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Effective Strategies is devoted to sharing ideas that can improve your business performance. This issue, we look at the five New Yearís resolutions every business owner should make and keep. If you missed the last issue, click here to read it.
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Ahhhh Ö Itís that time of year ó that magical season when people make those resolutions that will make their life better. Small business owners are no different. We make them, too, only we break them faster than the weight-loss resolution. Here is a list of resolutions that small businesses should vow to make and keep.
As I sat at the first official networking event of the year, I couldnít believe the number of people who said they resolved to do more networking. They realized that it was important to their business and they were going to start today. My expertise is networking but I was still surprised. They spoke of it as seriously as they would if they were about to try to stop smoking after years of bitter attempts to quit. The networking group had spiked in size similar to the way the fitness center attendance increases in January.
Networking is a great way to develop prospects and market your business. Most powerful of all, though, is the way that networking enables you to build relationships, learn about others through meaningful conversation, and help other businesses by providing nice, warm, gift-wrapped leads. Itís interesting that people who I spoke with on January 2 were people that I had made contact with during the previous October, November, and December. I had top-of-mind awareness because I stayed in the networking game all year.
Business cards are the currency of the network. I have a stack sitting on my desk of all the recent cards Iíve acquired. I bet you do, too. I have another larger stack in the drawer of the important ones I thought I should keep. I toss most of the other marketing materials I receive but I canít seem to bring myself to throw away a business card. It's a compact advertising medium and has all the information I need to know about the person.
A business card can say so much about your business, and nice ones donít have to be expensive. If you can afford it, have a talented graphic designer create one ó and a logo if you donít have one already. Donít be afraid to put your photo on it ó you are the business image. People do business with your company because of you. Toss those business cards you printed at home on your printer and make an important investment in your business image.
I know many people are cost-sensitive. There are some great full-color options that are affordable online. If you havenít checked out Vistaprint.com, click on the icon and look at their business card templates. You can even download your design that your graphic designer created and order your cards whenever you are ready. If you have questions about what to put on your business card, click here to read my article entitled, ďBusiness Cards ó The Currency of Networking.Ē
If you donít contact your customers at least once a quarter, they arenít really your customers anymore. The old saying that ďabsence makes the heart grow fonderĒ doesnít apply to your customer base. Many things can happen over the months Ė mostly new relationships. We live in a relationship-driven economy. You can get suitable products, customer service, and prices anywhere in most cases. However, the folks you most want to do business with donít have time to sort through all the choices. Furthermore, they want someone who is going to make them feel valued and special. Nothing does that like a well-maintained relationship.
Keeping in contact with your customers gives you the chance to show how much you care about them. Just because they used your company once does not mean they will remember you when they have the need again later. It gives you the opportunity to educate your clients on new products or industry information. A phone call, e-mail, or simple direct mail piece is easy and inexpensive. Most important, it provides real value in helping you maintain that all-important top-of-mind awareness.
My Outlook Contacts list is loaded with over 1,700 contacts. Those are people I have developed relationships with over the years. I am a customer, friend, family member, peer, or service provider to those contacts. I can open up the local business journal or newspaper to find names of people I need to add to that list. Not all those people are my target customer but a sizeable number of them are. I would venture to guess that a number of people who know me donít know everything they should know about my company.
Decide first who your target customer is ó that customer you can help the most, who is most profitable, and who is most likely to want to pay for your services. Go through your list of contacts and decide who fits that description. Pull those folks aside in a special target customer list. After that, you can add people who fit that list who are not in your database yet. You should always be on the lookout for potential customers. Besides your local media publications, use chamber of commerce and professional association membership lists to find contact information for other potential clients.
Our customers depend on us to have up-to-date information and the level of our expertise can differentiate us from competitors. If you are not a student of your field, you will become extinct. The information is at your fingertips. Subscribe to trade journals, online newsletters, and the local business publications. Professional associations publish articles and provide teleseminars you can download to listen to later. Your library has books and audio and video programs. We live in the information age and itís not hard to find fuel for our expertise; itís just hard to find time to take advantage of it.
Invest 30 minutes a day in your field of expertise. My goal is to spend 60 minutes a day relaxing or exercising because those are my stress relievers. That is a great opportunity to listen to an audio program on CD (or download it to my MP3 player) while I work out or relax. Itís a great time to read a book or magazine article related to my field. Capitalize on those times when you are doing chores around the house or sitting in the doctorís office to catch up on the latest information. Your clients ó current and future ó are counting on it.
Make some resolutions of your own. I can think of a few I made that wonít make it through the end of the year. However, I know these five are my favorite time-tested resolutions that will make your business more successful. Theyíve served me well and I know they will serve you, too. Happy New Year!
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