One of the best traits any small business owner can have is the ability to learn from mistakes. Even better is to be able to learn from the mistakes of others so you won’t have to learn from your own. Consider this column a chance for you to do exactly that. So, with that in mind, here are three areas I’d rank right on top when it comes to contributing to the success of your small business.
Treat customers as relationships not transactions
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. When it comes to clients, it more often breeds disinterest or an attitude of taking them for granted. Last week I stopped into one of Bozeman’s big box stores to buy a garden cart. The carts were parked outside. So, I gathered some other purchase, lined up at the checkout and waited my turn.
Eventually, I reached the cash register and told the checkout person about the cart. She told me I’d have to go back outside and bring in the cart’s bar code. Now, there were four other employees standing nearby talking to each other, yet I was assigned to scavenge the barcode. I played along. Went outside, peeled a code off the cart, returned inside and got back in line (by now I’d lost my place). Got to the checkout, paid for my purchases, went back outside to get my cart. There I discovered that my cart was chained and pad locked to a whole group of carts.
So, I went back to the checkout person, was told I’d have to go to the service counter where I was told to “hang on a minute” while the service counter person fidgeted with a pile of paperwork. I got tired of waiting and went off to the garden center. There, I was once again told to wait while the attendant stacked some flowerpots. Finally, I explained my problem to the attendant who was only mildly disinterested.
“Well,” she responded after I’d explained my dilemma, “who’s been helping you so far?”
I don’t have to tell you my response.
Point is, I was a transaction for these people. Nothing more than an interruption, a mere speed bump on the road to them getting through their day. Customers must be more than that. Personal and authentic attention to customers must be the most important thing you are doing whenever you’re in contact with them. More than that, you must treat them as people rather than transactions. Never miss an opportunity to establish or enhance a relationship. Relationships turn into repeat transactions, not the other way around.
Do the thing you fear
When I started an organizational and leadership development business near Tucson, Arizona, I went out of my way to be busy with distractions that really had little to do with a successful launch to my business. My background was in writing and doing creative work for advertising and marketing agencies. I had little sales experience and less inclination to get any. So, I spent my time writing brochures, letters and press releases. I made sure my business cards and letterhead looked good. I arranged and rearranged my office. I wasted time for months before I made myself do what I dreaded most, pick up the phone, call prospective clients and begin to build relationships.
It was only after I started making and following up on those calls that my business began to grow. In the long run, reaching out to make personal contact with people proved more important than how my logo looked or how the message on my answering machine sounded.
Right now, in your small business, I’d bet there is something vital that needs your attention. Something you’d rather not do and are finding ways to avoid. Do your business a huge favor. Ask yourself what is the most important thing you could be doing right now. Then, face your fear and get after it.
Know why you’re in business and view every decision through that lens
A few months ago, I wrote a column that asked the question, “Why are you here?” That’s a question that needs revisiting on a daily basis. Certainly, every small business owner is in business to make money. You’re in your specific business because it matches interests and skills.
But, if you take time to reflect, you will discover that you’re in business for a deeper reason. A reason that has to do with bringing out something within you and bringing it to your clients. Knowing that deeper reason is the thing that will help you with difficult decisions and through hard times. It will guide you to choose between conflicting opportunities when they arise, drive your business to new successes and breathe life into all that you do as your business grows. It will keep you and your business on track and lessen the chances of making mistakes that derail all your efforts.
By James M. Grossman