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Is it time to close your business?

So, you have been in business for awhile and it is getting to be more than you bargained for.  You no longer feel like you own a business. It owns YOU!  This is not uncommon.  It goes from logic to emotional as your problems mount.  When things get emotional, you make bad decisions.  Emotional decisions make you take shortcuts.  Shortcuts lead to critical errors and ultimately failure.

What do you do when you operate by emotions alone, or so it may seem.  Maybe you should shut it down.  Did I just say that?

Let’s explore the scenarios and symptoms.  Here we go …

  1. You can’t pay your bills.  When you are short of cash, you grab any easy way to pay for things.  Easy means grabbing a credit card.  Emotions cause you to use your credit card to pay for basic needs. It just became easier than alternative solutions. Next, things you don’t need wind up on the credit card because you needed something to provide you a momentary dopamine stimulation.  Did this sound like something you don’t need becoming a “need”?  Wow, that was a bad idea.  Is this you?
  2. You’re not meeting your goals.  When an entrepreneur starts a business, they generally have a pretty clear vision of what will happen.  They have their business plan, start-up capital, a great product or service and “fire in the belly”.  They predicted that they should start positive cash flow by the 6th month.  It didn’t happen.  Competitors are aiming at you and know your moves and any weaknesses in your product or service.  Eighteen months go by and you don’t know what to do.  You panic because you are in over your head.  Now what?
  3. You change directions constantly.   You find it hard to get traction on ideas.  What looks good on paper just doesn’t work.  You start to wing it.  This or that becomes a series of impulsive decisions.  You say to yourself, “If I had known this, I would have never….”.  You start to ask yourself if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur.  You wonder how other business owners know what to do in these situations.
  4. Your customers aren’t coming back like they did before.  When you first started your business, you had a lot of repeat business.  You started to grow and carry more inventory or hired more people because the business was doing well. You moved to a big new location because you were doing so well.  Months later, sales have dropped because these customers are doing business with you like before.  You start to question everything.  What are the possibilities that this happening?
  5. Marketing channels and methods don’t work like before.  When you first started your business, you could count on people finding you by outdoor and print advertising.  You tried television and radio, but that got too expensive.  You were told you need a better web presence, so you hired a large local web service to “put you on the map”.   You start to spend large amounts of money on internet marketing.  The business is still in a downward spiral.  What do you do now?
  6. You have new competitors that are outpacing you.   When you began, you owned the niche market.  You had only one competitor.  Now you have several competitors.  Everyone knows you and what to expect with your quality services and products.  It should be easy because you have been very consistent in your business practices.  No need to change anything, right?
  7. Your employees are leaving.   You were once the local place to work.  Great pay, great people who worked well together and advancement opportunities look bright.  Then when your sales start dropping, it was like a plague came over your business.  Then, your employees start bailing ship in just a matter of weeks.  You didn’t see this coming, did you?  Wonder what could have happened?  What now?

If any of these things sound like what has happened to you, check out tomorrow’s solution post.  It may surprise you on how there are relatively straightforward solutions.  Oh, and reasons NOT to shut your business down.

Schedule a time to talk – here is my schedule.

What is important about your brand when you are a small business owner?  Who cares, right?  Everyone cares and you should care the most.

Brand is defined by Wikipedia as follows: “A brand is often the most valuable asset of a Corporation.  Brand owners manage their brands carefully to create shareholder value, and brand valuation is an important management technique that ascribes a money value to a brand and allows marketing investment to be managed (e.g.: prioritized across a portfolio of brands) to maximize shareholder value. Although only acquired brands appear on a company’s balance sheet, the notion of putting a value on a brand forces marketing leaders to be focused on long term stewardship of the brand and managing for value.”

The word “brand” is often used as a metonym, referring to the company that is strongly identified with a brand.

When you hear the name Coke… What goes through your mind?  The taste, the color of the can, the type of containers you drink it from or maybe the last commercial you saw.  Coca Cola has probably one the most recognized brands in the World and has for decades.

Now, let’s put things in perspective and relevant terms for your business.  Think about local businesses in your city.  The leading air conditioner service is a good example since they are generally not a franchised business.  Here are some good subjective questions to evaluate your view of that company and its brand:

  • When did you see their last commercial, billboard ad or perhaps their truck driving down the road?
  • Do their vehicles and signage look professional?  Do you readily recognize their logo?
  • Do their employees dress in professional uniforms?
  • Maybe you have used them before.  What was your experience with them?  What have you heard other say?
  • Do you know the face of the owner(s)?
  • Have you called upon them more than once?  Was the experience consistent in quality of delivery of their service?  Was the price reasonable?

Creating a brand should be an obsession.  A good brand is the most valuable asset your company can have.  You want a favorable impression by everyone that comes in contact with your company.  After all, the experience anyone has with your company is a measurement of what will be expected in future business interaction.

What does your Brand look like?

It is not often enough that we ask ourselves “Why do customers pick my business?”   It is not enough to simply ask the customer how they found you.  Digging deeper gives you more of what you need in order to assess and make changes where needed.

Let’s look at a scenario.  Your phone rings, the prospective customer asks for a quote.  You ask “How did you find us?”   He says “on the internet”.  You say great and proceed to give him a quote.

In this example, he chose you because you were ranked high on the web search.  Think about it, you were there with half a dozen other companies in your same line of business.  He called you.  If you got the business, was it because you were cheaper or ranked higher in the search engine?  It could have been either, but not every customer makes their decision because the chosen business was cheaper or easier to find on the internet.

What customers say about your company is more important than any single factor in your business.  If someone is making a decision based upon price and you have a bad reputation, you probably are not going to get their business.  Your competition can probably match your price and if they have a good reputation, they are as likely as you to get the business.

Keep the term “Customer Experience” on the forefront of your mind.  According to Wikipedia:

Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. From awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction; the distinction is usually clear in context.

Here are a few things I have seen work to improve the customer experience:

  1. Talk to your customers when they are at your place.  Get to know them.  Thank them for coming.  Make them feel like they are the only customer you had today.  It works!
  2. Use customer satisfaction surveys.  Have some preprinted cards with a 1 to 10 rating system relating to 4 to 6 questions.  Place these cards in your lobby.  Post the results on your website and staple the cards on a wall where customers can see them.   The customer will be instantly transformed into a positive frame of mine and feel like they came to the right place.
  3. Ask customers to post a comment or review on Google Places, Bing, Yahoo or any other popular search engines.  Make sure that you ask your happy customers to do this.  If an unhappy customer submits a review, they can do irreparable damage.  This becomes viral.  People will start telling you, “did you know that you were the only ****** business with all 5 star reviews.  I have personal witness that this does happen.
  4. Call your customers and ask them if you met their expectations.  Do this within 24 hours of delivering the service or product.  After 24 hours, a call is not near as effective.  When is the last time you received a call from someone you just did business with.  How would you feel about that company after receiving that call.  Service companies .. you better pay close attention to this one.
  5. Post comments and survey results on your website.  Be sure to ask permission to use names of customers if you chose to do this.  Search engines find this stuff and it works.

Building a good reputation is not an occasional project or campaign.  It is an ongoing effort that builds a solid foundation.  Growing a business organically (naturally) is the best and least expensive way to build it.   News travels fast and can be viral.. Make sure the news about your company is good news.

Did you ever think that the customer experience can increase your profit margins?  I have found that if a business has a good reputation, their margins are actually better because they do not attract only “price shoppers”.  Price shoppers often are the hardest people to please.  If you are providing quality products and services, you can demand higher prices because you can afford to deliver consistently high quality.  I am not sure about you but I really like good customers that do not try to beat me up on price.  Those who appreciate me usually get more than they expected in quality of service provided.

Don’t waste your money on advertising until you assess and improve your customer experience.   All your advertising dollars may as well be thrown out the window if customers you have serviced are marginally satisfied.

Start building your Customer Experience today!  Schedule 30 minutes with me here.

Over the last 35 plus years as an entrepreneur and business owner, I have seen so many organizations come and too many go because they fail to adapt.  To succeed, a manager or owner must always be looking outside the box and observe what the competition is doing and what the trends are among successful companies.  You do not have to be like everyone else, but it sure is a good idea to see what others are doing in the areas of marketing and branding practices.

About three years ago, I started service business.  When I decided to do this, I immediately looked at the competition and saw a lot of opportunities to excel where they were not.  To start with, I looked at how the business were establishing their identity (brand).  This included looking at their locations, reviewing their websites,  and their advertising methods and messages.  The first thing I noticed was most of their websites to be no better than what my seven old year grandson could do.  Their advertising was very traditional.  Advertising included thousand dollar a month ads in the phone book, expensive television and radio ads.

The first thing I did was setup a website with a creative URL (web address).  I did a lot of work with SEO (search engine optimization )so that we could easily be found on Google, Yahoo and Bing(among 100’s of other search sites).  Customer testimonials and quoting online I felt was important, so I added them as well.  Our rankings quickly shot up to number one and have stayed that way for four years now.

I knew that advertising was necessary for a start up, so I immediately attacked this task by committing to a ninety day blitz on TV, Radio and the phone books (just like our competition).   Note: We started the business in 2008 right about the time the economy started going bust.  Guess what happened .. my expenses where greater than my income for at least the first 6 months of business.  It just about sunk us!  To top everything else, the cheapest and most effective advertising was my website that I did my self for almost nothing.  The traditional advertising methods of TV, Radio and phone book proved to ineffective and expensive to boot.

The cell phone ah the cell phone.  I kept reading and hearing about how people are going to start using cell phones to find products and services.  Even the laptop or home computer is becoming less of a tool for managing day-to-day activities.  So, what I did next was to get a mobi URL (Mobile or smart phone compatible version of our website).  The project cost me a whole $10 to setup.  Guess what, it is now our number one source of hits on our website.  I gave the customers a scaled down, no frills bit of information like our phone number, map of our location and email address.  This is all they need to find us.  If they want more information, they simply go to our primary site on their home computer or laptop.

In summation, our business has grown 40% per year since I started my marketing through the web.  My advertising cost is approximately 1.5% of my gross profit.  How is that for growing on a dime?

If you want to learn more about how The Business Coach can help you, drop me an email at coach@makenewrules.com.