Podcast: 7 Ways to Research a Business Before Hiring Them

In today’s BBB serving the Northwest podcast we discuss seven ways to research a business before hiring them. Listen below to learn how to avoid fake businesses looking to scam you out of your money.

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How Small Businesses Can Run Local Events to Build Awareness and Sales

By David Quinlan, Vice President of Marketing at BBB Northwest

In today’s BBB Northwest podcast, we take a look at how small businesses can build brand awareness and sales by simply giving back to the community. Listen below or continue reading for a full look at how to utilize these partnerships.

As more small businesses turn to social media and digital marketing to build their customer base, the need for sponsored local events seems to disappear into the background. Many fail to realize that every small business has a huge advantage in marketing and sales at their feet: community. Community can be developed in a number of different ways, from solid branding and word of mouth to great product and dedicated customers, and is becoming one of the biggest influences in inbound marketing today. But while building an expansive online community is important, it should never be done at the expense of cultivating the most important community available: the locals.

Local customers are often the most loyal, and they respond positively to community presence. Presenting a name and face to the locals shows that a small business is dedicated to their customers and actively cares about what those customers want and need from the business. This community isn’t easy to build, and it won’t happen overnight, but with some commitment, creativity, and a few awesome events, it can prove to be the most effective form of marketing available by turning even the smallest business into a local landmark.

Small Business Events Blog & Podcast 3.31.16

The What and Where

First it’s important to decide what kind of event to sponsor and what the desired outcome will be. The event should be relevant to the anticipated audience of the company and should never leave anyone questioning “Why is this guy here?” like Captain Morgan sponsoring a kid’s soccer team. Think about what type of message to deliver to the local community and then how to get that message out there. This could be an investment banker giving a seminar at the community center on long term investments, a cooking class for single parents at a restaurant, a city wide chili cook off sponsored by a grocery store, or even a classic car show put on by the local mechanic and an insurance agent. The key is being creative and taking the time to really question the needs of the community as well as the business. If selling products is the goal, host the event in house or at a relevant event. If it’s about thanking the regulars, then maybe host a dinner at a local restaurant. Be smart, be creative.

The When and Why

To make an event effective it needs to be held at the right time and for the right reasons. Hosting an event during the day when everyone is at work or on a busy holiday when they’re tied up with family is not the smartest way to maximize an audience. Consider other events in the area to avoid any conflicts or use them to your advantage. Also keep in mind the purpose for the event. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of hosting a business mixer at a bar, but don’t forget the purpose of being there in the first place: exposure. Work the room, make introductions, and let everyone know who the face of the business really is.

The How

Once a location and time have been set, it’s important to think through any red tape that may arise. Does the location you chose require a permit? How many people are likely to attend and will RSVP’s be necessary? Are there enough products on hand? What kind of budget is available? Will extra staffing be required? The more logistical issues that are dealt with before they come up, the smoother the event will run.

Once Murphy’s Law is taken care of, start promoting. Reach out to the community with flyers, social media, word of mouth, store signs, online ads, local bloggers and media outlets, etc.

Reach Out, Follow Through, and Read the Results

It’s important to capture as much potential customer information as possible both before and during the event. Have a clip board handy for guests to sign in on or drop everyone’s business card into a hat or fish bowl. Hand out flyers asking about guest experience or with a coupon code for joining the mailing list. But be sure to follow up. Make the calls, send the emails, and get in touch with future customers again after all is said and done. Then take a moment to sit back and understand the results. Was the event successful? Why or why not? What can be changed for next time?

Putting in the Time

Supporting the community doesn’t always produce immediate money, but the long term benefits far outweigh the costs. A Saturday here and there may need to be sacrificed, and there may be the occasional late night, but once people in the community start to recognize you by name and start asking how business is, it’s easy to see that every event was all worth it in the end.

 

Utilizing Business Partnerships for Growth

Handshake - Business deal concept

By David Quinlan, Vice President of Marketing at BBB Northwest

In today’s BBB Northwest podcast, we takes a look at how small businesses can leverage the power of partnerships to foster growth initiatives. Listen below or continue reading for a full look at how to utilize those partnerships.

Before you jump in and get too excited about the opportunities that partnerships can present you and your business, you also have to think about the following:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with this partnership? More specifically, how will it help you market and sell your offerings?
  • What type of partnership would be the best fit? You want to make sure that the partnership is mutually beneficial. You also want to make sure that you both share a similar vision when it comes to growing your businesses.

So here are some quick tips on why utilizing partnerships will help with business growth:

Tip #1: Increase Company Awareness

Partnerships can help you expand into different markets, establish new distribution channels, and grow new revenue streams while helping to increase your company’s awareness. This will help you gain exposure with new customers who haven’t heard about your company. What does this all mean? Well, by working with another business that is aligned with what you have to sell, you can both expand your reach and promote your products/services without having to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on advertising.

Tip #2: Co-Marketing Opportunities

No longer are you on your own when it comes to running a local event, an educational webinar and even a contest or giveaway. You’re now in a position to market your company faster than you’d be able to by going through the traditional advertising route. As such, you will then reach potential customers faster, in untapped markets that would otherwise take more time and money to penetrate.

Tip #3: Build Credibility

It’s a no brainer that the partnerships you build will surely be with businesses who are credible. Doing so will help increase your own credibility and in turn, build trust among your customers as well as your potential customers. Therefore, creating that “great first impression” is already a hurdle you’ve jumped over and can focus on initiatives that will drive more sales.

Tip #4: Cost Savings

Aside from just utilizing partnerships to gain awareness and grow sales, partnerships can also serve as a major cost savings. These cost savings could be around the following items:

  • Office supplies.
  • HR specific functions like payroll and employee engagement.
  • Technology discounts on things like Internet, marketing and CRM software, IT help, and much more.

Tip #5: Gain Competitive Edge

Understand where your strengths and weaknesses are compared to the competition. From there, push to build partnerships with companies that make up for your weaknesses and can fill in the gaps to help you gain a competitive edge. Here’s a simple example, let’s say you run a roofing business and you know how to do your job well, but one of the gaps within your ability to grow faster is the fact that you may not have an automated process for people to schedule consultations, which is causing you to miss new opportunities and even calls. As such, you can partner with a technology company that can automate this process for you so that you aren’t losing any sales. And in turn, you can pay this partner a percentage of the sale that comes through.

Utilizing Partnerships Blog & Podcast 3.24.16 GIF

Now to wrap it up, I want to share how we’ve leveraged partnerships here at BBB Northwest. One of our biggest partnerships is with the Portland Trailblazers. As you can imagine, nailing down an NBA sponsorship is extremely pricey – unless you co-op. Cooperative advertising is a cost-effective way for manufacturers, retailers or distributors to reach their target markets. At BBB we were able to leverage a three-year partnership with the Blazers with the help of our BBB Accredited Businesses. Collectively – we have been able to expand our brand and message on a larger platform at a fraction of the cost. CLICK HERE to read more about BBB’s partnership with the Blazers.

Remember, aligning your business with the right partnership can improve your reputation, help evolve your products/services and allow you to tap into new markets at a minimal cost.

Want more info? Subscribe to our blog to read more on how to leverage partnerships, execute goals that are better for business and for upcoming podcasts.

ATGStores.com – a Champion Business

logo_atg_u_stacked

One of my favorite parts of working at Better Business Bureau is celebrating champion businesses – companies that go above and beyond in delivering a positive customer experience.

Kirkland’s ATGStores.com is one of those businesses, but you wouldn’t guess it four years ago. In 2011 ATG had its BBB Accreditation revoked. Instead of challenging the decision, ATG used it as a wakeup call and worked diligently to rebuild and strengthen its brand and reputation.

By May 2014 – ATG had earned their +A rating and newly instated BBB Accreditation. As you can imagine, it was hard work and took countless dedication. This year, ATG was named BBB’s Business of the Year because of its commitment to upholding BBB’s standards and for providing top of the line service for their customers.

I had a chance to sit down with ATG’s team and ask them about their four year journey and how BBB helped play a part in their success.

ATGStores.com

Where is ATGStores.com today compared to where it was four years ago?

E-Commerce was a very new concept when ATGStores.com was founded in 1999. The company saw this as an opportunity to focus on gaining the most market share of all its online retail competitors. This meant being quickest to market while providing the largest assortment of products from the widest variety of brands at competitive retail prices – that is what customers needed.

ATGStores.com joined the Lowe’s Home Improvement family in 2011. We knew with the acquisition came an even brighter national spotlight. It was quickly realized during this transitional period that in addition to product assortment ATGStores.com needed to be a brand that delivers the best customer experience and a company that customers can trust much like they do Lowe’s.

Now, we’re completely focused on the customer experience, and delivering all that’s good to people who choose ATGStores.com. We’re proud of our overall improvement, and are committed to getting even better at what we do.

What are the key drivers to your success?

Our people and our customers. The customer experience and a desire to help people love where they live motivates what we do, but it’s our people who get it done. They work tirelessly as a team to make every aspect of the business the best that it can be.

The key driver to our success has been the commitment from all of our team members to study our customers and learn from them how e-commerce consumers prefer to shop. Our customers share with us so much valuable information on a daily basis. We utilize the data and feedback to improve our online shopping experience, our commitment to accuracy in product quality and delivery, and to serve our customers with the level of care that necessary to ensure a happy customer.

How were you able to successfully change the culture and the bottom line?

Our employees show up every day to do great work. We increased visibility into how each team member and team can make a daily difference in the company’s overall success.

We also make time to celebrate the big and small wins, as a team. By empowering them and letting them do what they know, they helped redefine what was even achievable as a bottom line. Where we are today, we’ve never been more productive and we’re improving by the minute.

Where does BBB fit in the picture?

The BBB is a huge part of our success story. By providing us with more detailed feedback from our customers and opportunities to take care of them, the BBB broadened our vision and understanding regarding how we engage with our community.

It is always easier to identify areas where a business is doing well. Our partnership with the BBB provided us detailed insight into areas where we were not meeting our customers’ needs. The BBB helped expose some of our greatest areas of opportunity for improvement in a categorized way. We fully support the BBB’s standards of commitment to ethical business practices and marketplace trust and are proud to operate within these standards.

For businesses that are in the same position ATGStores.com once was in, what advice do you have for them to achieve the same success you’re seeing today?

Listen to the BBB! Empower your people, focus on your customers and give back to your community. And, realize that you can never do enough in any one of those areas. There’s always more to do; there’s always more that can be done to become a better business.

 

Aim for a Hassle-Free Move with BBB’s Tips

movingmonthMoving is never easy. In fact, it can be a real hassle, especially on a fixed budget. I’ve done it at least a dozen times since I graduated college, moving all across the country. And while I consider myself a savvy consumer, I have made a few big mistakes along the way.

Some of the worst moving stories I’ve heard, however, happened while I was working as a TV news reporter.

I remember interviewing a family who moved to the Seattle area from the Midwest and literally had their personal belongings held hostage by the moving company. The family was verbally quoted one price and then charged more mid-trip. Unable to pay, the movers held on the family’s belongings and starting charging them daily for storage costs.

Eventually law enforcement got involved, but that wasn’t until six months after the family had already moved. They were living in an empty apartment and sleeping on their clothes. They chose to go with movers who quoted them a low a price, and they never got anything in writing—and they learned a tough lesson from that experience.

Sadly, rogue movers are everywhere, giving the industry as a whole a black eye. In March, Better Business Bureau teamed up with the Oregon Department of Transportation in an undercover sting operation where law enforcement busted several illegal movers.

Then for National Moving Month in May, BBB worked with the Washington State Utilities & Transportation Commission to issue a news release with safe moving tips.

Within 24 hours of sending out that release, BBB and UTC appeared on local TV news programs 26 times, reaching an estimated 250,000 households. Each time, consumers were urged to check bbb.org first to find movers they can trust.

Before a customer even packs a box, BBB and UTC offer the following tips for hiring a moving company:

  • Contact the UTC to confirm the company has a valid permit and inquire about any consumer complaints. Call 888-333-9882 or visit utc.wa.gov/movingtips.
  • Check with BBB to find out the company’s rating and determine if there are any complaints filed against them. Start at bbb.org/search.
  • Be sure to receive a free written estimate—moving companies are required to provide one.
  • Get estimates from at least three different companies and do not make a decision based on price alone.
  • Finally, do not sign any incomplete documents. Make sure all forms are as complete as possible.

The bottom line: moving can be hassle-free if you take the time to research businesses and get everything writing. Remember that estimates are only educated guesses, but final prices can vary depending on the actual services performed. From what I’ve seen, most problems arise from disagreements about estimates, liabilities or damages.

If you have an issue with a moving company that you just can’t resolve on your own, file a complaint with BBB and the appropriate government agency.

Heaven forbid you ever have an experience like the Seattle family I interviewed—but if you do, call law enforcement immediately.

#BBBinRipCity: Why the Trail Blazers/BBB Partnership Works

bbb_trailblazers_sponsor_headerIt’s game time! As the Portland Trail Blazers enter the NBA playoffs as a No. 4 seed, capping off what has been an exhilarating 2015 season, many wonder just how far they will go. But for Better Business Bureau, who is a proud sponsor of the Blazers, it can’t get much better than this.

BBB and the Blazers entered into a partnership last year sharing a common interest in educating, community support and consumer protection. And with the help of BBB’s Accredited Businesses, the Blazer/BBB partnership has come to fruition.

So, was it worth it?

You better believe it.

Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation.
Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation in March 2015.

I was in awe last month when I watched 18-year-old Spencer Mitton of Anchorage, Alaska, accept a $10,000 scholarship check from BBB CEO Tyler Andrew in front of 20,000 cheering fans during the Portland Trail Blazers halftime show. It was a huge moment for this young man, BBB and the Blazers because it reinforced the commitment that both organizations made to improve the lives of young consumers.

Like the Blazers, BBB strives to stay relevant—which has been increasingly difficult in today’s digital world. A partnership with the Blazers put BBB back into the mix.

During the 2014-15 season, the Blazers partnership connected BBB with 950,000 fans across the Northwest. With the support of our Accredited Business partners, BBB’s brand and mission was showcased in front of fans during every home game, in the community, at an exclusive watch party, during the first-ever Blazers/BBB Business Summit at the Moda Center and now in the playoffs.

This is a partnership that works—for everyone.

BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.
BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.

“We have already had the pleasure of working successfully with BBB,” said Steve Scott, Trail Blazers Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Marketing & Sales. “Based on our experience with BBB during Secure Your ID Day, we know this partnership will provide security to many deserving members of our community.”

Now with the NBA playoffs in motion, BBB and our participating Accredited Businesses have an even bigger opportunity to leave our mark. As thousands of fans pile into the Moda Center, they’ll see BBB’s seal on the LED board, hear about our mission over the radio and read about us in the Rip City Magazine. This connection drives trust and connects consumers with an added resource to help improve their lives.

Just ask Spencer Mitton, who created this 90-second video about BBB:

His video entry on how BBB protects people from identity theft earned him a scholarship to BYU so he could pursue a career in engineering.

So the next time you’re at a Blazers game, or when you’re watching them on TV during the playoffs, look for the seal and be reassured that the Blazers/BBB partnership is not only working, but making a difference to the people we serve.

Don’t Lose When It Comes to Buying Gameday Seahawks Tickets

Image courtesy of sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

Have you seen the price for Seahawks playoff tickets? It’s crazy—some are going as high as $5,000 each! I don’t blame people for resorting to the online classifieds to find cheap tickets or wheeling-and-dealing with a scalper at the stadium. But I do question how often people let their guard down and throw caution to the wind.

Last year I worked with a news station on a story about fake tickets being sold to the NFC Championship game against the Niners. The station interviewed a guy who bought tickets from someone posting on Craigslist. The buyer thought he was doing everything right. He arranged to meet the man in public on game day, obtained a copy of his driver’s license and inspected the tickets before handing over several hundred dollars in cash. But when the unlucky fan went to the ticket gate, he was turned away because the tickets were fake.

Surprisingly this happens a lot every year, and most cases seem to go unreported. Even though the buyer did everything right in his mind, he still got ripped off. Not only were the tickets fake, but so was the seller’s ID.

The message here is simple. If you buy tickets from an individual or non-verified reseller, you’re rolling the dice. I mean, is it really worth the extra hundred dollars you might save on a ticket if you’re not 100% sure the tickets are real? I guess it depends on whom you ask.

I know one person who made a scalper walk into the stadium first before buying the ticket. He wanted to verify if it was the real deal. It was a gutsy move that worked—but I seriously doubt any ticket seller, legitimate or not, would actually take the time to do that. My suggestion is to stick with the basics:

  • Look for BBB’s seal when buying tickets from an online broker. Use verifiable ticket sellers and resellers that hold vendors responsible to ticket authenticity.
  • Avoid shady transactions where sellers fail to provide contact information or prefer to conduct business in private. Never wire money or fill up a prepaid debit card as a method of payment.
  • Know how an actual playoff ticket looks and feels. Steer clear of tickets printed on flimsy paper, with smeared ink and uneven margins. When in doubt, just walk away.

Sometimes our emotions get the better of us and we want to believe the deal we are seeing is legit. But I caution anyone interested in buying playoff tickets to first take a deep breath, come up with a plan, prepare to call an audible and don’t get blitzed by a scammer wanting to make a buck. Don’t be like the guy interviewed on the news last year—he ended up listening to the game on the radio on his way home from the stadium.

To see more tips on how to avoid getting ripped off during football season, check us out on Facebook and BBB’s Social Hub.

Congratulations! You’ve Been Scammed!

Photo by Psychonaught [public domain]
Photo by Psychonaught [public domain]
I’ve always pictured my parents as invincible—two superheroes who not only gave me sound advice growing up, but were always there to pick me up when I fell. They also taught me to make smart decisions and be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true offers. So you can imagine my surprise when I received a call last week about their major life-changing event. Apparently, my Mom was the “lucky” recipient of a $500,000 sweepstakes prize! All she needed to do was pay $2,000 to cover the administrative fees.

Luckily, they called me first and never wired money or disclosed any personal information. But that one phone call really got me thinking: What if my parents had caved-in and wired money? What if they had given the caller personal information? What could have happened if the bad guys accessed my family’s bank accounts?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens every day to unsuspecting and trusting people. Sweepstakes and lottery scams are real. The scams prey on emotions and people are quick to buy into the idea of instant wealth. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans spend more than $100 million a year on foreign lottery sweepstakes.

At this point, it’s unclear how my parent’s contact information got into the hands of the con artists; they followed the proper procedures—always researching businesses with Better Business Bureau, reading the fine print, ignoring phishing emails and telemarketers, et cetera. The worst part is that we may never know how this caller obtained the phone number. But, learning the red flags of these types of scams can reduce the likelihood of falling victim.

I reminded my parents to exercise caution and anyone who receives similar phone calls or letters should listen closely as well:

  • Never pay for a prize. It is illegal for any company to require a purchase or fee to play a sweepstakes; just ask the Washington State Attorney General. Also, processing fees or taxes will be deducted from prizes and will never need to be paid out-of-pocket.
  • Do not wire money. Wire transfers are a great way to transfer money when you need to quickly get cash to your sister in Iowa or your nephew in Florida; they are a terrible way to get money to people you don’t know and have never met in person, especially if they are “out of the country.” Once funds are transferred, it is nearly impossible to reclaim them. In this case, the scammer specifically requested a wire transfer from my Mom, but she recognized the red flag and didn’t do it.
  • Spot the fakes. Bad guys will oftentimes hijack the names of government agencies and the logos of well-known organizations in attempts to confuse and fool victims. Reputable organizations will not call or email winners; notifications will be delivered by certified mail and never by bulk-rate mail. When in doubt, call BBB or visit bbb.org to see if companies and notifications are legitimate.
  • Never cash checks. Even if checks look real, don’t cash them! Scammers often blast out extremely convincing bogus checks in hopes that even just one person will make a deposit and wire some of the money back—this is called an overpayment scam.

As awesome as it would be to win a ton of money out of the blue, it’s a pretty unlikely event. Nationally, complaints about prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries ranked #6 in 2013 with the Federal Trade Commission. Victims of mail fraud should contact their local postmasters or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by phone, toll-free at 1-800-372-8347, or online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

And while my blood is still boiling over the fact that someone targeted my parents, keeping a cool head is key. Whatever you do, avoid the gimmicks and hard sells and learn how to spot the red flags; this will turn you into the invincible superhero that helps others with sound advice.