Marketing On A Shoestring Budget

Give Your Customers ‘Over The Top’ Service To Gain More Business, Loyalty and Referrals

Do your customers love you?  You may think that is a silly question…but, think of the last time you did business with someone who really irritated you….not a pleasant memory and you probably didn’t go back.  Now think of a time when you had superb service that was above and beyond your expectations….different story, right?  You probably told everyone you know, or they earned more of your business, or you may have even referred them to a friend or family member because you were so pleased.  Times are tight and most businesses don’t have tons of money to throw at expensive advertising or marketing trinkets!   In this downturn economy every business needs to create WOW! Customer Service Experiences to get ahead.  The great news is the cost can be very minimal or absolutely nothing! 

Saying you have good customer service isn’t good enough.  Can you readily list the WOW! Experiences you are creating today for your customers on a regular basis?  If so, you are off to a great start!  Think of all those times you have contact with a client…answering the phone, greeting them when they walk in the door, assisting them with a sale or handling a complaint or mistake.  Next, ask yourself, “What extra steps are you taking to make your clients feel like royalty, like they really matter?”….because they do!  You know the old saying, “take care of your customers or someone else will!”    

Steps to Creating WOW Experiences For Customers

  • Have a can-do positive attitude toward your customers and staff.
  • Really hear what they are saying.
  • Rattle and revive your customer service standards and make them WOW! Moments for your customers, such as inventing a new way to greet customers as they walk in the door or answer the phone in a way that will make your customers smile instantly.
  • Train employees on those WOW! Moments and watch carefully to make sure they are following through. 
  • Remember people like to have fun!
  • Send out a survey to customers asking for honest feedback about what they love about you and what needs improvement…then listen to the feedback and change what needs to be changed!
  • Train your employees on how to handle complaints with finesse.  Empower your employees to make the situation better for the customer without having to jump a bunch of hoops.   

Always remember – “The Customer is King” and “There Are No Traffic Jams on The Extra Mile” 

Now…go out and love your customers! 

My Best,

Jean Geistfeld, Marketing Director

An Economic Downturn Can Be a Great Time to Start a Business

Really?  It sounds strange, but think about it.

  • Costs are lower.
  • More workers are available and looking for work.
  • Potential customers are looking to cut costs and are more likely to give a new supplier a try.
  • The competition is likely focused internally on cutting costs themselves, and perhaps not giving much effort to marketing.

The one difficulty left to face is . . . . capital.

Lenders and investors are very careful about who and what they invest in during a downturn.  You may have a savings account, a home equity line of credit, credit cards, or other sources of cash to start up a business.  This is well and good.  But if capital is short, your plan of attack to attract that capital needs to be a very well prepared business plan.

Four Ideas For a Better Business Plan 

  1. Be Thorough.  Cover all of the details of your start-up business.  Go to  for additional information on this topic.
  2. Use Candor.  No one wants to hear that “we are the best” and “everything is wonderful”.  Identify your critical factors for success, and tell why you are uniquely qualified to succeed, even if your future success is based upon past failures.  Don’t be afraid to identify your weaknesses, and how you plan to address those.
  3. Be Conservative and Identify Contingencies.  Everyone knows that initial sales projections are difficult to meet.  Thus, give a solid basis for your underlying assumptions, and show a “worst case”, “best case”, and “most likely” case scenario.
  4.  Make a Case for Why You’ve Built the Better Mousetrap.  In other words, there has to be a reason that the public will change their behavior and buy your product or service over what they are currently doing.  What is that reason?  What will incent customers to use your mousetrap?  Does it solve a problem? What is that problem? 

For Further Reading 

These related books will inspire you to find your niche and transform your business into something unique and lasting:

  • Purple Cow, by Seth Godin.  Transform your business by being remarkable.
  • Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t.
  • Thank God It’s Monday, by Roxanne Emmerich.  How to create a workplace you and your customers love.

By: Julie Baumgartner, Vice President

Equal Housing Lender - larger

Banking Acronyms 101

Ever received a text you didn’t understand? For example; Ur my BFF! LOL! IDK, where r u? They assume you understand all the little acronyms in the message. Well, don’t assume anything. The same goes with banking. Because I have been in banking for several years I assume everyone knows the banking acronyms as well as I do. I see them everyday, you don’t. So, here’s a small lesson in banking acronyms: 

ACH – Automated Clearing House
A computer-based clearing and settlement facility for interchange of electronic debits and credits among financial institutions.

APR – Annual Percentage Rate
The amount of interest the borrower actually pays, including loan interest points, and origination fees.

APY – Annual Percentage Yield
The amount of interest expressed as a percentage rate, a deposit account (or a share draft account) would earn in a year at a stated interest rate. The APY disclosure, showing the effect of interest compounding, assumes that funds remain on deposit for a full 365-day year at the advertised rate, and no additional deposits or withdrawals are made.

ATM – Automated Teller Machine
A computer terminal activated by a magnetically encoded bank card, allowing consumers to make deposits, obtain cash from checking or savings accounts, pay bills, transfer money between accounts, and does other routine transactions as they would at a bank teller window.

CD – Certificate of Deposit
A receipt for a time deposit  issued for a stated time period and normally paying a fixed rate of interest.

DBA – Doing Business As
A name used for business purposes that is not the legal name of the individual or organization actually conducting the business. A proprietorship commonly operates under a DBA, as in John Smith DBA John’s Auto Body.

DDL – Daily Dollar Limit
Refers to the maximum dollar amount you can withdrawal from your ATM card at an ATM within a 24-hour period.

EFT – Electronic Funds Transfer
A transfer of funds between accounts by electronic means rather than conventional paper-based payment methods, such as check writing.

EIN – Employer Identification Number
A Taxpayer Identification Number  for entities other than individuals, such as partnerships, corporations, estates and trusts.

FRB – Federal Reserve Bank
One of the 12 banks that, with their branches, make up the Federal Reserve System.

FHA – Fair Housing Act
A law enacted as part of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination of home sales, rentals and financing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or those with disabilities.

IRA – Individual Retirement Account
A tax-deferred retirement account allowing an individual to contribute a pre-set amount annually from personal income.

IRS – Internal Revenue Service
An agency of the federal government that is responsible for the administration and collection of federal income taxes.

PIN – Personal Identification Number
A numeric identification code used by bank customers when making transactions at a self-service electronic banking terminal, such as an automated teller machine.

POA – Power of Attorney
An instrument by which one person, as principal, appoints another as his agent and confers upon him the authority to perform certain specified acts or kinds of acts on behalf of the principal.

POD – Payable on Death
A regular bank account that names a specific person as the beneficiary of all funds once the bank account holder dies.

POS – Point of Sale
A system that uses a computer terminal located at the point of sales transaction so that the data can be captured immediately by the computer system.

PR – Personal Representative
The generic term for an executor for the estate of a deceased person who left a will or the administrator of an intestate estate.

RTN – Routing Number
A numeric coding facilitating check clearing among banks. The ABA numbering system, managed by the American Bankers Association, assigns a unique identifier to each U.S. financial institution.

SBA – Small Business Administration
A United States government agency that provides support to small businesses.

TIN – Tax Identification Number
An identifying number used for tax purposes in the United States. It is also known as a Tax Identification Number or Federal Taxpayer Identification Number. It may be assigned by the Social Security Administration or by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service.)

UGMA – Uniform Gift to Minors Act
A UGMA provides a child under the age of 18 (a minor) with a way to own investments. The money is in the minor’s name, but the custodian (usually the parent) has the responsibility to handle the money in a prudent manner for the minor’s benefit. The parent cannot withdraw the money to use for his or her own needs.

UTMA – Uniform Transfers to Minors Act
The Act allows the donor of the gift to transfer title to a custodian who will manage and invest the property until the minor reaches a certain age. The age is generally 21, but is different in some states (usually 18 in those cases). In the interim, the custodian can also make payments for the benefit of the minor out of the corpus of the gift.

By Cindy Lewis, Customer Service Director

Equal Housing Lender - larger

New Computer – first things first

The Internet is not a scary place if we use some common sense to protect ourselves. Most malicious activities entice you to take an action and the fraudsters only get better as we learn their tactics. If you are able to do these 4 things you will be better off than most: 

1. Learn your security software. While there is nothing that will completely protect you from all the bad stuff on the Internet, good security software will take you a long ways. Security software with a paid subscription is best, but you need to make sure that it stays up to date and that you continue paying for updates from year to year. 

2. Learn how to check for updates. Both Windows and Mac have update utilities that you should understand how to use. The updates do typically install automatically, but some updates still require your interaction to complete. “Windows Update” can be found in the start menu and “Apple Update” is in the Apple menu. 

3. Be careful what you click. Did you know some countries can measure fraud income as a percentage of their gross domestic income?  The combination of weak punishment of fraud perpetrated over the Internet and the weakened economy has created an outbreak of Internet fraud.  Read unexpected messages received through email or Facebook with an air of distrust.  Most fraud is perpetrated by enticing you into clicking upon something then willingly giving out your personal information.  If you receive an email promising something that is too good to be true (like money or a free gift) then it probably is too good to be true.  There are good resources on the Internet – like or simply searching Google – to help you discover false information. 

4. Have a resource you can call upon for help.  Your bank is a good starting point because they are already good at protecting your information and ultimately your money.  It is also good to have someone who can help you learn and troubleshoot your computer.

By: Jason Wieland, IT Manager

Adopt a Soldier

A little bit of peace.  Citizens Bank Minnesota has teamed up with Operation Minnesota Nice, adopting Soldiers/Marines who are overseas and sending them care packages from “home”.  Currently our employees are sending 12 Military personal packages every month.  This is not a matter of whether you believe we are overseas for the right reasons, but a matter of supporting our military who have no choice but to be there.  Many of the men and women we have adopted haven’t received as much as a letter from home, so for them to know that someone back here cares about them makes a difference in their lives and gives them some peace of mind. There are days these men/women go without a meal from their Mess Hall. The snacks sent help provide a little nutrition or help tide them over. They wear holes in their socks in a matter of days.  We send them new socks, as they don’t have a retail store to purchase new ones.  They may go for weeks without a shower.  Sending wet wipes and Q-Tips helps them stay somewhat clean. Many of our Military are overseas for the holidays.  We send them Christmas in a box. If you would like to make a difference in a Soldier/Marine’s life, donations are being accepted at any of our Citizens Bank Minnesota locations. One soldier who had received a package said, “In the darkness shines the light of an angel.”  Be an angel today!

For more information go to:  

By Jill Derksen, Loan Processor/Secretary

An Interesting Alternative to Student Loans

I found this interview, which ran on NPR on September 8, 2010, quite interesting.  The interview is with Neoga Leviner, General Manager, Lumni Inc., a company that has created an interesting alternative to traditional student loans.

Traditionally, students borrow the money they need for college and are able to defer interest from accumulating until after their graduation.  Once they graduate, students may have thousands or dollars worth of debt to pay off – a sizeable hole that students are forced to climb out of before they can even dream about saving for a car, a house, or – gulp! – retirement.

Lumni offers students an alternative.  They will loan students up to $6,000 a year for college – not enough to completely fund a college education, but an amount meant to help bridge the gap between the amount available to the student and the amount needed by the student.  In exchange, students sign a contract to pay Lumni a percentage of their salary (the actual percent is not mentioned in the interview) for a fixed period of time, usually 10 years, after they graduate.

Lumni was started in Latin America, and this year will be making their first loans to students in the United States.  If you are going to start college soon and are forced with the dilemma of financing your education, you may wish to check with Lumni. Would this type of loan interest you?

By: Joe Geistfeld, Marketing Intern

Equal Housing Lender - larger

Tips for Saving on Bank Fees

These 3 simple tips are very basic, but worthy of a reminder and a monthly check-up.

1. Read the information you receive from your bank. Remember to check your monthly account statements for new deposits or withdrawals that you did not know about.

2. Protect yourself from overdraft fees. Keep up-to-date records of your transactions, and make sure you have enough money in your account to cover checks you have written or other types of withdrawals.  If your funds are running low, consider a cheaper alternative to overdraft protection, such as, a checking account linked to a savings account or a small dollar loan.

3. Protect yourself from ATM fees. Only withdraw cash from your own bank’s machines.  If you have to use another bank’s ATM in an emergency situation, be aware of the fees you may be charged. Also consider checking with your bank to see if any products are offered that may refund ATM fees.

By Linda Kretsch, Cashier

Equal Housing Lender - larger

FDIC Insurance Coverage

Do you feel your money is safe and protected when you walk through the doors of your bank, much safer than if you kept it under your mattress?  You should, especially if you are a customer of Citizens Bank Minnesota.  By being FDIC insured, Citizens Bank Minnesota is committed to keeping its customers money safe and protected. 

What does being FDIC insured mean?

The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is an independent agency of the United States government that protects you against the loss of your deposits if a FDIC insured bank or savings association fails. The FDIC was created in 1933 in response to the thousands of bank failures that occurred in the 1920s and early 1930s.  FDIC insurance is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. 

FDIC insurance covers all deposit accounts at insured banks and savings associations, including checking, NOW, savings, money market deposit accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) up to the insurance limit.  The FDIC does not insure non-deposit products such as securities, bonds, safe deposit box contents, mutual funds or other similar types of investments that banks may offer.  The standard insurance limit is generally $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.  The FDIC’s online Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator (EDIE) located at: can help you determine if you have adequate deposit insurance for your accounts. 

Citizens Bank Minnesota is also participating in the FDIC’s Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) Program.  Under that program, through December 31, 2010, all noninterest-bearing transaction accounts are fully guaranteed by the FDIC for the entire amount in the account.  Also included in this coverage are NOW accounts with interest rates no higher than .25% and Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA).  This coverage is in addition to and separate from the standard FDIC insurance coverage. 

No worries when you bank with Citizens Bank Minnesota, we have you covered!

By: Stacy Merkel, Auditor

Four Ways for Your Business to Survive and Thrive in a Down Economy

As a business owner, bad news on the economic front causes worry—worry about you and your family, about your business, and about your employees.  Question is, what can you do about it? 

Four Ways to Survive and Thrive in a Downturn

The biggest mistake that business owners make in a downturn is to be overly optimistic and do nothing—to simply wait for things to improve.  Oh, you might think that your business is “recession-proof”, or that you are better-prepared than your competitors to weather a downturn.  But are there signs of trouble?  Are incoming orders declining, or are customers lagging behind on payments, or are inventory levels slowly creeping up?  Rather than ignoring these signs, now is the time to really put your ear to the ground and find out what your vendors, suppliers, and customers are saying.  Listen to your front-line employees.  Then:

1.  Begin by building contingency-planning into your business plan.  What if your customer can’t pay that large account receivable on time?  What if your sales staff doesn’t reach established sales goals?  What if that new line of inventory doesn’t sell before you have to make your vendor payment?  Can you stay in compliance with your loan covenants at the bank?  Now is the time to pro-actively enlist the help of your banker and your other advisers–knowing that you are looking ahead and positioning your business for a downturn will give them confidence in you, and they will be more able to help you during difficult times. 

2.  Keep in mind that cash is king, and anything you can do to maximize cash will put your business in a position of strength.  Get rid of slow-moving or obsolete inventory through special sales.  Think of other uses for inventory that might create sales in non-traditional markets.  Monitor your accounts receivable and demand payment on time.  Don’t become your customers’ banker—expanded terms mean expanded risk.  Be prepared to cut off, go COD, or file a mechanic’s lien if necessary, as a customer who is solvent today may be in bankruptcy tomorrow.  And finally, look at your fixed assets with an eye to selling anything that is non-productive.

3.  On the expense side, use a critical eye in determining your cost structure.  Do you have the right people in the right spots?  Are your employees performing at their maximum?  Are you organized properly? Ask your employees to look at their job descriptions and duties—are they doing something because “it’s always been done”, or are there some duties that can be dropped or done more effectively?  Is there duplication of efforts anywhere?  Have your expenses been creeping up?  Find out why.  From this analysis, identify 5-7 expense-reducing opportunities and make them happen.

4.  Identify your most profitable product and service lines, and those with the most potential to grow. Contrary to what many believe, those who thrive in a downturn avoid diversification and, instead, focus intensely on those products and services that make up their core business.  If possible, sell off—for cash—those lines that you don’t feel contribute to your core value as a business.  Save the cash, or use the proceeds to invest in assets that will further what really makes you money.  And for goodness sakes, don’t cut the advertising budget for those revenue lines that will keep you in the industry forefront.

Move Forward Enthusiastically

At this point, make sure your entire workforce is engaged and moving in the same direction—develop a mission and vision to sell the profitable products and services upon which you have built a solid reputation.  Generate enthusiasm for the task at hand—after all, being part of a company that is moving ahead in a downturn vs. simply digging its head in the sand is exciting!  And be sure to celebrate small successes and milestones along the way. 

If you’ve done these things, be assured that you are doing everything you can to survive and thrive in a tough environment.

By: Julie Baumgartner, Vice President

Welcome to Citizens Bank Minnesota’s Blog

Citizens Bank Minnesota is a community-owned and operated bank, with its main office located in New Ulm and branch offices in Lafayette, La Salle, and Lakeville, Minnesota. In June of 2009 we opened our newest online branch, eWorld. Chartered in 1876, Citizens Bank Minnesota is one of the oldest banks in Minnesota with over 130 years of strength and stability. We take pride in the fact that not only are we a community bank, as demonstrated by our aggressive participation and assistance in the growth and prosperity of the communities that we serve, but also that we are community-owned, with our stock widely held by residents of this area. Community ownership requires us to be sensitive to the needs of our customers and to provide our services at reasonable costs. It also allows us to be flexible to meet your unique financial needs.

Bauer Financial, an independent bank rating company, consistently awards Citizens Bank Minnesota their highest 5-Star rating. This rating is based on liquidity and several measurements or safety and security. For more information on the ratings and what they mean, click here to visit Bauer Financial.

This blog is Citizens’ newest way to keep in touch with our customers.  Each week, one of our officers will post an entry that they feel will be of value to you.  It is our hope that you will find it to be both informational and user friendly.

Your feedback is important to us. After you have toured our blog, website, and Facebook page, we would appreciate any comments you may have as to how we can make our Internet service the best possible.

We are confident that we are able to provide you with the best online banking experience available.


Lou Geistfeld

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