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Ask About Boosting Business

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By | May 26, 2012

Dear Toolkit,

My business needs a boost. Can you suggest a half-dozen things I might do to get back on the cutting edge?

Dear Lethargic,

Item #1 on any list of how to boost business should be concentrate on the customer. If you refocus your attention on who your customers are and what they truly want and need, and stop taking them for granted (or ignoring them altogether), business is bound to rebound.

In short, focus on the fundamentals of customer service. And make very sure your employees and even your suppliers are concentrating on your customers, too. It's a lot easier and more cost-effective to satisfy your existing customer base than to go out and find new prospects. Marketing, like charity, should begin at home--with your current book of business.

Once Item #1 is underway, a logical Item #2 might be to develop a fresh marketing approach. Solicit the input of all your employees, vendors and especially customers; gather all their ideas.

Would a newsletter create new clients and help retain old ones? Should your packaging be orange instead of blue? Would experimenting with radio advertising be feasible? What's your competitor doing successfully that you're not? Write down the best ideas and make an attack plan--being sure that all the stakeholders of the business know what that plan is and are committed to participate in making it work.

My vote for Item #3 would be a conscious effort to set your business and its product or service apart from the rest of the universe. How can you be different, unique and special? What would allow your customers, both current and prospective, to perceive you as being different from the rest of the pack?

Differentiation is definitely a survival skill in business. And the place I'd look to accentuate my uniqueness would be in customer service. (I know I sound like a broken record, but customer service is going to be the name of the game if a business is to succeed in this competitive global environment.)

Item #4 might be to make it easy for someone to do business with you. Do you or your employees occupy the choice parking places in front of your business? Are you open hours that are convenient for you or convenient for those folks you are there to serve? (I know you'd like to be home to catch the Seinfeld rerun and the evening news, but your customers don't get off work till 5 p.m. and they need you to be available when they are available.) Are there multiple ways for customers to reach you: in person, by phone, fax, Internet, e-mail? And do you make an effort to reach them in diverse ways: direct-mail promotions, bounce-back coupons, discounts, seasonal sales, seminars, free samples?

Are you always aware of and open to new ideas, trends, opportunities? My Item #5 would be to stay alert! Don't get lulled to sleep by success or even just adequate performance. Keep looking for what trends are coming down the road and ways in which you might change to capitalize on those trends.

Amazon.com saw a trend toward folks staying home and searching an attractive database for books to buy. . .something they could do at 3:00 a.m. if they wished. Can't sleep? Get online and shop for Aunt Sarah's birthday present. They'll make suggestions, gift-wrap it and even enclose a card with your personal message. Then you can go to your online broker and buy some stock. And on your way back to bed, order your groceries from Peapod to be delivered after you get home from Toledo next Saturday.

Can new technology work for your business? Can it make you a 24/7 outfit? Let you reach more people more of the time? Maybe it's not the Internet. Maybe it's printing your menu with a boldly underlined fax number and inviting local businesses to fax in their breakfast or lunch meeting orders for you to deliver at the hour they specify.

Since we're running out of space, Item #6 will be to do all of the above all the time, not just once in a while. Good intentions won't get the job done. Make these items part of your daily routine.

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