I truly believe that right now is the time of rebirth for small business and home-based business. Ready access to website development and social media gives the underdog an unbelievable opportunity to hold the same attention as big business. Understanding how to utilize this information is key to keeping or creating a stronghold in today’s markets.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love numbers. Their meaning interest me in a way that other things cannot. They are so finite, so definite. Their meaning does not fluctuate and can be changed only through application of other known values. So easily measured. So very dependable.
But it is also numbers that put small businesses in such predicaments. Staying profitable means going well past the point of quality and value for today’s consumers. Consumer needs are fresh and technology has given them a new kind of shopping experience. And, there is a mass of confusion among small businesses on how numbers, profits and losses specifically, relate to people and how they access our information.
Follow me down the rabbit hole please.
Profits cannot be confused with doing business. Muddling these two together in your mind can lead to unclear decision making.
Let me explain more clearly.
A company makes profits. A company is black numbers on white paper signifying money coming in and going out. A company is a plan for services rendered for a specific price. A company is much like a pretty picture framed well on your living room wall. 2D. A snapshot. We read a companies financial reports. But we cannot experience a company. The experience between those employed by the company is its “culture”. The experience between the consumer and the company – well that my friend – is what is called “business”.
The Art of Business is the interaction between the company and the consumer. And the better you are at this art form the better your company will preform.
In simple terms…
How well you do “business” with your customers is the number one way to control how well your company performs financially.
Business now is so much more than quality and price point.
This is the hiccup for most small and home-based business. You must have a good understanding of how you will assist and connect with your customers. Not just provide a product or service. And in return demonstrate to those consumers what you have to offer.
Customers want to have access to people and services that can add value to their lives. The key word in that sentence is access. And now more than ever they can see that value in action through technology.
Here are 10 ways to improve the relationship with your customers, and inevitably improve your bottom line.
- Quality – It should almost go without saying, but, you must provide a quality product or service. Even if you get everything else right, any success you have will not be lasting. Consumers have too many choices and avenues for discovering new options. No one will survive in todays market without something of worth to give to those with buying power. A few bad services or products will haunt you on the internet for eternity. Just type in anything in a search engine followed by the word review. Better yet, follow the homework advice at the end of this post and see what comes up. Let’s hope it is a good report. It’s time to start putting some positive vibes out there.
- Value – Finding the right price for your product takes thought. Prices that are higher than necessary will force your customers to search out new ways to save money. Likewise, low prices may leave questions as to what they are leaving on the table. Many consumers judge quality on price point and typically choose the median value product. Subconsciously, I believe, they feel they are not selling themselves short with the cheaper goods and not getting ripped off on the more expensive. If you are a low cost leader, show how you are able to offer a lower price without the consumer losing out. And if you are the highest in price, justify it in a way that directly benefits your clients.
- Accessibility – Consumers need quicker access to your products and information than ever before. If you haven’t already, find ways to be more flexible in scheduling, office hours, delivery, and in any other way you think possible. Most importantly though, potential customers need fast access to who you are and what you offer. Purchase decisions are made quicker than ever and your window of opportunity for meeting their needs gets smaller and smaller as technology advances. Do you have a mobile ready website? Can potential customers get a good feeling about what you will have to offer before they visit or pick up the phone? Are your prices and policies accessible to the general public? Is there outdated information out there you are still endorsing on your website that is contradictory? It is time to get your concise with your information.
- Customer Service Policies – There is no better way to make repeat customers than with customer service. The relationship with customers is much like dating. If you are not worth staying with they will move on to someone else. Trust and loyalty take time to build. Start now. If you have policies that are unsavory to your customers, make certain they are clear and out front or find a way to make them better for everyone. Fully informed consumers can make better decisions. People want to be respected and are passionate about their money. Do not lose site of the fact it all boils down to a financial relationship, we only spend money when we see things heading in a mutually agreeable direction.
- Connection – Regardless of your industry, all business is becoming online business. Facebook, twitter, email marketing, websites, and even YouTube channels are the way consumers are making their purchase decisions. No more excuses, just go get it done. Consumers, more than ever, are after the ease of big box store and internet shopping combined with the personal experience of shopping small business. They want to link a person or culture to where there money is going. Social media provides a terrific opportunity to show the human side of your business without needing to spend one on one time with ever consumer. It is the best leveraging tool for businesses we can use today. If you cannot find time to promote your business and culture online, prepare to see your bottom line dwindle.
- What can you give away for free – After sales perks are great. But what about teaser perks. The wine industry has done this for years with its wine tastings. Get your purchase experience in the hands of your potential customers first and it puts you at the top of their list. It does not have to be a “hands on” experience in today’s market, though that would give you the best advantage. It can be free information. Blog posts, downloadable information, and video can all have a leveraged reach among consumers. Do you have a business catering to children’s needs? Why not an informative coloring book parents can print. A niche market? Do a video on what to expect in the first visit, customer reviews, or the service in action.
- Response time – No longer is an answering machine an acceptable way to connect with customers. Be certain to direct them to your online information, but most likely they have already visited that information. I cannot remember the last time I opened a phone book. A majority of the time, your number would have been found through a search engine. Where hopefully you have laid the breadcrumb path to discovery of what you have to offer. These callers are serious about spending their money. And more importantly they are serious about spending their money with you, which leads to a higher conversion rate. Give them the courtesy of quick turnaround if they call after hours, or even better, have someone available to answer those calls.
- Discovery – Marketing is changing. More and more people are turning to the internet to make purchase decisions. Actively pursue keeping a positive online image. Show your uniqueness and personality. Keep your information front and center to turn more casual browsers into customers.
- Don’t Complain – There is nothing that aggravates me more than whiney business owners. Business is hard. You have to tell the same thing to thousands (hopefully) of people. You have to do the same thing over and over again, with enthusiasm. And yes, customers want to hear you speak with passion even when you could give the sales pitch in your sleep. If you have a breathing person on the phone or in person, chances are they are whole-heartedly interested in being a customer. Don’t blow it with a nonchalant attitude or even worse, like they are bothering or interrupting. Treat them with respect, they have made the decision to treat you as a professional. Act like one.
- Feedback –There are plenty of online resources where you can set up a survey. Customers can be honest if they can be anonymous and it give you a chance to fix any problems before they show up on the web. Giving them an opportunity to do an internal review of your business will also show them you are open to criticism and recommendations. You need to know what you are doing right and wrong, and your customers are the best people to give a grade. Get feedback from your customers regularly in a calculable way. And please, give them something in return for their time. This information is valuable, reward their equally valuable time.
- Industry Teamwork – It is now time to befriend the competitors in your industry. With a cross company team approach you will now be able to support your industry and therefore support your business. If there is a company practicing bad business, it seems logical to point that out. Unfortunately, the bad practices give the entire industry a sour feel. Instead, be an industry leader in best practices, customer service, and quality. Help other companies follow in your footsteps with transparency and customer loyalty. If there is already great examples in your industry, focus on those companies and what they are doing right. Emulate the good, ignore the bad. Promote your industry to boost your business. It is better to be a shiny apple in a fresh fruit bowl than a shiny apple on top of rotten apples. Play team – Play nice – And do not trash talk, this is real life not a game.
Now it is time for a checkup to see how you are doing and how you can apply this to your bottom line.
- Access the quality of your product by company standards. Are you living up to what is advertised or desired? Now compare it to your competitors. Where would you rank yourself? If quality of your product is up to standard, then you know it is something else that will drive your sales numbers. Value is also easy to access. Just compare your prices to the competition. Match quality with price points. Customer service can aid in adding value if you cannot lower the price. You may also find you can increase your profit margin.
- Search for yourself online “(company name/name) review”. If there are bad reviews, it is time to investigate where you are going wrong. If there are no reviews, wow. Time to get to work and put something out there. Find a way to get positive press and add current customer reviews to your website. You do not want your business to be a black whole
- If you do not already have a website, get one. If you have a website, clean it up and make it relevant. Update it often with photos and seasonal information. Link it to your company social media accounts. Consumers spend hours on the web but not hours on your website. Make sure your information is relevant and easy to find.
- Most likely if you are reading this blog you are already using social media. Now it is time to expand your use for business. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, email marketing, and YouTube all exceedingly effective ways of connecting with your clients.
- Now that you have done all of that, find a free online survey service and get customer feedback. Even with a home-based business, knowing clients responses to your products is important. You want to continue to maintain the relationship and build trust.