Small Business Development Center
At Chemeketa Center for Business & Industry
chemeketa students

Category Archives: Customers

Keep motivation for your business growing

By Chemeketa SBDC

Small business owners are required to wear many hats, often at the same time. It is not uncommon for the business to drain you of energy and motivation, regardless of how much you enjoy it. When that happens, remember these tips to help you remain motivated in your work and living.

Find your passion. As you reflect ask yourself, “Why did I start my business in the first place?” When you tap into the real motivation that’s driving you, you’ll become more eager to take action. Staying focused on this purpose will feed your imagination, and drive and enthusiasm.

Appreciate your customers. Customers are the reason you have a business. If you empathize with them, understand why they seek out your products and services, your customers will notice, patronize you, and bring you more customers.

Set honest goals. A critical step to remaining motivated setting reasonable and achievable goals for yourself and your business. Create a list of goals that are both longer and short term. Then prominently display your short term list, along with an inspirational quote, in a place you can see them, so that you are reminded to strive for them daily.

Schedule your days logically. There are certain times of the day that you are going to always be more productive than other times. Get to know your most successful work schedule and then plan your days carefully to make the best use of that time. Once you establish a daily rhythm, you will stay happily motivated by your work.

Limit distractions. Distractions are one of the most problematic things when it comes to staying motivated. Keep your work area clean and organized, check your email, Facebook and other distracting sites on a specific schedule, with designated times to keep these manageable.

Treat your team with respect. No business grows without a team and the business owner is the team leader. At its simplest, a wise truism emphasizes that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, then you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you want your business to grow, then you need to motivate it.


Competition is Good

By Chemeketa SBDC

Do you sometimes wish your competition would just go away?  That you could be the only business in town that does what you do so you don’t have to worry about gaining or keeping customers? What if I told you that having competition can actually make your business stronger?

Whether it’s directly or indirectly, business owners almost always have to compete for their customers and then to retain those customers. And in an age of online shopping, the competition is both local and global. But, believe it or not, competition can be a good thing. It can help you understand your niche, it can show you where you are weak, it can motivate you to improve, and it can lead to unexpected partnerships. The key is to see your competition as an ally (of sorts) rather than an enemy.

In other words, competition doesn’t always have to be about winning and losing.  It can be about growth and learning, building and partnering. How would it feel to see your competition as there to help build your business? How would you do business differently if you believed that both you and your competitors can be profitable, that no one has to lose?

Here are a few things to think about the next time you look down the street, across town, or on the web to see what your competition is up to:

  • What do you know about your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses?  How long have they been in business?  What are they particularly known for? How might you support them? Be open to discovering you have immense respect and admiration for those you have been competing “against.”
  • Do you know what sets your business, product or service apart from theirs? Use this information to get clear about your target market and how it differs from your competitors’.  Perhaps a potential customer is really a better fit for your competition: are you willing to refer them so your customer gets what they are really looking for?
  • Make a list of five reasons customers should choose your product over your competitions’ without putting your competitions’ product down. If you have to spend energy making another business look bad, you don’t have that energy available to tell your potential customers why your business, product, or service is the best possible choice for them (assuming it is). Besides, it’s not very becoming either.
  • Be honest with yourself about how your competition is better than you.  Is their product superior?  Do they have better customer service? How can you learn from and emulate what they do well? Are you willing to ask them for help?
  • How can you collaborate with your competition to create win-win situations that lead to greater profits for you both? Be willing to make referrals to your competition as appropriate and don’t be afraid to play nice in the sandbox; you never know where a positive relationship with your competitor might lead.

 


Maximizing Contact with Customers After a Sale

By Chemeketa SBDC

Right after your customer buys something from you is the perfect time to give them love and attention. Don’t let them fade away. Be sure to remind them how great it was to buy from you (and not from someone else) and how pleased you were to have them as a customer. Here are five ways to do that, how many more can you add to this list?

• Congratulate them. Better than thanking them, a congratulatory “wow, you made a great choice!” or “congratulations on your new membership” lets them know not only that you appreciate their purchase, but that you approve of their decisions.

• Send a thank you that’s interesting and different. Instead of a regular thank you card, use something else that can be sent through the mail such as an envelope containing puzzle pieces. Or a small box with a surprise in it. Make the thank you memorable in some way.

• Ask another staff member to come over and thank the customer at the point of sale. A manager is best here, but any other staff member will do. This lets the customer know that the whole team appreciates the purchase.

• Create ways for customers to let their friends know about the purchase. This is easy these days with social media. But you can go beyond that by having a wall (a real one or a virtual one) where customers can post pictures of themselves with your products. Or space on your website for customers to pose with you and your service providers. Think of ways you can make your customers the stars of their own shows (and yours).

• Have exclusive events that only your best customers are invited to, and make sure they know that not just anyone has been invited. Offer tasty snacks and entertainment.

Please email me your great ways to keep contact with your customers post-sale, and I’ll write them into another column soon.

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program . The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


Customer Awareness is Vital to Success

By Chemeketa SBDC

If your business (bricks and mortar or virtual) is going to be successful in the long run, you must focus on serving your customer’s needs and desires. The essence of marketing rests on your clear understanding of your customer and delivering a unique product that he or she cannot get anywhere else.

A Customer Analysis helps you predict which items will appeal to your customers and make a dramatic impact on how you spend your advertising dollars. Do you have answers for the following checklist?

1. Who are your target customers and what are they seeking from you?

2. Have you profiled your customers by age, income, education, occupation, etc.?

3. Are you familiar with your customers’ lifestyles?

4. Should you try to appeal to the entire market or just a segment?

5. Are there new customer segments or special markets that deserve attention?

6. Do you know where your customers live?

7. Do you use census data from your city or state?

8. Are you aware of the reasons why customers shop with you? (Convenience, price, quality products, etc?)

9. Do you stress a special area of appeal such as lower prices, better quality, wider selection, convenient location or convenient hours?

10. Do you ask your customers for suggestions on ways to improve your operations?

11. Do you know what products your customers most prefer?

12. Do you know what seasons and holidays most influence your customers buying behavior?

13. Have you considered using customer questionnaires to help you in determining your customer’s needs?

14. Do you know at what other types of stores your customers shop?

15. Do you visit market shows and conventions to help anticipate customer wants?

And, finally, what do you do with this information? Just gathering data is not enough. The answers to the above questions will now give you the opportunity to make true management decisions about your business. You now need set your business goals based on the analysis of your customer. Reminder — make all goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, responsible (person), and with a timeline).

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program . The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


Getting Cutomers to Pay You and Continue Coming Back

By Chemeketa SBDC

Times still are tough out there for most business owners and their customers. You may have customers who never had problems paying you in the past, but who have developed slow-pay habits over the past couple of years, or worse, stopped paying you altogether. How can you help these formerly good payers continue to pay you?

If you don’t already offer payment plans, then you should consider it. Sometimes this is the only way you’ll get paid at all, although it will take longer. You want to keep your customers, so make it possible (and comfortable) for them to pay you, even in small amounts.

The first thing to consider is how you are going to approach a slow-paying or non-paying customer. Being polite, reasonable and fair is a good start. No one likes to be yelled at or intimidated, and taking a strong “take no prisoners” stance will just lead to your customers hiding from you, avoiding phone calls, and stalling.

Have a conversation with your customer that begins with asking questions about what’s going on with them. You will learn why they aren’t paying you, and what might be reasonable for them going forward. After this discovery process, make a clear request for specific amounts at specific times. Don’t make the mistake of asking the customer how much he can pay, keep control
of the conversation. Agree on a payment plan together.

Follow up the conversation with a letter that details the arrangement. You can start with a sentence like “Here’s a recap of our conversation today (date) regarding the (specific dollar amount) still owed from the previous (specific time period).

Then detail the terms agreed on, the number of payments and their dates, and any other details. Be very clear about everything, and include a stamped payment envelope for extra emphasis. Be sure to include a sentence or two about how much you appreciate this customer working to make this debt good, and how you look forward to working with them in the future.

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program. The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each
Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


Tips to Help you Reach New Customers

By Chemeketa SBDC

Looking for some free and easy ways to reach customers?
These aren’t new, but probably worth revisiting. Incorporate a few of them into
your marketing and results will follow.

• Get a tagline if you don’t already have one (this is
a short phrase or sentence that captures what you do). And then use it all the
time. Print it on the back of your business cards. Put it on every piece of
marketing collateral. Use it until customers won’t hear your business’ name
without mentally reciting it.

• Remember the golden rule of marketing: repeat,
repeat, repeat. People simply don’t register a marketing message the first few
times. Or the first few dozen times. You must repeat your message to the same
audience in the same place, over and over again.

• Make sure people can find you on the web.
Learn about social media, and consider getting a Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Pay attention to your reviews on Yelp or other customer feedback sites. Set up
your free business pages in Google Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, and others.

• Constantly think of filling your customer pipeline.
Make a list of your top 10 prospects or referral sources and keep it on your
desk, your mobile phone, or use it as the “wallpaper” on your computer. Contact
each of them no less than once a month.

• Get out there in person. People do business with
people they know, so build your business network. Attend industry conferences,
join community organizations. Be visible. Connect in person and not just
online.

• Establish a strong company brand and identity. Create
a distinct graphic image—logo, colors, typeface, etc.—that conveys what you’re
about and use them consistently and on everything. This includes your website,
business cards, packaging, newsletters, marketing materials, job ads.

• Tell people what they get (benefits), not what you
and your product/service do (features). All of your materials need to focus on
the benefits the buyer receives—rather than just long lists of features of your
products or descriptions of how you perform your services. Of course, customers
compare features and services, so you’ll need to include those, but always
emphasize the benefits those features bring.

• Get on the email newsletter bandwagon. An email
newsletter is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to communicate with
customers, prospects, and referral sources. Make sure your newsletter provides
some value for the recipient, such as useful information, details on sales, or a
special offer.


Hate Collecting Money From Customers?

By Chemeketa SBDC

Hate collecting money from customers? The operative word here is “collecting.” That is where the discomfort comes in. You are not alone. Recent OPEN Small Business Network Polls from American Express shows accounts receivables is the top cash flow concern of small business owners.

It is true, most of us don’t review our credit practices (notice I did not say policies — often practices evolve over time without much thought about systems) until we have a customer who isn’t paying. The larger the customer’s account — the more drastic this situation — the more likely (if you survive the crisis) you are to review your operations. It’s a fact but, it probably makes sense to take some time before your business is in cash flow jeopardy to set up some good systems.

To get your invoices paid in a timely manner, think like your customer. Several factors affect how your invoices will get paid, including the size of the bill, the financial health of your customer, the format of your invoice and your relationship with the customer.

•  Your relationship with your customers is critical. People pay more quickly if they know you.

•  An equally important factor is the format of your invoices. If you are like most, you send whatever your accounting software spits out. Think about customizing your invoices so they help your customer want to pay you. Are they clear and easy to understand? Make them easy to read, consistent in format, reference the transaction, and with clear terms. The harder an invoice is to understand or the more research they have to do to make sense of your bill, the longer they may procrastinate.

•  It is critical to make your terms clear and easy to understand. Use your terms as a way to encourage payment. Be very specific about the due date, and state it clearly. Instead of: “Pay by the 10th” — use: “Pay by August 10, 2012.” Instead of: “2% 10, net 20” — use: “Take $20 off if paid by August 10, 2012.”

Naturally you want to only take on customers who you know have the ability to pay. So how do you stack the odds in your favor? Before offering credit for especially large amounts try the following:

•  Run a credit report. Reduce your overdue accounts by running a credit check on your potential business client before the deal is done. Expect to spend some money on a Dun & Bradstreet report. D & B uses self-reported data but adds credibility by including: banking data from company suppliers, bankruptcy filings, media sources, suits, liens, and judgments.

•  Always check references. Any small business planning to sign a “big deal” would be advised to run trade and bank reference checks. Simply inquiring with your potential customer’s bank can reveal important banking relationship information and how they have maintained their accounts.

Think before you have a problem. It will simplify complex situations — when they come.

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program . The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.