As a small business owner, you already know that you face some pretty tough challenges if you want to get ahead of your competition…and there’s plenty of that around.
The good news is that are plenty of customers, too. You just need to be able to find them and, more important, they need to know how to find you. When they do, it’s a big help if they know what to do next.
Take your business from strength to strength
You need to get the word out about who you are, what you do and what is special about your offering. All of your marketing activity needs to work in synch to achieve this. Remember, if you can do what you say you can do…you’re not bragging!
Get out and meet people, but remember that you’re not there to “sell the room.” Nevertheless, networking contacts are a great resource, because once you build a rapport with people they will think of you when they do need what you have to offer. And they are likely to suggest you to their friends, too. Small business owners can lead quite solitary lives; networking is a great way to make sure you stay on the planet!
Get a great website
What’s great? Great is a site that does its job. It’s a sales tool. It’s there to inform, provide interest and keep people coming back…but the main thing it should do is give a clarion call to action…and that action is, ultimately, to buy your product or service. Be clear. What do you want your site visitor to do right now? Phone you to make an appointment? If so, make sure you have your phone number prominently displayed on every page. Sign up for your newsletter? Where’s that sign-up form? Buy your product now? How about using eCommerce to sell directly from your site? And perhaps accepting credit cards? Remember to make it easy for your customer to work with you. If your competitors are doing this better than you are, you may lose business, even if your actual product is far better than theirs.
Social Media offers a friendly place where you can interact with your customers, and is a great place to market your website (which is great for SEO).
Find businesses whose products compliment yours (and vice versa)
Creating business relationships is another way to grow your business base. If you’re a wedding photographer, you might like to hook up with a caterer. If you sell jewelry, consider working with someone who offers personal shopping services. By joining forces with other small businesses, you create greater marketing strength for your own.
Don’t try to be all things to all people…or, pick a theme and stick with it
Remember that it’s better to do one thing well than lots of things…not so well. To some degree, you may actually be the product that you’re offering. Whether you’re a massage therapist, a business consultant, a copywriter or a photographer, your relationship with your clients will be as important to them as your product or service.
Be clear about what you do and be yourself
Build trust. Not everyone will want to work with you and that’s OK. It’s far better to find the “right” customers than to try to sell every potential customer who comes along.
(Here’s a little aside: even if you do wear several hats, saying so at a business meeting can sound like an apology right up front. It says, “I’m still casting around for the idea that will work for me.” We all wear several hats in our lives but, in business, it’s better to pick the hat you look good in and wear it at a jaunty angle for the whole two, ten or 90 minutes you have people’s undivided attention. Save your other hat for another time!)
Take the time to save valuable time
That means, get your house in order. If you want to achieve sustainable business growth, there are things you have to do every day, and things you have to do for every customer or transaction.
All involve a process, be it manual or automated…and the more systematic you are with these things, the better. If you can create “repeatable processes” for the things you always have to do, you’ll be much more efficient.
Create a good filing system
Whether you’re on paper or your PC, make sure you don’t waste time looking for things. Start a folder for each activity or each client, and make sure you put things where they belong when you’re done with them. Keep a “project file” on every client so you can log the most recent communications and who is to do what next.
Batch your efforts
Create templates for documents you use all the time. If you have standard communications such as proposal letters or invoices, create a template. It will make you look more professional, and will make both document creation and storage much simpler.
Slay the time vampire that is ad hoc communication
Check email and other communications at specified times. The immediacy of email, phone calls and instant messaging can make us forget that we are in control of our own time. Just because someone sends you a message doesn’t mean that dropping that important presentation you’re creating to respond makes any sense. Confine your communication periods to fixed and regular intervals in order to keep in timely contact without losing focus throughout the day.
Do a good job, and put things right if you don’t
Customer satisfaction is key to repeat business, and good referrals. No marketing effort is more valuable than the voice of a satisfied customer.
Understand the requirement
Make sure you know what your client needs, and don’t promise that you can satisfy that need unless you can.
Create a clear understanding together about what you will do, what you need from your customer in order to do it, how much it will cost, and build a schedule that you both can work to. If you can deliver at the end what you promised at the beginning, you will have a happy customer!
Right your wrongs
Sometimes you will make mistakes. Own up to them, apologise and put it right. This can actually do more to win good will than getting it right the first time.
Ask for referrals
If your customer is happy, he or she won’t mind spreading the word, but might need prompting to do so. It’s OK to ask, “do you have any friends who would enjoy working with me as much as you have?”