How to use Gmail for Fabulous Customer Service – 8 tips

As a start-up owner, one of the easiest ways you can wow your customers is to reply your customers as quickly as possible. Since my business is mildly popular, I get a lot of email everyday and I try to reply to as many of those emails as possible. And Gmail helps me in doing that in the easiest and cleanest way you can imagine. So today I want to share with you a few tips on how to use GMail to provide awesome customer experience.

1. Star your mail

On a typical day I get 120-150 emails. But out of these 60% are regular emails, like notifications for purchases, comments, twitter follows and bills & invoices. The rest of 40% are interesting mails, these are from actual people asking for help, appreciating my work / products, with payment related problems, collaboration requests, consulting work requests etc.

Now, my email routine is quite simple. Whenever I read an email, if I can reply to it in 2 minutes, I would just go ahead and do it right-away. But about 20% of time I cannot find an immediate reply (as the email may contain a big request, complex question or follow-up work). What I do with these emails is, I simply star them. You can star an email by pressing S while reading it.

And once a week or whenever I have free time, I go thru my inbox for starred email (short-cut GS) and carefully work on the items or reply to the mails.

2. Filter your e-mail

You can create rules on incoming email so that only certain mails end-up in your inbox and rest in archives or marked as read automatically. Gmail calls these rules as Filters. I use filters a lot to maximize my productivity and responsiveness.

For eg. I have a rule to mark as read & archive mails with certain subjects.

3. Canned Responses

Another beautiful feature in GMail is canned responses. These are like pre-composed messages that you can either insert in to a reply or set a rule to auto-reply. I have made canned responses for most frequently asked customer questions. For eg. I have a message with my bank account details. So if a customer asks me how do I pay thru online transfer, I just send that canned response. It is both quick and accurate.

4. Mail Forwarding

You can set up rules thru filters to automatically forward incoming email to other email addresses. This is very helpful to outsource certain portions of your work without manual intervention. For eg. I give course completion certificates to students of my online training program. So whenever they request for a certificate, I get an email. I just set up a rule so that the email is forwarded to my assistant. He sends the certificate.

5. Visually Scan your Inbox – use Labels & Colors

If star is a good way to know important mails that need work, labels are a good way to quickly see the type of mail you have in your inbox. Labels are analogous to folders in Outlook or Lotus Notes. See below snapshot to understand how labels help me.

Once I look at above list, I immediately know how many sales, how many comments, how many twitter follows, how many consulting requests I got. Without even opening a single email that is.

6. Keyboard Shortcuts – J K R F S E P N

This is another hidden gem in GMail. You can use keyboard shortcuts to very quickly read, reply, forward email. Here are a bunch of shortcuts that I use commonly.

What do you want to do?Which Key
Open an Emailo
Reply to the email you are readingr
Forward the email you are readingf
Send the email you are typingtab then enter
Go back to inboxgi (press g then i)
Go back to all mails with a stargs
Go back to all mailsga
Read next email (or select next mail if you are in inbox mode)k
Read previous email (or select)j
Apply star to the email you are readings
Archive current emaile
Compose a new emailc
Read next email in a conversation threadn
Read previous email in a threadp

More info on Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts

7. Offline Mode

Offline mode is GMail’s version of downloading emails to read later. Since my internet connection not very stable, I rely on Offline mode to read, reply to mails even when there is no net connection. When the connection is back up, GMail uploads all the changes and downloads new mail. Like magic.

8. Chat

If I find a mail from a customer or reader and I need to reply to them, I see if they are online on google chat. If so, I just chat with them. It is instant and I can help my customers better.

How do you use E-Mail for better customers service?

Please share your tips & ideas using comments. I would love to hear from you.

How to Keep your Startup Website Expenses Low?

This is part 3 of my series on how to lower startup expenses.

  1. How I lower my Rental & Salary Expenses
  2. How I lower my Marketing & Sales Expenses
  3. How I lower my Website Expenses
  4. How I lower my Other Operational Expenses [Hardware, Software, Misc.]

What are various expenses associated with running a website?

I run 3 active websites (chandoo.org, excelschool.in and startupdesi.com) and 2 passive sites.  I incur a lot of expenses each month in running these sites. Below is a table of various expenses and their nature.

Expense TypeFrequencyCost
in $s
Required?Recommended Option
Website HostingMonthly10YesGoDaddy
Shopping Cart SoftwareMonthly5YesE-Junkie
CDN (Content Delivery Network for fast loading of frequently used files)Monthly10OptionalAmazon S3 / Cloud Front
Website BackupsMonthly15OptionalVaultPress
PC BackupsMonthly5OptionalMozy
Payment ProcessorsPer TransactionDependsYesPayPal, 2Checkout
Domain Name RegistrationAnnual10YesGoDaddy
Database BackupMonthly0YesWP-DB Manager Plugin
A/B Testing & Page OptimizationAs needed0YesGoogle Website Optimizer
Website AnalyticsN/A0YesGoogle Analytics
News Letter ServiceMonthly19YesAweber, Feedburner is free but offers little control
Sitemaps, NavigationN/A0YesXML Sitemaps, WP-Page Navi Plugins
Caching SolutionsN/A0Yeshttp://www.w3-edge.com/wordpress-plugins/w3-total-cache/
SEON/A0YesAll in one SEO Pack
FTP SoftwareAs needed0YesFire FTP addin for Firefox addin for Firefox
S3 Admin SoftwareAs needed0YesS3Fox, Also use CloudBerry Explorer Pro if you want more control over S3
Polls & SurveysAs needed0YesGoogle Docs
Advanced Scripts & Plugins for WordpressAs neededBetween $5 - $150OptionalUse only reliable plugins. Do not hesitate to buy something if it is valuable to you. Most scripts /plugins pay back very quickly.

As you can see, you can run a decent website with less than $45 per month. For more info read how much it costs to run a website.

How to cut down website maintenance expenses?

Here are a few ideas to help you cut-down your website maintenance expenses.

1. Host multiple sites in one hosting account: Almost all hosting providers supporting hosting multiple sites under one account. For eg. I run startupdesi and excelschool (and 2 other sites) from just one hosting account.

2. Learn some HTML & CSS: HTML is the language of web. CSS is what you use to style a web page anyway you want. These are ridiculously simple to learn. Many people try to outsource the website development work thinking they need to focus on core products. While it is a good strategy, you will find that often you feel crippled as you lack HTML  / CSS knowledge to make immediate changes to your site. In fact, I would say that unless you are running a very large company / website, it is an absolute necessity to learn the language of web to do well. Once you are big, you can always hire someone else to do it for you.

3. Use WordPress: WordPress, the premier blogging platform is what I use across my sites. It is undoubtedly one of the best ways to maintain a dynamic, constantly updating site. It works really well with Google and many people are already familiar with the way wordpress sites look. If you are starting a website today, give wordpress a serious thought.

4. Keep it simple: These days, it is too tempting to make your site look slick and vibrating with all the AJAX widgetry, CSS3, Fonts etc. But always remember the purpose of your site. It is there to provide value to your customers. So keep it simple and to the point. Add features progressively and experiment carefully. A simple site is easy to maintain, easy to navigate, easy to understand and easy to purchase from.

5. Pay for good stuff: Do not skimp when it comes website stuff. You should always get good hosting partners. Just because someone is ready to host your site for few dollars doesnt mean you should switch. Thoroughly investigate if the hosting partner can keep your website safe, available and load it fast enough. Also, pay only for good stuff. Do not throw away money for un-needed features or goodies (I did this a few times and I regret my decisions. More on this in a later post).

6. Use Amazon S3 and CloudFront CDN for frequently accessed files to speed up your sites: Amazon S3 is laughably cheap and very reliable. You can use their Cloud Front CDN to speed up your site by moving various static parts (CSS files, logo images, Java script files etc.) to them. It is a pay as you go service, so you only pay for what bandwidth you consume. [here is a tutorial explaining how to do this.]

Share your tips

What ideas and tricks you use to cutdown website maintenance expenses? Please share using comments.

What next?

In the final installment of this series, I will share with you how I cut down my operational expenses. Stay tuned.

Read the previous part – 7 tips for lowering marketing & sales expenses in start-ups.

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#1 Secret to Selling Better – Remind

Ever wondered what makes the best companies in the world sell more?

It turns out, Despite having a kick ass product, loyal customer base, stellar marketing efforts, all these companies use one simple trick that just works.

They remind customers to purchase.

That simple. See how, Rediff Shopping reminds me to get a gift.

Rediff Shopping sends me a reminder

How you can remind your customers?

Here are some practical ways to remind your prospects and customers about your products.

  1. Send a newsletter: Newsletter e-mails are best way to remind your members about website / business and invite them. Send useful information and add 1-2 sales messages once in a while. The results can be quite encouraging. [I recommend using Aweber for sending newsletter, they just rock.]
  2. Add links: Add links to your products and services at relevant places in your articles. For eg. if you sell call recording software, mention about it when you write about “10 tips to using skype better”.
  3. Do not abuse the permission: Many marketers think, just because a person has given them an e-mail ID, they can bombard the prospect with a ton of mails. This is wrong. You should be sensible and useful. Do not abuse the permission your customer has given you.

How I stopped worrying about page views & started finding customers

Every website owner worries about page views. I am no exception. I used to check my website statistics almost every few hours. I think seeing fresh and constant flow of visitors to my website(s) stoked my ego.

But today I want to tell you why worrying about page views (or visitors) is a waste of time. And why you should instead shift your attention to finding customers.

How I switched my attention from getting more page views to finding customers:

During the initial days of chandoo.org, I used to write controversial topics and post some content purely to get more traffic. While some of these techniques worked to bring in more traffic, the people who landed on my site for this content were transient. They would just move on without joining the conversation.

Very soon I realized this fact. I just had to take a close look at my Google analytics report. Then I made several key changes to the way I produce & market my content,

  1. I sat down to prepare a weekly content plan. I listed the type of articles that I am going to write so that my readers feel empowered and awesome.
  2. I shifted focus away from getting links and hits from irrelevant sites. I stopped submitting my site articles to unrelated websites like reddit and digg.
  3. Instead, I encouraged my readers to sign-up for newsletter and leave comments.
  4. I picked up articles and useful content other sites in my niche are writing and shared them with my readers.
  5. I also picked up interesting articles from other websites and wrote follow-up content on my blog. I presented my readers with alternate views & ideas.  This helped me in establishing valuable friendships with other bloggers in my niche (Jon, Debra, Mike, John and many others).

After making these changes, with in 1 year, I started seeing results. Slowly, my readers found value in what I write. They liked the regular features and occasional surprises.

Once I regained the confidence of my visitors, I slowly launched products that would benefit them and encouraged them to purchase these. And it worked.

How to find customers:

While this is not a definitive guide to getting customers, here is what you should do instead of manicly stuffing your site links on social media or unrelated sites.

  1. Have awesome content (and products): If you have awesome content and develop killer products, customers will find you. So the first step is to focus your energies on making great content, great products and offering great customer service. [related: make customers heros]
  2. Get links from sites in your niche: What would you prefer? a link on Digg home page or a link on 2nd best blog in your niche? If your answer is Digg, then you are in soup. Most of the people in Digg or any other popular link aggregator, social media or news sites are not really looking for your products. They are just looking for what is happening. So having a link on digg’s front page will not help you in any way (other than may be crashing your server). It is much easier and more valuable to have a link to your site from one of the best blogs in your niche.
  3. Engage casual visitors by enrolling them in to your community: Everyday, thousands of new people land on my website searching for something related to Excel. I encourage them to sign-up for my newsletter or browse more content. A tiny fraction (<5%) of these people join my community everyday. And that is enough for me to scale up my business and make a living out of it. You too should do that. So re-arrange your website layout in such a way that the first thing visitors notice after finishing their business on your site is an invitation to join you.
  4. Convert passive readers to active customers: Getting new visitors to your site is very easy, but converting them to customer is the hard part. The good news is, you can play a vital role in this process. Start by encouraging your prospects / readers to purchase something (either from you or from one of your partners). Do not just give the idea that your site is amazing for getting free stuff. Instead make your site a place where they can get value (both for money and time they invest in you).
  5. Ask: Many times small businesses under-estimate the power of asking. You can have a kickass product, but unless you open your mouth and ask your readers / prospects to purchase it, they will not make their first move. So Ask. Do not be afraid or ashamed to do it. Instead do it with pride and passion. Tell world that your product rocks and your readers are better off getting a copy of it. (this only works if point 1 above is met.)

What do you worry about?

Do you worry about visits or customers? Please share what you use to measure your success in business using comments.

Related: 7 ways to reduce expenses & increase sales & How small businesses can win customers

Why you should do consulting work (despite making huge money from product sales)

Many startups go thru this, Once they start something and launch a few products, they will get offers to provide some consulting service (for eg. customization of their product, development of a similar product for diff. uses etc.). Now what should the startup do? Should they dilute the energy in to consulting work? Or should they focus on their core products and march ahead?

I was in the same dilemma and I choose to offer my services on consulting basis. And in this post, I will share with you why doing consulting work is a good idea for start-ups.

1. Consulting work keeps you hooked to real world

Many startups run from garages or study rooms (or in my case, from a bedroom).  Startup founders strive to keep expenses low and minimize un-necessary clutter. That means, less social interaction and attending fewer conferences / trade shows. If you do this for a few months, you will grow apart from real world and get obsessed with your product vision. And this is where you will distance yourself from end customers.

A good business always stays close to their customers and leads them. If you work in isolation, you cannot do this. That is why consulting work is good. By doing few consulting jobs every month, you can interact with customers alot, understand their problems, challenge your mind with new situations and altogether improve your perspective on various things in the industry.

2. Consulting work leads to new products / upgrades

Quite a few of my project management template customers have asked me to modify the dashboard template to include tracking for multiple projects. After doing this work on consulting basis for 4th customer, I knew I had to upgrade my product to include a project portfolio dashboard template. Right now, I am working on that so it can be included in next product upgrade.

3. Consulting work brings fun & randomness back to your life

Start-up work involves ample amounts of product development, launches, marketing & selling, customer service. If you have done these for a few cycles, you will have developed a process to do them better. That means, they get monotonous.

This is where consulting can help you. It brings certain amount of randomness to your work. Since each customer has their own problems, the solutions can teach you new things and keep you mentally occupied.

4. Consulting brings extra money

When you are starting out, every extra dollar you make helps. The money you make from consulting may not be as much as you make from product sales. But it gives you confidence and it can meet urgent cashflow needs. That said, you should not be lured in to consulting just for money alone. Consider the above 3 benefits too. Otherwise you may be tempted to become a full time consultant alone.

If Consulting is so good, why not become a full time consultant?

Of course, if consulting is what you enjoy most, you should certainly become a freelance consultant. But I think doing consulting alone is a dead-end game. The reasons?

  • Consulting is not scalable: If you need extra income or more free time, you have to hire someone exactly like you. And we all know how difficult that is.
  • Consulting is time consuming: Based on my experience, for every one hour of billed consulting work, you will spend 30 minutes on unbillable work. This includes doing research, finding alternative solutions, optimizing your code / models, customer support, invoicing, time tracking, emails, phone calls etc.
  • You can only make so much with Consulting: Even if you charge top dollar for your services, it is unlikely that you will make a lot of money by doing consulting work alone. Also, the ability to find customers goes down significantly as you increase the rates.

What about you? Do you offer your services on Consulting basis?

Do you do consulting work? What is your experience like? Please share your experiences & ideas using comments.

Do you want to become a consultant?

If you want to become a consultant read up this excellent advice.

Also, if you want to test the waters, sign-up at oDesk as a provider. You can immediately meet several prospective customers and see how this works.

Its not Rocket Surgery, Make your First $ already!!!

Many people who dream of starting their own companies (including me) go thru the illusion,

My idea need to be unique, world changing and Google / Facebook / Apple big!!! Otherwise, it is worthless to start.

While, ambition is a good thing to have, I think we should mix it with ample doses of reality. I always remember an inspirational quotation I read somewhere,

Your head should be in the sky, but your feet should be on ground.

I made the same mistake of waiting for that one idea, one light bulb moment for good part of my college life and first job. Then, I realized that even to change the world with a big idea, I must start small.

And then, things moved rapidly and I could create my own business.

So, today I am inviting you to do the same. Go ahead and figure out a small business idea and generate your first dollar online (or offline). Come back and share your experience with us.

You feel awesome and uplifted when a stranger becomes your customer and pays you for your skill / product.

Here is an inspiration video by David Heinemeier of 37Signals fame encouraging start-up owners to make money.


Watch live video from HackerTV on Justin.tv

PS: the phrase “its not rocket surgery” is from David’s talk.

PPS: 37Signals blog is a good source of inspiration and knowledge if you want to start a business.

How to win back lost customers – example from Cleartrip

With this post, I am going to start a series called There is Awesome Everywhere. In this I will share examples of kick-ass marketing, simple but effective sales ideas and inspiration with you.

First thing is an email offer I received from cleartrip.com. Cleartrip is like kayak or orbitz for Indian flight, train and hotel reservations.

Today morning I have spent 20 minutes looking for trains so that my in-laws could attend a wedding this weekend. Even after finding a train, we couldnt book tickets due to excessive server load at cleartrip.

So I closed the window and resumed my work.

20 minutes later, I get an email from cleartrip folks with this message.

See how elegant, simple and effective this is. They have offered me Rs. 50 money back if I book a ticket in the next 2 days. They knew I have bailed at 2nd step of check out process. They knew that I am a reliable, repeat customer (booked so many tickets with them in last few years).

How can we put this idea in to practice?

Here are few practical ways for small businesses to put this in to practice:

  • Find all the people whose last comment at your site is 6 months ago. Invite them to a special one time bonus page for further engagement.
  • Use cookies to keep track of prospects who leave mid-way thru checkout. During their next visit, offer a personalized bonus or invite them for a webinar / demo.

What do you think?

Do you find this technique useful or awful. Please share using comments.

$100,000 Revenues in last 12 months – wow!

Ok, this might sound like bragging, but I have a very happy news to share with you all. My little company has crossed an important milestone.

We have made $109,941 in revenues in the last 12 months. (October 2009 to September 2010).

The numbers:

October 2009 was such a key month in my start-up. I have launched my first big product that month. It was one of the best things I have done. There was no looking back since then. I made 2 more products (and on the verge of releasing 3rd one next week).

The next wave of encouragement came in February 2010, when I launched my first online training program. It became an instant hit. I have rolled it out 2 more times in June and September this year. Both times, the sales were beyond my wildest expectations.

Please note that I have included revenues generated from advertising & affiliate sales. It is shown in blue (as against orange for actual product sales).

Here is same chart, but stacked. This gives you a better idea of total monthly revenues.

While it is clear that online training programs (Excel School) and Project Management Templates are my main revenue earners, I have few other products (ebook, wedding planner template) that generate $200-$500 every month. I have some plans to improve my e-book and make the sales much more prominent. Hopefully it should be ready by Christmas this year.

Finally, number of customers per month.

About 5% of customers repeat. They come back and purchase something else too. Most of these are Excel School students.

What next?

When I set-up my venture, I never thought I would hit $100k milestone this quick. While, I am very happy for this I also have ambitious plans and awesome ideas for future. Right now, my mind is occupied with these thoughts:

  • How do I ensure same kickass support and service to my customers when the base is growing. (1700 is a large number, and they are growing every month. Even if 1% of them email me a week, I will be loaded with work very soon).
  • How to automate or outsource more activities so that I can spend time with my customers and community?
  • Finding time & creative juices to work on products that my existing customers are asking for (mainly 2 new training programs, one more e-book and upgrades to existing stuff).
  • Moving from proprietorship (one man firm) to a private limited (more like LLC).

I have already hired one assistant on contract basis to help me with few activities. I will be moving more work to him as time passes. I have been thinking and outlining ideas for next products / upgrades.

I also have started the process of migrating all my sites to one vendor who will host, maintain and upgrade them as needed. This will free-up some of my time.

Growth vs. Sustainability

While the above ideas are fine, I also have thoughts about whether to grow my company or make it more sustainable.

On growth front:

I think the market where I operate (Microsoft Excel users) will change drastically in the next 10 years. Technologies like touch-screen computing, web-based spreadsheets, online analytics & visualization will mature by then to become mainstream. What I am doing for living will be obsolete by then. So I must grow my company to the maximum possible level before that (may be by 2015). This will create enough liquidity so we (my family) can live comfortably for long.

On Sustainability front:

I love spending time with my customers and community and learning new things. I like teaching and enjoy writing. I also want my business to have meaningful social presence. There is tremendous scope for doing all this while making decent money ($100k-$200k per year). While technologies may change, I can adopt and continue to be passionate about data, analytics, visualization in future and share what I learn with my audience. This is more sustainable.

What I am going to do?

I am certainly not going to manicly grow my company. I am hoping to sustain current revenue levels and slowly grow them with new products in future. I will keep my core values sacrosanct and stand by them. I will continue to be cheap and awesome. Despite all the excess, we (my wife and I) have mastered the art of living frugal. We have few un-fulfilled goals (mainly to get a house), but we will reach there slowly, not in a rush.

What is in it for you?

I am glad you asked. No matter whether my company makes $10k or $1mil next year, I will share the my journey with you thru this blog. I will tell you what stupid mistakes I am making and what awesome things I am doing. So stay tuned.

PS: Do you know you can get free email updates? Just click here.

PPS: this post is inspired by similar article written by Peldi on Balsamiq blog almost 2 years ago.

Startup Marketing & Sales – 7 ways to reduce expenses and increase sales [Part 2 of 4]

This post is part 2 of my series on how to lower start-up expenses.

  1. How I lower my Rental & Salary Expenses
  2. How I lower my Marketing & Sales Expenses
  3. How I lower my Website Expenses
  4. How I lower my Other Operational Expenses [Hardware, Software, Misc.]

Why is Marketing & Sales important for a start-up?

Simple, this is where you will make money. You may have stellar product, awesome website with rainbows (double) and nice looking office. But without effective marketing, you are not going to make even one penny. Many start-up owners or dreamers neglect this aspect of running a company. In fact, marketing is so important that, you should ask yourself, “who is going to be buying what I sell and where do I find them?” even before designing your product.

How I do kick-ass Marketing & generate sales while keeping expenses low:

Ok, may be my marketing is not as much as that of Naomi’s Ittybiz. But I think it is fairly effective. After all, it has been putting bread in my family’s mouth for last 6 months. So what do I do that merits as Marketing & still costs very little.

  1. My blog is my marketing platform: I use my blog to mainly write about Excel and teach people how to be more productive with it. I also market my products and services thru it once every 2-3 weeks (sometimes more often if I have a product launch going on).
  2. I showcase my work and offer free samples: Again thru my blog, I give-away free excel templates, files, tutorials and videos, all great content with no strings attached. In fact, all my best selling products have almost equally awesome free versions, all shared on my blog. This helps me build my brand, increase my credibility.
  3. Email newsletters: I use aweber email newsletter system to create and maintain multiple newsletters. It costs me about $25 per month and provides amazing service and pays off almost immediately. If you ever want to start an online business, having email list is a must. You should consider getting an aweber account.
  4. Asking my prospects to buy: You can have a kick ass product, great website and tons of readers. But unless, you open your mouth and ask, no one is going to buy from you. That is why I frequently remind my readers that I sell some products and they can get them to become even more awesome. I do this while keeping regular flow of great content, ideas and keeping my community alive. So, naturally my readers love to hear these sales messages too.
  5. No Outside Advertising: I do not have ad-words or other types of advertising. Not because they don’t work (I have never tested them). But because, I intend to keep my expenses low and operations simple. Plus I prefer to have good, organic content that ranks well on similar search phrases. So naturally people looking for products in the area where I operate tend to land on my site any ways.
  6. Partnerships: Instead of advertising, I partner with reliable, established folks in my niche. I do this by actively following their blogs, reading their news letters and contributing to their communities. Once the trust is established, I casually ask them if I can partner with them in their ventures and invite them to sign-up for my affiliate program. This has worked wonders for me as they get me new customers, prospects and readers and in return I offer them a cut in my sales.
  7. Awesome support: As much as possible, I keep my products easy to use and straight-forward. But if my customers need any support, I strive to provide nothing short of awesome. This will result in good feelings and makes them come back. [Related: 7 ways startups can differentiate from big businesses]

How this differs from Traditional Marketing & Sales:

Many of my friends who are interested in starting a venture ask me, “how do I generate sales?”.

Traditional model for generating sales is like this:

Make a product > Advertise > Get Prospects > Convert > Advertise more …

I think the above model is inherently doomed. Your success depends on advertising and competition can outspend all the time.

A better model is something like this:

Find prospects > Design product > Sell > Use feedback to improve product

This model is excellent for small startups as it doesnt assume advertising. But, how do you find prospects? Simple. Start a blog.

What Next?

In the next installment of this series, I will share how I lower my website maintenance expenses.

Share your experiences:

How do you market your products, how do you sell while keeping expenses low? Please share using comments.

Image credit: Photo by HLIT

Lost Posts and a Start-up Book Link

Due to some problem with my hosting account, I have lost all the posts I wrote between August 13 and September 12, 2010. While I try to recover the posts, here is a recent book on start-ups that I have been reading.

Thanks to our reader Vinu, I recovered all the posts. He forwarded me newsletter archives so that I could re-publish them.

It is called start small and stay small. It is a book for developers and software folks trying to build their first company while still working on a full time job.

The book talks about how you can boot-strap your own micro-venture and grow it to a sustainable level. It deals with topics why you should identify and market to a niche, email marketing, sales page design, outsourcing and more. I really liked the way this book is structured and presented. It is clear, simple and tactical. Go read it today if you are in this for real.

How I use Skype to Generate More Sales & Be Awesome

One of the indispensable tools for any start-up is Skype. I am sure it needs no introduction. It is an instant messenger like software that you can use to make and receive phone calls, conduct online meetings, video chats, screen sharing and so much more, all over the internet.

Today I want to share a simple skype trick with you that helps me boost my sales.

Get a customer care number in US or UK using skype

I have recently registered a US phone number (+1 206 792 9480) using skype. The beauty of this is that, whenever one of my prospects or customers calls this number, my Indian phone number rings (calls routed thru skype to my vodafone number in India) and I can assist them or close the sale.

If I am online on Skype, I can answer the call using VOIP too. All for a measly $60 for year or $20 for 3 months.

Why you should have a customer care number?

I hate to distance myself from my customers. That is why I dont have a generic mail id like customer.care@chandoo.org. Instead, I give my email id and phone number to everyone visiting my site, whether they purchase anything or not. Displaying a phone number and valid email id creates confidence and trust in your business.

How to setup skype so that you can receive calls to your local phone:

Here is a short tutorial on how you can set up skype so that you can receive calls.

  1. First, get a skype-in number. You can get it various countries. I suggest going for a country where majority of your customers live.
  2. Now, from skype, set up call forwarding. To do this,
    1. Click on “view account” button from skype.
    2. Click on “call forwarding”
    3. Add your local number.
  3. That is all.

Please note that whenever you receive calls on your phone from skype, your skype account will be charged at standard rates applicable for your country. But the good thing is, you will get a lot less calls than you expect.

How do you handle customer care?

I beleive that customer care is the best way to sell. I emphasise alot on keeping it simple and accessible all the time. I would love to know how you handle it. Share your tips, experiences and ideas using comments.