Customer reviews and testimonials are one of the best ways to increase sales. This is especially true for small-and medium sized businesses that don’t have a huge marketing budget.

Consider this statistic: 90 percent of shoppers say they take online reviews and testimonials into consideration before they make a purchase. Therefore, if you aren’t actively encouraging customers to comment on your products and services, you are potentially losing out on a lot of business.

So why is it so hard to get customers to write reviews? Well, maybe customers aren’t really the issue. Instead maybe we should look at ourselves and ask why it is so hard to ASK customers for reviews? And asking for reviews is difficult. There is no way around it. It’s kind of like asking someone to pay you a compliment. It just feels wrong. That’s why so many business owners back away from the task.

While this aversion is natural, it also can be costly. Customer reviews and testimonials are some of the most effective marketing techniques out there. The best part are that they are absolutely free. In light of these facts, business owners simply can’t pass up the opportunity to ask customers to review their products and services.

While asking for testimonials is never easy, there are some ways make it as painless and effective as possible.

Build solid relationships. Asking for reviews face-to-face or over the phone is the most effective way to get someone to agree to write a testimonial. But here’s the caveat: you need to have a relationship with that person. So make sure you know your customers (which is the best way to keep them loyal in the first place). Customers that know you and appreciate your products or services will be more than happy to help you out with a testimonial. The fact that you took the time to actually stop in or call them is simply icing on the cake.

Email it the right way. In some cases asking for reviews by email is your only choice (and make sure it is before you ask this way). When requesting a review via email take the following steps:

  • Make sure the email comes from someone they know. Their sales rep, for example. And make sure the email is signed by the person who sent the email.
  • Include a prominent call-to-action button in the email that makes it very clear to your customer where to go to submit his or her review. It also encourages them to submit the review sooner rather than later.
  • Use plain text.

Evaluate. If you aren’t getting a lot of positive responses, go back to the drawing board and evaluate your approach.

Obtaining customer reviews can be a tricky prospect. However, the payoff is too significant to ignore!

We’ve all been there. Everyone is talking about the latest movie, fitness craze or current event and instead of admitting we have no idea what they are talking about, we nod knowingly and pretend like we do. After all, who wants to come across as out of touch?

Many small business owners admit to feeling this way when the conversation turns to content marketing. While content marketing has been around for a while-and has proven itself to be a powerful tool-there is no shame in admitting that you aren’t exactly sure how it works.

Thankfully, you don’t have to admit this in front of a large group of people. In fact, read the primer below and you won’t have to admit it at all!

  • What is it? Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach in which businesses create and distribute content designed to appeal to a particular audience. Unlike advertising copy that tries to entice a huge swath of consumers to buy goods or services, content marketing helps a business connect, educate and inspire a particular group of people. In other words, it attracts people who are likely to be interested in what a business is selling, and when they are ready to make a purchase, they will think of that business first.
  • Who should use it? Everyone. The best thing about content marketing is that it works for every business, no matter what the industry. Whether you sell hair care products or farm implements, content marketing can work for you. The key is to provide your audience with a steady flow of unique information that helps solve a problem or improves their lives. In the process of helping others you come to be seen as a thought leader in the industry and someone people can trust.
  • How do you get started? The first step in content marketing is defining exactly who your target audience is and what they need. Only then can you begin producing content that will draw your target audience in. You also need to make sure your target audience finds this content. This is accomplished by determining where they hang out online. Do they watch videos on YouTube? Read articles on LinkedIn? Frequent online industry publications? Once you know where they are, you will know where to post your content.
  • Content marketing isn’t complicated but it does take time and effort. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you won’t see results overnight. After all, it takes time for people to get to know you and learn to trust you.

The holidays are billed as the most wonderful time of the year. However, many last-minute holiday shoppers may beg to differ.

If you own a business and are looking to attract shoppers short on time and gift ideas, we’ve got some simple hints to allow you to do just that. Here are some ideas on how to attract harried shoppers and help everyone get back into the holiday spirit:

1. Keep it simple. The one thing last-minute shoppers really want is more time. If you own a brick and mortar store, display gifts at the front of the store and separate them according to recipient. For example, you could have a display of gifts for teachers, gifts for kids, gifts for the person who has everything. The idea is to get people in and out as quickly as possible. If you have a website, its homepage should be set up in a similar fashion.

2. Maximize mobile. Where do most shoppers turn for ideas on what to buy? Their smartphones. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly and uses keywords that are popular with Google right now, including “cool gifts” and “best gifts.” It also is important that your listing on local search directories has your holiday shopping hours listed.

3. Remember that communication is key. Since shoppers are on their smartphones a lot this time of year, sending emails and texts with special coupons or one-day sales promotions are a great way to get customers in the door.

4. Consider social media giveaways. Contests always boost social media engagement, especially this time of year. Ask followers to post their favorite holiday cookie recipe or a picture of their ugliest holiday sweater. At a certain time each day pick a winner and award that winner a coupon or free gift card from your store.

5. Don’t forget the gift cards. Fifty percent of shoppers say they will buy gift cards for presents. Sweeten the pot by having cute packaging for those gift cards or offer a discount when multiple gift cards are purchased.

The holidays should be a time to concentrate on family and friends, not to worry about getting everything crossed off a massive to-do list. When you make the season more pleasant for stressed out, last-minute shoppers, chances are these same shoppers will become loyal customers all year round!

The holidays are just around the corner and if you are like most business owners, you are scrambling for ideas on how to thank your customers for their patronage. Sure, you can send them a tin of cookies or a desk calendar, but are you really going to stand out from the crowd that way?

Instead of the usual (and, frankly, boring) holiday thanks-for-your-business gifts, we’ve come up with a few ideas that are sure to get you noticed and make your customers thankful to be doing business with someone who really gets them.

1. Make a charitable donation. This is an especially good idea if you know a charity near and dear to a client’s heart. If they support a particular cause, for example the local animal shelter, send a donation in their name to that particular charity.

2. A handwritten note. When was the last time you received a handwritten note from someone you do business with? The fact that such notes are so rare is why this gesture makes such an impression.

3. A funny, festive video featuring you and your staff. Shoot a short video thanking your clients for being the best of the best, upload it to social media and tag your clients. All you need is a smart phone and some creative staff members to produce it. The best part is, if it’s especially creative or funny, you might find yourself with some free publicity if it gets liked and shared by the recipients!

4. A bottle of wine from the year their company was founded. A bottle of wine is always a nice gift and the year on the bottle shows you did your homework. Add a note saying what a good year it was for wine and business!

5. A credit with Uber or Lyft. Include a note saying something along the lines of ‘tis the season to be jolly and safe! This shows you really care for them and want them to be safe!

Whether you use one of the ideas listed above or come up with something different, the key is to make it as personal as possible. After all, the best way to build strong relationships with your clients is to make sure they know you understand and value them. Therefore, if you take the time to choose a gift that really speaks to them on a personal level, you will accomplish much more than just thanking them for their business!

No one goes out of their way to lose a client. However, it is surprisingly easier than you might think. What’s worse, you may be undermining yourself without even knowing it.

If you want to keep your clients (and unless you have a really troublesome client, we know that you do), it is important that you avoid certain behaviors that you may not even realize are driving customers away. Here are the five biggest customer faux pas:

1. Talk about yourself (all the time). Sure you want your customers to know what a great business you have but it is much more important that you concentrate on their business and what they want and need from you.

2. Communicate exclusively by email (unless that is what they want). It is important that you communicate with clients in the manner that they prefer. However, if you don’t ask and only use email, most customers will pick up on the fact that you are avoiding taking the time to have a real conversation with them. Picking up the phone and meeting them face-to-face shows that you value them enough to take time out of your busy day to talk with them.

3. Only get in touch with them when you want their money. Nothing will alienate clients faster than only approaching them when it’s time for them to pay a bill or when you want to sell them a new product or service. Avoid this pitfall by periodically checking in to see how business is going or pass along something you read that might be of interest to him or her.

4. Always be billing. If you bill clients every time they call you, you can bet they won’t reach out to you very often. And soon they won’t reach out to you at all! While you should be paid for your time, don’t go overboard. Instead, see these communications as ways to build a personal and professional relationship—something that is sure to pay off in the long run.

5. Ignore problems. Ignoring problems that have already occurred or that may occur, is an excellent way to lose a client. Clients are surprisingly understanding if something goes wrong provided you take responsibility for it or alert them to it beforehand. While it is a difficult conversation to have, it always pays off. It also helps to build trust.

We all get busy. However, if you don’t treat clients the way they deserve, they probably won’t be your clients for very long.