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There comes a time in every entrepreneurial venture where you realize you simply cannot do it all yourself.

Sure, when you’re just getting started you really are the “chief, cook and bottle washer.” But as your business grows, it becomes painfully obvious that trying to do everything is only going to lead to:

  • Frustration (when critical tasks don’t get done and deadlines are missed)
  • Burn out (when you’re working yet another 12-hour day)
  • Overwhelm (when your to-do list is longer at the end of the day than it was at the beginning)

There are many ways to combat this business-growth hurdle, but one of the best is automation. Imagine a completely hands-off system that works for you even when you’re hiking on a remote mountain or lounging at a luxury spa.

But here’s an even better reason to automate: it lets you scale your business. Think about it, the less manual work you have to do, them more time you have to do the money-making tasks such as networking, marketing, and client support.

Systems are important, and automation makes business management much easier, but unless you’re outsourcing, you’re still working too hard.

So what can you automate? Almost everything, but start with:

Paid Traffic

Chasing organic traffic is an exercise in frustration. You’ll spend all your time creating content for your blog, other people’s blogs, YouTube, social media, and other web properties. All that content creation leaves you little time to actually work with the clients you’re trying to attract.

Instead, invest in some quality paid traffic, and get off the endless content creation train. You’ll be glad you did.

Email Funnels

What happens when a new subscriber joins your mailing list or someone buys a product? Do they just sit in waiting on your list until you have time to send an email?

While broadcast emails have their place—especially in time-sensitive promotions—be sure to also set up an autoresponder series to:

  • Welcome new subscribers and help them find their way around your site (and your offers)
  • Nurture buyers so they know they’re in the right place
  • Make additional offers based on what someone has already purchased or shown an interest in

And the best thing? Once your autoresponder is set up, it will continue to work even when you’re not.

Social Media Management

Yes, it’s important to be personable and engaging on social media. But that doesn’t mean you have to log in to Facebook just to post a link to your latest blog or YouTube video. Automate that kind of update and save yourself hours of time each and every month. Not only that, but you won’t have to worry about missing an update, either!

Calendar Management

If you have clients, partners, a team, or are often asked for interviews, then an automated calendar is a must. Rather than endless back-and-forth emails trying to find a mutually available time slot, simply send your calendar link and let your client, project manager, JV partner or anyone else choose a time that works for them. Your appointment will automatically appear on your calendar, and you’ll even get reminders (if your calendar supports that).

There are dozens of options for automating every aspect of your small business. As you grow, you’ll find new and better tools to make everything run more smoothly. For now, though, implementing these four ideas alone will save you hours of time every month.

Overview

Sol Price and son Robert started Price Club in 1976. It remained a big player in the discount space until its merger with Costco.

For fiscal year ending August 2015, the company increased sales and net income. Sales came in at $116.2 Billion which represents an increase of 3.1%. Net income increased by an impressive, 15.5% to $2.377 Billion. This goes to show how efficient companies can make the most of what they have.

Workers for Price Club, James Sinegal, and Jeffrey Brotman, pooled resources to start up Costco. By 1993, after refusing to merge with Walmart, Price Club and Costco merged operations. They combined the name to PriceCostco, in part, to honor membership in both companies during the merger.

Both owners managed the company until the Price family departed, seeking other unrelated ventures. The company soon after changed its name to Costco Wholesale Corporation.

James Sinegal has been with the company until his retirement in 2011. He is still a board member overseeing that his company stays on track. The company has been left in good hands by veteran Craig Jelinek. He has headed merchandising since 2004 and has been the president and COO. He also held the executive vice president role during his time with the company.

How the Company Started

There are two sets of competing factions at play. The Price family and the workers who started up the first official Costco store. After they both had merged, the Price family decided to depart from the venture.

The Price family obtained $2.5 Million from family and friends to form Price Club. After merging with Costco, the company was renamed PriceCostco. After the merger was complete and the Price family departed, the company became Costco Wholesale and retains that name to this day.

Initial Problems

One of the biggest problems the company faces and has since its opening is selling bulk to single people or couples with no kids. For non-perishable goods, this is not as problematic. But even here, this group of customers will use much less than larger families. The company should consider offering smaller-sized packages to get around this problem.

Why it Works

If you have ever been in a Costco store, you will notice that it is almost factory-like. This barebones approach keeps costs contained. The company focuses on selling high volumes at low prices. It also keeps pallets of stock directly in the store, reducing or even eliminating the need for warehouses.

The company draws a good portion of its revenues from its membership fees. It seems customers are loyal enough to stick with the company even when fee hikes occur. Part of this loyalty could be due to the location of the store.

With over 50 million members across several hundreds of stores, the company has a goldmine of data to use in its analysis. It can use the activities of customers to determine how better to serve them.

The company also uses food and gasoline as loss leaders to draw customers in. Offering below-average gas and food prices, customers may purchase other higher-priced products during their visit. For most items, however, the company operates on thin margins with the goal of selling in large volumes. It’s these volumes that allows the company to obtain such low prices, which they pass most of the savings onto its members.

Costco limits the number of products. This streamlined process allows the company to keep the best sellers while ditching low volume items. This simplifies most aspects of the supply chain and keeps costs down. This strategy also allows the company greater bargaining power with suppliers as they must prove their products are sales worthy to be included in the product mix.

The company offers a money back guarantee at any time for the duration of the membership.

Promotion:

The company uses the word “wholesale” as part of its name. This lets consumers believe they are getting lower prices than buying from other companies. It’s important to note that the true definition of wholesale is when no sales tax is charged for purchases in most US states, and buyers must have a certificate issued by the state showing they are exempt from tax.

The company has a membership plan that allows reselling, and it states that to gain this status appropriate resale information must be provided. This usually means presenting a sales tax exemption certificate.

Costco has a huge word-of-mouth base of customers. When one family experiences significant savings due to their membership at Costco, they are likely to tell friends and family about it. This trend continues indefinitely. In fact, membership used to require an invite from another member.

Features:

Ratings are based on the level of membership and tend to be at about 4.5 stars or higher. The company offers three types of memberships: Executive, Business, and Gold. The Executive and business memberships allow those members who qualify to resell the items and not be charged sales tax. The Gold membership is for families or individuals and does not have any provisions for sales tax exemption.

As for ratings, the Business and Gold have higher ratings than the Executive membership. This could be because the Business and Gold have much more members due to cheaper pricing. The Executive membership still enjoys a healthy 4+ star rating.

The products online are also rated from one to five stars which help customers determine if other purchasers were satisfied.

Lessons Learned by The Business

  • Pay employees well and treat them right. This reduces turnover and theft. Conscientious members also like the fact that they can get low prices without workers’ sacrificing a lower rate.
  • Stand strong against shareholders when they pressure the company to raise prices. Management implements a cap for its markups and sticks to that cap. The company wants to retain customers long term. Shareholders are often fleeting.
  • When members get great deals, they won’t care that the store doesn’t look polished or like a department store. They understand what is at stake to keep prices low and know the savings are being passed onto them.
  • The company is constantly looking for ways to save money. That could be from hitting up their suppliers for seasonal discounts, or it could be finding hungry suppliers with hot-selling products. It is an avid recycler of its boxes and looks for ways to save money using logistics measures.
  • Costco keeps an active watch on its competition. Managers will obtain memberships in their competitors and visit their stores. When a company like Sams (Walmart) introduces something new, Costco tries to determine how they accomplished it and incorporates it if it makes sense to do so.

How Other Businesses Can Learn from This

If you can find out why and where you are losing sales, take advantage of that information. Use whatever information you have available to determine what customers want and why they didn’t buy from you.

Keep the quality as close to the higher-priced competitors as possible. If you concentrate on low quality just for the sake of keeping prices low, customers will notice and take their business elsewhere. What good are low prices if the customer has to buy the same products weeks later due to damage or other problems? Maintaining high standards keeps customers loyal.

Chipotle Overview

Steve Ells founded Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) in 1993 and has been with the company ever since.

The company operates on an almost 8% profit margin which is fantastic for a fast food restaurant. For the fiscal year ending December 31, 2015, revenues increased to $4.501 Million representing an increase of 9.6% over the previous year fiscal end. The company’s net income increased roughly 7% to $476 million. The company currently has 1,900 domestic stores and is expanding rapidly internationally. It has a goal of adding at least 5,000 stores in this space within the next several years. It has no plans to slow growth of domestic stores which is on track to approach 4,000 during this period.

The company hires top-quality chefs to oversee the menu and cooking methods. It adheres to freshness in the food choices second-to-none in the industry. By limiting its menu, the company can focus on quality control that would be much more challenging with more choices.

How the Chipotle Started

Steve Ells noticed a growing popularity of taquerias and burrito stands in his duration as a line cook in San Francisco. He discussed this with his father, who agreed the concept was sound and loaned him $85,000. Ells created his first store in Denver, Colorado. He and his father projected the breakeven point was selling 107 burritos per day, which they surpassed by a landslide. After a short period, they were selling over 1,000 per day, which they used to fund another store opening.

He opened another store with cash flow from operations as well as an SBA loan. His father invested $1.5 million to keep the growth engine going. The McDonald’s Corporation saw potential in this chain and in 1998 invested a large sum of money. This capital allowed the company to expand rapidly to 500 stores by mid-2000’s.

Initial Problems

Chipotle passes itself as fast food that is healthy. They use fresh ingredients and organic whenever possible. When McDonald’s became a major shareholder, customers saw a disconnect. McDonald’s is not considered by any to be a health-conscious organization, at least not back then. There was a stigma attached to having McDonald’s as a significant shareholder.
Along the lines of keeping the operation as natural as possible, the company was able to find farms that raised the pork naturally. That was not the case with chicken and beef. The majority of chicken and beef served was below their quality standards due to lack of supply.

People like to have choices. Chipotle prides itself on keeping its operations simple. They did this by offering only a few items on the menu, and the fixings were limited as well. Its competitors came in (like Qdoba) and offered many more choices.

Why it Works

Fresh ingredients are the big appeal of this company, even to this day. Even though they had trouble getting naturally-raised chicken and beef, in the beginning, a health-conscious society has led more farmers to adopt these practices. If you look on their website, they have a section dedicated to explaining their philosophy which is “Food with integrity.” They use the most natural (they call real) ingredients possible, and they cook it themselves. They have diverted themselves from any GMO ingredients and are staying clear of animals raised using hormones and not free range.

The company also chooses top quality chefs. The CEO, Steve Ells is culinary trained and hires others who are as well. The company believes that processed food should never be a part of their brand.

Promotion:
There is no doubt Chipotle enjoys word-of-mouth promotions. Where they exist in large cities, you’ll hear office workers often include them as a regular place to go. People are more concerned about their health, and the menu is full of healthy ingredients.

The company has maintained the image of freshness since its inception. This gives them a huge advantage as being the first on the block. The reputation has potential customers trying them out for the first time.

Interestingly, you’ll find few advertisements from the company on television. They believe that the brand should speak for itself and not rely on advertising as the basis to bring people in. The company believes that spending too much on advertising would affect their pricing strategy, meaning they would have to raise the price of the product. Whether or not this ad-free strategy can continue to sustain the company remains to be seen. The company is aware that advertising does increase the bottom line. If they eventually run into financial difficulties, they may have to reassess their strategy.

Another subtle promotional strategy the company uses is how it hires and nurtures its employees. Having employees who are happy will help to keep customers happy. The employees will be on board with promoting the company. This is unique in the fast-food industry.
The company firmly believes in promoting internally. They believe that all employees should start at the bottom (whenever possible) and work their way up. They map out a career path that includes increases in both pay and responsibility for every promotion. Employees become champions of the brand, and this helps with marketing the company.

Features:
If you take a look at Yelp for Chipotle, you’ll see mostly favorable reviews, although, they are not as near to five stars as you would believe, given its reputation. That also depends on the city you punch into the website. Most complaints will tend to be store-specific and does not necessarily reflect on the company as a whole.

The menu remains sparse compared to other chains, and this is often a bone of contention with purists of Mexican dishes. These purists don’t like the concept of Chipotle and probably never will. The company is not trying to cater to these purists either. It believes in providing real and simple food. End of story.

Lessons Learned by The Business

  1. Mistakes happen. The company is going through some tough PR right now due to health and safety issues surrounding E. Coli outbreaks. If anyone can recover from this type of scare, it is Chipotle. There’s no guarantee, but the chances are greater this company will see it through.
  2. Chipotle has turned the fast food industry upside-down by charging high prices for their product and a limited menu. This is an unheard of practice in this industry. The company stands by this strategy as it offers up a quality product.
  3. When you keep the cooking in-house, you get to control the process and make changes quickly. Many restaurants outsource the cooking and give up control of the entire process. Even if you get to choose the ingredients when you outsource, there are no guarantees those ingredients will be used in the manner you desire.

How Other Businesses Can Learn from This

When you focus on your brand to the point where people make comparisons using your brand, you are in a great strategic position. People actually will use the reference “It is the Chipotle of…” and choose whatever industry you are trying to make the comparison.

Another key component is the company focuses on making their employees brand ambassadors. This is accomplished via their hiring practices of promoting from within. This adopts an environment of loyalty to the company and the brand.

Email marketing is a very important part of your overall online marketing strategy. When it comes to email marketing, one of the most important things you can do to improve response rates is to segment your list. If you don’t segment yet, keep reading to discover how and why you should be segmenting your email marketing lists.

You have to remember that while your over all target audience shares certain characteristics they’re not really all the same people. Your customers will have similarities but they need to be segmented based on differences and actions. When you can segment your customers and potential customers better your email marketing content will become more relevant to them and you will improve your results because people like feeling important and as if each email is sent just for them.

The first step to segmenting your email list is to create buyer personas. You can start with the simple fact that some of your email list subscribers are already customers and some aren’t. Make that your first important segmentation. No one wants to get emails over and over again to buy something they already own. Those who have not purchased yet don’t need to get emails asking them how they enjoyed the service or product that they’ve not bought. After that, you can come up with other ways to segment your audience such as who clicked through, who opened, who responded — or not. Testing out various ways to segment your list is an important part of finding out what works best for your situation.

By keeping in mind that your email list consists of people who are at different points in your product funnel you will be able to create more relevant and impactful email marketing messages. You will know for instance, that you are speaking to someone who has purchased product A and now you want them to purchase product B. Your email to them will be completely different than your email to the segment who has not purchased A but instead purchased B.

Segmentation will automatically give your list subscribers a better overall feeling about you. Sending targeted, relevant email to your list subscribers gets easier when you’ve segmented them in strategic ways. All your copy will be much more relevant and focused when you know exactly who the people on a particular list. You know they have or have not made a purchase, and you know they have or have not taken various actions based on previous emails. Most importantly, when the customer or potential customer reads the email they will feel as if it’s more relevant and their estimation of you will go up. Their trust of you will go up each time they receive a targeted, relevant email.

Research shows that market segmentation within email lists is an important component that improves return on investment exponentially. You’ll experience higher open rates, more clicks, higher transaction rates, and more involvement with your market when you learn how to segment so that you can send more relevant and focused email marketing messages to them. What’s more, if you start segmenting, you’ll be ahead of the game since most email marketers don’t bother.