After 12 years of business, our company has grown from a classroom training center into an online retailer. As a company, we have learned a lot about small business and selling online. Here are the top 12 things we have learned together.
1. You cannot be everything to everyone. Each customer we run into has different needs. Some need CPE hours and some just want quick training on Microsoft Word. However, there is no way to provide every single type of software training that exists and have it cover every possible version. For example, Microsoft Office applications update about every 3 years. Does that mean that just because most people purchased the new Microsoft Office 2013 that we should stop selling the 2010 and 2007 versions? Should we continue to sell the older versions, too? These tough questions come up frequently. There is a fine line we must walk between offering enough training to cover as many people as we can while not running our instructors, sales people, and clerical team into the ground. The hard truth is- we just cannot be everything to everyone. We try to offer training on as many versions as possible while concentrating on the newest and most popular material first. (And we try not to get stressed out!)
2. Good customer service is about building a relationship. We have a strict phone policy in our office- no more than 3 rings. We strongly believe in always having an actual human being available for our customers whenever they need us. We also practice “under promise and over deliver.” While this may seem like an overused phrase, it really does ring true. Whether we are selling a customer a year of online training or helping an older customer install a digital download, it’s important that each customer feels important and has a pleasant experience. We would not be here, 12 years later, without them!
3. You have to adapt to changing technology. When you sell a product such as ours, you have to constantly be adapting to new technologies. We have gone from selling tutorials on CD-Roms, to DVDs, to now pushing on-line learning, digital downloads, and other forms of training that can be used on smart phones and tablets. If we were still trying to sell big, bulky training on 5 or 6 CD-Roms, we would not be around!
4. You have to adapt to customer attitudes. When TeachUcomp first began, our customers were taking time off of work in order to travel and attend our classes. Now, we have customers all over the world who will study in the comfort of their home. These customers need information quickly so they can get what they need and then get back to work. We keep this in mind when creating our tutorials, and try to make it as efficient as possible while still packing quality content into the tutorials. While each tutorial contains hours of video lessons, they are broken up into lessons so that someone can learn about each feature one at a time. This saves time and lets our tutorials fit into the busy life of many professionals.
5. Goal setting is huge. Most large retailers have goals that they set every day. However, this practice can sometimes be overlooked in smaller businesses. With a product like ours, it can be hard to find the correct price point and the correct goal to set since we sell information. In order to make sure everyone is on the same page, we have goal setting meetings constantly. Everyone is on the same page for the goal of the day, month, and quarter.
6. Training employees correctly takes time and effort, but is worth it in the long run. When I first started at TeachUcomp, I was a clerical worker. Each task that I had to accomplish involved a procedure because of how important it was. If I had misspelled an email address, or forgotten a step in the shipping process, it could really impact the customer. Because of this, I spent weeks training. I would learn one task at a time until I felt confident that I had it mastered. We have very few errors when it comes to production and shipping and I equate that with adequate training and a dedicated management team!
7. Think outside the box and be open to new ideas. Some of our biggest successes have come from trying new things. Some smaller businesses get stuck in a routine and do things because “That’s how we have always done it!” While this approach may keep a company from going backwards, it also may inhibit them from going forwards. You never know when a new idea may be the next big thing in your business!
8. Any employee could have a great idea that could help build the business. Some of our best ideas for our tutorial interface, the website, or online marketplaces have come from employees at all levels of the company. Just because someone is a specialist in one area, doesn’t mean that they can’t contribute to other areas of the business. By listening to each other and helping out, we continue to grow as a company every day.
9. Pay attention to your customers. They will tell you what they want! In the beginning, TeachUcomp only sold training material for a few key applications. Our sales team quickly realized that we were missing a huge piece of the puzzle when they routinely got asked “Does this qualify for CPE?” Ever since then we have been working on growing our CPE selections so that CPAs and Enrolled Agents can use our training for their required CPE hours for the year.
10. The most important factor for growth is customer satisfaction. In the past, our customers primarily had one type of device to view our tutorials on- a computer with screen resolution of 800 x 600. Now, our customers have computers with a wide range of resolution choices, as well as smart phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, etc. This was quite a challenge for the company to decide which screen resolution to produce our videos in. After weeks of working on what seemed like a small issue, we finally found a way to make our product open in the correct screen resolution for the device it is played on. We are dedicated to making sure each customer is satisfied with the quality of our training, so we take the time to get it right.
11. Give the business time to grow. In today’s world, consumers want what they want right NOW! With a small business like ours, big changes take time to implement. We do not have the capital or staff to redo an entire website or office policy in a day. We can, however, take time to work on each aspect of a new project and make sure it is done well. The great thing about our small business is that we are a team that gives great attention to detail. While we may not grow as fast as a business with a bigger staff, we grow slowly enough to make sure we are always moving forward. This definitely requires patience!
12. Leadership starts at the top. The key ingredient to any small business is strong leadership. While we have a great team, we would not have lasted 12 years if it were not for the amazing leadership from the owners. They had a dream to provide educational training to the world and we work every day at helping them achieve that dream!