make sure that the videos you use for your website are high-quality and viewer friendly.

Ensuring that your videos are quick to download and are visually inspiring will keep your audience‘s attention longer and show that your brand is savvy and invested in retaining your clients.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The same rule of keeping things visually appealing also is important for the photography shown on your website. For online retailers, product photos are paramount to success. Regularly updating your product photos and landing page photos are important for customer engagement and search engine optimization.  With a plethora of free photo and video editing tools available, any company with any sized budget can look like a million bucks!

 

You work hard to make sure your products and services are high quality, so make sure your website and online presence reflects that! If you don’t have the time or money to invest in making improvements to your content, consider a loan from IOU Financial to get you the funds you need to get the job done. When done correctly, you will surely see the return in your online traffic and sales!

5 Examples of Incredibly Helpful Small Business Advisors

5 EXAMPLES OF INCREDIBLY HELPFUL SMALL BUSINESS ADVISORS

Ask nearly any successful business owner about whether they achieved their growth alone, and you’re likely to hear the same answer: they had some help and guidance along the way. As a small business owner, it doesn’t take long to realize that you can’t be an expert in every single facet of business: sales, HR, marketing, partnerships, finance, etc. Realizing this sooner than later can have a significant impact on your business. Seeking out the right advisors to fill your knowledge gaps can accelerate growth, reduce your stress, and help you solve problems you may be struggling with.

Strengthening the areas of your small business that you may not have experience with can be done through helpful consultation from an advisor. This can be done informally through friends and family or formally by paying a professional firm in a specific area. It’s a matter of finding the right people that can offer you expertise in your area of need, along with determining what is crucial to your business’ success. When thinking about who to collaborate with, consider these five types of advisors.

  1. Financial Advisor – Managing your company funds is not as simple as balancing your personal checkbook, but it is imperative to a successful business. In order to get the most out of your day-to-day cash flow while building for the future, it’s important to have a trusted financial advisor or accountant familiar with small businesses. Keeping thorough records, maintaining a regular budget, and planning accordingly for future opportunities or investments are all areas that a financial advisor will focus on in order to steer you towards success.
  2. Industry Expert – While you may know a lot about your specific industry, if you are the only one within your business you consider an “industry expert,” and you are not consistently engrossed in the latest topics, this could be a problem. Seeking out additional perspectives on important matters can be imperative for business development. Arming yourself with information from an industry expert, whether it’s a direct contact, knowledge from books or websites where they share information, or a peer group focused on your industry, you can gain additional insight you may not have originally considered. Knowledge equals power, so why not consult with those that have the most knowledge?
  3. Marketing/Branding Expert – Many small business owners achieve their early success from hard work and hustle, but to continue that growth, marketing and branding are crucial. Spreading the word about your company and clearly defining messaging that communicates what your company does is paramount for building a customer base. This is where a marketing/branding expert is especially helpful because there are many channels to consider, and nuances associated with each that could determine the difference between a positive or negative ROI on your business efforts.
  4. Another Entrepreneur – If you network with other entrepreneurs (if you don’t get started now!) you can get invaluable tips. In this case, it doesn’t matter if this person is in your industry or not. Another entrepreneur in a different industry can offer impartial insight and offer advice about struggles and opportunities that they have been through as a fellow small business owner. You never know what you can learn from listening to another business owner’s challenges and how they are overcoming them.
  5. Human Resources Professional – You might not think you’re ready for an HR expert yet, but as your business grows, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of human resources. When you are hiring, firing, handling payroll taxes and more, it’s imperative that you know the legalities for each area and the best ways to address specific circumstances. Just a few hours with an HR professional can give you the information you need to take care of these various areas in the best way possible, and most importantly, to avoid any legal situations that could negatively impact you and your business.

Running a business can sometimes feel lonely, but you should never feel like you need to stand alone. The key is to find the right people that can offer you exceptional advice to help bring your company to the next level.

Keep tabs on the IOU Financial blog for more advice for small business owners.

Marketing on a Small Budget

You might have the best product or service in the world, but unless people learn about it, your small business is not going to get very far. Marketing is essential for every business, but it doesn’t have to be too expensive. Here are some tips for getting your message out while keeping your cash at home:

  1. Do Your Own Market Research
    Make a list of what your customers want, the questions they ask, the problems they want solved, their gender and age, etc. This will help you target your marketing efforts by addressing their concerns directly.
  2. Clarify Your Message
    Don’t spend a lot on fancy brochures without first ensuring that your message is clear and concise. If a young person can’t understand your message, then it might need simplification. Clarity above all else!
  3. Public Relations on the Cheap
    Do things to get your business’ name out there, like volunteering your offerings at charity events, running a blog and inviting guest bloggers, commenting in other persons’ blogs, and attending networking or civic events.
  4. Hire a Small Marketing Agency
    Identify a promising small marketing agency and, at least at the beginning, follow their advice. They will understand you are on a tight budget — they probably are too — but nonetheless will have innovative ideas for you. If they don’t, try another one, but give the first one a little time to prove itself.
  5. Look for Free Marketing Advice
    Articles such as this one provide useful information for free. The library is another great resource, and many marketing agencies are willing to perform a free initial consultation.
  6. Promote Word-of-Mouth Advertising
    Nothing is more effective than WoM. Excite your customers by offering loyalty programs, contests and raffles, excellent service and solutions that work. Don’t be shy — ask your satisfied customers to help get the word out. Many people just want to be asked.
  7. Create Your Own Marketing Materials
    Desktop programs are so powerful today — all you need is a little time and practice to harness that power to produce your own collateral material. Brochures, flyers, logos, company designs, websites and business cards are all fairly easy to produce. Take your own photos and incorporate them into your materials. Later on, when business is booming, you can hire professional photographers and designers for a more polished look.
  8. Treat Your Vendors Well
    A happy vendor can help your business, but a disgruntled one can be poison. Make sure you pay your vendors on time! Even better, pay them in full in advance. Make them your friends, then ask them to endorse you and offer to reciprocate.
  9. Create Joint Marketing Efforts
    Suppose you own a bakery next door to an independent coffee shop, to which you supply yummy goodies. In turn, you steer your customers next door for a nice hot cup of Joe. Go a step further and take out joint ads that tout both of your places. It’s synergistic and will save you money. Adapt this example to your own circumstances.
  10. Exploit Your Website
    You can use various tools, often at no charge, to tell you how well your website is working. How many visitors do you get, and how many of them become customers? Attract new traffic by publishing useful, authoritative articles that will help rank your site high in search engine results. Use search engine optimization techniques throughout your website — you can read up on these or hire a person to help. Don’t forget to use all the social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In, to broaden your marketing efforts.

As you can see, there are plenty of low-cost ways to market your business. You may not see results right away, but persevere and you’ll probably be delighted with the ultimate outcome.

 

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