Today's business environment isn't getting any easier, nor will it get easier anytime in the future. I'm not psychic but I have learned that business NEVER gets simpler. More competition, shrinking profit margins, increases in fixed and operating costs are just a few of the issues we deal with everyday. You can lament this fact or, you can take proactive measures to bullet-proof your business. Here are few strategies that can help:
Clearly define your business. The most successful business people know what they are in business for. They have one or two areas of specialty or expertise and they stick to what they're good at. They avoid the temptation to try to become everything to everybody. In many fields, specialists tend to do better than generalists and, in bookselling, it's no different.
Have you created a niche market for yourself?
Is your niche viable in your location/city/town/market?
Are you the best at what you do in your trading area?
Do you stick to what you're good at or do you stray from this when revenues are lean?
Mounting bills, a slow month or months, pressure to generate dollars to the bottom line; it's tempting to take on new work or do something in an area you don't have a lot of experience. Unfortunately, this spreads our resources thin and can cause us to lose focus in our specific area of specialty. And, because we're in an area that isn't our strength, the quality of our work may not be as good. This causes customer dissatisfaction which leads to lower repeat and referral business. It then becomes a vicious circle; we take on more work that falls outside our area of expertise because we need the sales. We don't execute at 100% and we lose a customer. Our sales continue to drop so we pick up more work. And so on.
Create and maintain customer loyalty. In today's competitive environment, many business owners think that consumers are concerned only with getting the lowest price for the product or service they are buying. So, they spend money trying to attract new customers based on price which means they constantly erode their profit margins. Although price is a factor in every sale it is not always the most important factor. It is much more effective, not to mention profitable, to create and maintain customer loyalty. Here are a few questions to consider:
Do you keep a data base of clients and stay in regular contact with them?
Do you know and use your customer's names?
Do you give them a reason to continue doing business with you?
Do you know what your customers want or expect?
The benefits of investing your time, effort, energy and money to create loyalty include: more referral business, higher margins, and reduced advertising costs. It's important to note though, developing customer loyalty is not something you do once in a while, it is the way you conduct and run your business.
Deliver outstanding customer service. Virtually every business recognizes the importance of delivering excellent customer service. Yet, few actually consistent execute. The excuses run from "I have to reduce my head count" to "My employees are just here to collect a paycheck" to "I can't be in the store twenty-four hours a day." Again, it comes back to why you are in business. Obviously, if you want to deliver great customer service on a consistent basis you won't be the lowest priced vendor; it's economically impossible to achieve this goal.
To deliver outstanding customer service you need to get personally involved. You need to determine what great service means to you and, even more critical, what it means to your customers.
Improve your selling skills. Constant refining of your sales skills will help you close more sales and/or increase the value of each sale. I don't suggest you adopt or use aggressive, hard selling tactics. Instead, I recommend you develop your skill at uncovering your customer's needs, suggesting solutions that are appropriate to their needs, and overcoming objections. Learn how to engage the customer in the sales process and how to ask for a referral. There are many selling skills books on the market; review a few and adapt some of the concepts to your specific situation. And make sure you teach your employees how to apply these concepts too.
Running a small business is not easy. Define your business, give people a reason to buy from you, hire and train the right employees and get involved in your community. These strategies will help you remain competitive now and in the future.
© 2004 Kelley Robertson, All rights reserved. Kelley Robertson, President of the Robertson Training Group, works with businesses to help them increase their sales and motivate their employees. He is also the author of "Stop, Ask & Listen - Proven sales techniques to turn browsers into buyers." Visit his website at www.RobertsonTrainingGroup.com and receive a FREE copy of "100 Ways to Increase Your Sales" by subscribing to his 59-Second Tip, a free weekly e-zine.
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