Whether you’re thinking it’s Spring Cleaning Time or time for an annual checkup, your business needs to undergo a checkup each year. No matter how large or small your business is, you cannot gauge the effectiveness of any changes you’ve made without analyzing the benefits and bottom line.
Here are 10 questions to get you started:
* How do your year-to-date sales compare to the last couple of years? Don’t be satisfied if you managed to match them because if sales stayed the same then you’ve achieved zero growth. With inflation, this flat growth line is a warning sign for more trouble down the road.
* What percentage of your business is from repeat customers? This is important to know because if it’s too low, then it needs to be improved. The estimated cost of getting a new customer versus retaining an existing one can be as much as five to one in terms of dollars spent. Keeping customers is more cost-effective than constantly seeking new ones.
* How long has it been since you offered a new product or service? Loyal customers like to see you changing and progressing with the times. If you’re stuck for an idea, ask your customers what they need.
* Do you consider marketing and advertising expenses or investments? How you look at the money spent in these areas affects your willingness to spend money at all. Would you look at prescriptions as a waste of money? Marketing is really investing in you, your vision, and your company. The old adage that you must spend money to make money is true, but you must spend it wisely. Spend it on ads that are pulling responses and orders, and if they’re not maybe you need to change publications.
* Do you know what PR is and how to use it to positively position your business in the media? I’ll bet that at least one of your competitors does. Nearly every mention of a company or business in the newspapers and magazines is a direct result of publicity efforts. Being quoted or featured in an article speaks volumes to your clients and readers who are your potential prospects. A good PR consultant can do that for you and show you ways to extend the shelf life of that article beyond its publication.
* Are you listed in the yellow pages? If you only have a line listing, consider including a small ad in the yellow pages. If you can afford it, it will pay dividends throughout the year.
* Do you teat your regular customers better than your drop-ins? You should. If your customers don’t feel special when coming to you for products of services, why should they remain loyal to you? Have a customer appreciation day or a special invitation only sale for your regulars. Create a mailing list of your regulars. Send occasional post cards or greeting cards for special events or just to keep in touch. Learn to recognize them on sight and greet them by name when they visit you.
* How long has it been since you really talked to one of your customers? Just as you appreciate when your Doctor takes time to talk to you, your customers will appreciate you if you take an interest in their needs. If you have a service business, have lunch or coffee periodically with some regulars – even if they only contact you once or twice a year. The personal touch in an impersonal world will be remembered.
* How is your business doing compared to your competition? Every company, no matter what the size, has competition – even home-based businesses. Is their business growing or downsizing? Is their pricing or service better than yours? If so, what can you tell potential customers about the price difference? Think about how you can improve your service to meet or exceed your customer’s expectations.
* Are your employees happy? Don’t ask them directly, but observe them throughout the day. Watch, listen and learn. Employees who like their jobs don’t watch the clock for quitting time, aren’t habitually late, don’t have poor body language, don’t spend time on personal phone calls, and don’t look like they never smiled. Observe how they interact with customers. Not everyone is a match for direct contact with the public, so make sure you don’t have an employee who is driving business away.
I can remember when I was working at my very first job out of school. It was a service business with just the owner and me at work. There was direct contact with the clients, and there was never a problem with smiling when talking face to face with them. I was given the best business tip of my life by that employer, when he pointed out to me that when talking to clients on the telephone I should smile too. For some unexplainable reason, when you smile as you talk on the phone, the exchange with the client becomes more pleasant and more productive. It’s as if that smile went right through the phone wires to the person to whom you’re talking.