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2013

PricingStrategies_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

One of the most vexing problems facing many small businesses is coming up with suitable prices for their products and services. For example, some new businesses will launch with heavily discounted prices in an attempt to build a sizable customer base quickly and establish a foothold in their market. Others will charge premium rates, but fail to show how the customer will get added benefits for the higher cost. Finding the sweet spot in pricing involves research, testing, patience, and an unwavering belief in the value that the small business provides.

 

Know your expenses

"You have to start by looking at all of your costs. This is where [many] people go wrong," says Janet Attard, CEO of Business Know-How. "Also, if they're starting out as a one-person business, they don't think ahead to when they will need employees and how those costs may change."

 

Businesses generate both seen and unseen costs that need to be taken into account. For example, besides obvious overhead expenses—such as employee compensation and benefits, insurance, Social Security taxes, office supplies, rent, and utilities—Attard says that business owners often forget to pay themselves a salary and factor that in their monthly expenses. And while a business that sends workers out on the road, such as plumbing, will take fuel and vehicle maintenance costs into consideration, the costs of running the office while the technician is on call need to be calculated, too.

 

There are a variety of ways to find out standard pricing in a given niche. "You can simply talk to the people in your industry and find out what they’re charging," Attard says. "Or look up people in noncompeting areas and find out what they're charging. Sometimes you can find out from customers themselves what they usually pay." She also recommends the Small Business Administration's pricing guide.

 

Charging the lowest price for your goods and services may actually backfire in some circumstances, Attard warns. For example, new businesses that significantly undercut their competitors in the business-to-business sector may make the customer think that they won't be able to handle the job successfully or that they are desperate for work. On the other hand, businesses that charge higher than average must prove that they offer and deliver more than the competition. "For somebody just starting out, coming in the middle range of the going prices may be a good idea," Attard says.

 

PricingStrategies_PQ.jpgDevelop an image

Businesses that have a clear idea of who their customers are may find it easier to set their prices and cater to their audience. "It's not like you have to [sell to] everybody," says Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor. "It's okay to turn some business away. Some retailers in particular deal with hagglers who believe you're gouging them to begin with. You don't want to attract those kinds of customers."

 

The actual retail store experience can affect how you set prices as well, Phibbs says. For example, customers who shop at a neighborhood grocery store that displays produce in makeshift bins might expect to pay less than what an upscale retailer with nicer lighting and artful presentations would charge for the same products. "Self-image can play a huge factor in how you price your merchandise," Phibbs explains.

 

While consumers may find cheaper prices for some products online, a brick-and-mortar retailer that has the item in stock at a higher price may make the sale, simply because the item is available then and there. "Americans are getting very, very tired of waiting," Phibbs says. "A good small business is going to help people see that and [prove that] advantage to the customer in front of them."

 

Be transparent

"The first time I set prices, I didn't have a clue [about what I was doing]," says Naomi Poe, founder of Better Batter Gluten Free Flour, a Pennsylvania-based allergy-free baking mix company. "At the time, our industry was not developed, so there wasn't anything to compare against. I just took my costs and multiplied them by two. I happened to come in right where people wanted to pay, but I don't necessarily recommend [my experience] as a pricing strategy."

 

Since that less than well planned out opening in 2006, Poe has taken a more systematic approach to pricing her products. Today, after calculating her operating expenses and profit margins, she surveys her biggest competitors in North America and compares their prices, and then works backwards until she comes up with a price that fits her business's position in the marketplace.

 

SBC newsletter logo.gif"It's all formulaic, but at the same time there's a lot of consumer psychology in there," Poe explains. "You push the numbers up and say nobody's going to buy at that price. You push the numbers down and say we can't afford to do it that way. So you keep calculating until you find the right point."

 

Poe works consistently to maintain a transparent, loyal relationship with her customers. She notifies them in advance when outside forces—such as rising fuel or commodity prices—are about to send her prices higher. Conversely, Poe rewards them with lower prices whenever possible. For example, when she was able to reduce the packaging costs on bulk orders, she passed the savings on to her customers. Poe also offers stable pricing options whether a purchase is made online or in-store, protecting both the retailer and the consumer.

 

According to Poe, she only had sales of $3,000 when she opened in 2006, but racked up $705,000 in sales last year. "Transparency and honesty in this day and age are as important as product quality and bottom line price," Poe says. "If you do right by your customer, they'll do right by you."

Google_Analytics_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.


When was the last time you looked at your dashboard and reports for Google Analytics? If it’s been a while, you may be in for a bit of a shock. In October, Google made significant changes to the reports available through Google Analytics. The navigation you may have been familiar with has changed, but the new format offers a greater level of detail that small business owners can use to market themselves more effectively.


“One major change to the user interface that has a big impact on small business owners is a reframing of the standard reports into Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions,” says Yehoshua Coren, founder and principal of Analytics Ninja LLC, a Google analytics consulting firm. “These three areas are core for any business to measure their success.”


“The Google Analytics team has simplified what is sometimes an overwhelming amount of data,” Coren explains. “This helps small businesses with fewer resources for analytics to more effectively use the tool.”


Acquisition: Formerly titled “traffic sources”, the acquisition section details where the visitors to your website are coming from. The reports here include: overview, channels, all traffic, all referrals, campaigns, keywords, cost analysis, AdWords, social and search engine Optimization.


“The channel grouping is more than a cosmetic change,” Coren says. “It creates a number of standard ‘buckets’ for user traffic sources by default. These groupings fairly accurately describe the way that most users arrive at a website; such as organic search, social, paid search, email.” Channel groupings are customizable. This is important, he points out, because if a business sells products via comparison shopping engines (like Shopzilla, or NexTag), they can add shopping engines to their channel groupings.


Google_Analytics_PQ.jpgKnowing which one of many routes a visitor has taken to find your website has always been of tremendous marketing value. That’s what makes the new multi-channel funnel report so critical to small business owners. Coren explains, “A user may click on a link that was shared in their Facebook feed and visit a site, and then return to the site a few days later after doing a search for the company by name on Google. With the previous set of standard reports, the website owner would only know that Google was the source of their conversion. With multi-channel funnels, they can see that their social media efforts are paying off.”


Behavior: In the behavior section, you’ll find information about how your website visitors act while they’re on your website. The reports here are: overview, behavior flow, site content, site speed, site search, events, AdSense, experiment and in-page analytics. Examining this data will reveal how visitors move around your website, where they spend the most time, and what type of information is most relevant to them. Additionally, you’ll see how long visitors stay on any one page of your website.


“We’ll see people who stay on a page for less than 10 seconds. That tells me they weren’t interested in that particular item,” says George Anderson, a broker at Greasy Machines, an international dealer of manufacturing equipment. “That’s where things get interesting. If they go to another type of machine, and continue researching, we’re getting a better understanding of how our customers think, and how they’re moving through the sales process. But if they leave the site entirely after that initial 10-second visit, they may not be the customer for what we’re selling.”

This information is important because it reveals how effective you’ve been at presenting content that’s relevant and compelling to your audience. Online activity is a direct parallel to brick-and-mortar purchasing behavior: just as retailers have a better chance of making a sale the longer a customer spends inside their stores, the more time a user spends on your site the more likely they are to buy.


The site search report can help you pinpoint areas of great interest to your customers—and may cause you to rethink your web design to make the most popular products or services easier to find. Remember, for every customer that’s willing to search, there’s at least one who will abandon your sales channel when they can’t easily find what they’re looking for without searching.


You can also compare the acquisitions overview report side-by-side with the behavior overview report. This gives you a succinct view of where visitors come from and what they’re doing on your site. Couple this information from the data from another new report—the demographics section, available in the audience tab—and you’ve got a powerful customer profile you can use to guide your marketing decisions. Be ready to work with your webmaster on this one, as getting comprehensive demographic data requires some minor changes to the Google Analytics code, which is typically not a do-it-yourself task.


Conversion: In the conversion section, Google measures any action that your customer takes that involves going beyond passive engagement. Examples include filling out a contact form, placing an order, or watching a video. Google Analytics allows website owners to determine what type of actions they want to keep an eye on.


“We chose to track two types of conversions,” said Ken Scarbrough of Ultimate Dive Travel. “We tracked both requests for further information about a dive destination, and then reservations actually placed.” Tracking multiple streams of conversion data can provide some surprises: the dive destinations that created the most requests for information were not necessarily the destinations that divers were committing to visit. “Delving into why there was this disconnect allowed us to adjust our messaging and special offers, which helped us sell more trips to those destinations.”


SBC newsletter logo.gifGoogle Analytics: What to expect going forward

“The acquisition, behavior, and conversion framework provides small business owners with an accessible way to think about their customers’ online journey,” Coren says. “It is an improved way of expressing what has made up the core of web analytics since its emergence.

“It’s a major shift in how Google enables data collection,” agrees Adam Ware of SwellPath, a digital marketing agency that helps companies decipher their data to enable business decision making. He foresees a future where Google Analytics’ reach and relevance will extend even further than it currently does. "You'll see small businesses bringing in point-of-sale and other offline data. It'll become more of a collection point for all types of customer interaction—not just website activity."


This makes it clear that the time for small business owners to begin familiarizing themselves with the new Google Analytics reports is now.

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