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6 common blunders small businesses should avoid

Successful UPS customers share mistakes they made along the way – and how they recovered.

UPS customers share their hard-won knowledge, including the mistakes they wished they hadn't made.

Bloopers. Everybody makes them. As Lisa King, owner of Brownie Points Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, points out, "You can't be successful without making mistakes." The trick is to learn from them.

We talked to several successful UPS customers about their hard-won knowledge. Here are six easy mistakes you can avoid:

1. Not empowering employees
Jennifer Strickland of River Street Sweets in Savannah, Ga., recalls inadvertently making it hard for her employees to solve problems with customers' orders. "Now, when someone calls and says, 'I only got one, but I ordered 10,' we let the customer keep the one and immediately reship all 10," Strickland says. "We empower employees to resolve problems right away. When you fix something, you usually have a customer for life."

2. Choosing the wrong carrier
In the early days at Brownie Points, King selected an unreliable shipping company. "We had daily pickups but had to follow up every day to make sure the carrier was coming. One day we had a huge holiday shipment going out and the carrier didn't show up," King recalls.

King quickly solved the problem by switching to UPS. "During our busy season, UPS leaves a truck on-site, which we can load as we process shipments," she says.

3. Thinking too far outside the box
Successful businesses often fill a niche in the market in an innovative way. But as Ed Scavuzzo, president of Kansas City Steak Company, points out, you need to innovate within your ability to adequately promote and sell the new product. "You can make some adjustments to products and make them better than your largest competitor," he says. But if you step too far outside the box, Scavuzzo has found that, as a small business, he doesn't always have the marketing dollars needed to capitalize on the innovation.

4. Failing to apply dimensional weight calculations
When Jim Alderson first started Nitro Bus R/C & Hobbies in Olathe, Kan., he didn't factor dimensional weight calculations into his shipping estimates. "After about eight orders that caused me to go in the red on shipments, I learned my lesson," Alderson says.

5. Website malfunctions
Fifty percent of revenue at River Street Sweets is generated on the company's website. Strickland recalls a holiday season riddled with problems because the store's website developer had written bad code related to ZIP Code tables. After the holiday rush, she had a better developer rebuild the site and used the opportunity to incorporate new features.

6. A confusing e-commerce site
One of the improvements Strickland added to the new River Street Sweets website was fixed-rate shipping. It helped her win back customers and attract new ones. "We've seen a huge lift in our orders as a result because moving from fluctuating shipping costs to a set rate takes any unpleasant surprise out of buying online," she says.

Alderson, too, has made his site easier for customers. He recently redesigned his sales cart to offer cost and arrival information for several UPS shipping services. The new site also incorporates package tracking so customers can easily see their shipment status. "This saves me time and money," Alderson says. He expects that the customer-friendly improvements will also boost sales.

Made a mistake that others can avoid? Figured out a way to make a smooth recovery after a blooper? Tell us below by commenting.

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