Monday, November 28, 2011

Are Social Buying Coupons Worth It for Small Businesses?

Social buying coupons have got consumers in a shopping frenzy this Christmas. Companies offer amazing discounts through social buying sites for their goods or services if a certain number of coupons or deals are purchased. At first glance social buying coupons seem like an effective way for local customers to get a great discount on gift certificates and products, and get their Christmas shopping done on budget this year. It also seems like a great way for small businesses to increase their sales. But do social buying coupons do what is intended? Sure the steep discounts attract a large numbers of new patrons initially, but do they create repeat and loyal customers? A recent article on the CBC website suggests they do not.

I’ve purchased several e-coupons through social buying sites such as Groupon, Living Social and Deal Find.  The more deals I purchased the less impressed I became.  My top complaint is the poor customer service I received, others include:
  • Long wait times for service (e.g. I waited 2 months to get an appointment at the salon because stylists didn’t want to work on “coupon customers”)
  • Could not communicate with service men that did not speak English (e.g. the receipt was even in a different language!)
  • Added fees when service men arrived (e.g. one totaled over $100 in extra fees for them to complete the job)
Of the seven deals I can recall buying, I would do repeat business with one of the companies.  Considering this, is offering gift certificates through social buying sites really worth it for small businesses?  Some questions to ask are:
  • Can I meet the demands if I sell a significant number of coupons?
  • Can I provide the service and quality I’m known for if I sell a significant number of coupons at a very low price?
  • How will I handle complaints?  
  • Can I afford to offer my services at a significantly low price or for free?
  • Will it attract the type of loyal customers I’m looking for?  
  • What specifically can I do to turn them into loyal full-paying customers?
  • How will I ensure that coupon customers are treated like real customers by all staff?
I’d love to hear your stories or questions about using coupons for small businesses.  Would you recommend selling them or buying them?

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant.  She is the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Self-Employment: One Mom's Story

Many women want to be at home with their kids and make an income.  Could self-employment be the answer?  According to The Rise of the Disposable Entrepreneur, many moms think self-employment is an easy way to make money and stay at home with their kids, but they don’t really think it through.  Kids or no kids, self-employment takes hard work and long hours.  As a Career Development Practitioner and mom, I decided to find out more by speaking with Sandra Drygas, entrepreneur and owner of Beaches Fitness Inc in Toronto.

Sandra realized she disliked her job when on maternity leave with her second child.  She had always dreamed of running her own business and since the cost of childcare for two kids was more than her wages, self-employment seemed like an attractive option.

Three years ago Sandra started offering personal fitness training in her basement for moms, welcoming their kids to come and play too.  Now she has a successful business offering women-centred fitness with personal training and group fitness classes.  The business is expanding and is in the process of moving to a permanent location.

Sandra found a niche in the fitness market and a business structure that suits her life as a mother.  Currently, she is the only fitness provider in her area that caters to moms and their kids (e.g. clients can bring kids to class or personal training where there is space to play, while they work out).  Even though she always has a close eye on all the kids, she never seems to be too distracted to stop women from working up a sweat and there is a real community feel to the classes.  As a client of hers for over a year, I can tell you she works me very hard and she gets results.  My daughter loves going too!

Starting small and from home has worked well for Sandra, who has been able to build her operational knowledge as the business has grown.  The business is expanding much sooner than she expected; Sandra has put many hours into her business and is very hard working and determined.  On meeting Sandra, her passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to her work is apparent.

No small business can survive without good support and this is where Sandra’s husband comes in.  He is home from work early enough to take care of the children, shop, cook, and clean. More importantly, he tells her at night to stop working and pours her a glass of wine.

Sandra has been successful in reaching the local community and she attributes this to marketing through social media.  The most success has been from through a group she set up called “East End Parents”.  It is for any stay-at-home parent who wants to meet others.  She arranges meet ups in play centres, coffee shops, parks, and other child-friendly places.  She has been able to promote her business through this group and socialize as a parent at the same time.

Sandra advises anyone considering self-employment to make sure they have support, be self-disciplined, know how to prioritize, and be ready to risk a little.  If they have kids, she feels it is important for them to be socialized and not simply shoved in front of the TV.  After all, for her, setting up the business was about spending quality time with the kids and balancing work.

When asked what surprised her the most, Sandra said that she didn’t realize how difficult it would be to work with kids in the room.  Just then, her youngest walked in the room seeking to play ball with us.  I think that if it is something she finds difficult, she hides it well.

In watching her children, I can see they benefit from having her at home or being out with her when she works.  Her youngest is around a lot; when I asked her what mommy did for a job, she replied “the computer!”  She spends a lot of time with Sandra when she is working, but doesn’t really understand what she does as work.  I think that is because she hangs out with her mom, other moms and their kids; it’s more like one big play date.

As a stay-at-home mom of one, and another on the way, I too wanted to consider my career options other than just returning to work.  I love being at home, but I want and need a little more.  And why not?  We spend a lot of time building our careers so why should our careers suffer?  To explore self-employment further I took the Life Strategies Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies course.  It was through one of my course assignments I came to interview Sandra.  Self-employment is hard work for moms and Sandra is a good example of how to be successful.  She has shown that it is hard work and there are many different roles and responsibilities to master and juggle, but with research, determination, and a lot of passion, it can be possible.

This article was contributed by Sinéad Keeley Howland, a Career Development Practitioner with experience working in the UK and Malaysia.  Now living in Canada and currently on maternity leave, Sinéad is working towards becoming a self-employed advisor with an interest in working with stay at home moms.