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Tips 10-12

Tip #10: Developing a network

Because sometimes it really is who you know

One big advantage every large company has is its employees. They represent an extensive knowledge base the company can draw on any time. But there is a way your small business can enjoy many of those same advantages. It's called networking.

The power of connections

Networking offers a number of benefits. A network of contacts can offer you:

  • A potential market for your product or service
  • A referral service to new customers
  • A source of specialized, valuable expertise
  • A way to benefit from others' experience

Start with who you know

If the business you're starting isn't radically different from what you did before, there may be people at your last company whose opinions and advice you respect. You may find that your services prove useful to them; they may even recommend you to other people they know.

Uncover expert advice

Sure, you know your core business inside out. But what about all the other things you have to take care of? Accounting… computer maintenance… coffee supplies. Do you know where to start when it comes to sourcing them?

When you have a network of contacts, you have a dependable source of sound advice you can turn to whenever you need it. In time, you'll be better equipped to handle these tasks for yourself, but at the beginning it makes sense to draw on outside help.

Learn from what other people have done

One of the biggest benefits of networking is the opportunity to learn from others' experiences. It's a lot easier to find out what does and doesn't work by talking to people who have "been there, done that" than by making those same mistakes yourself.

Grow your network

One way to build your business over time is to build your network:

  • Attend networking events such as trade shows, conferences and association meetings.
  • Join networking groups that meet (in person or online) to share experiences and insights.

Remember too, quality is always more valuable than quantity. Concentrate your efforts on people who can help you - and whom you can help in return. It's not about passing out business cards and getting your name in front of as many people as possible; it's about building relationships that will benefit everyone over the long term.

Focus on goals

When you attend a networking meeting or event, have a goal in mind. Whether your plan is to meet three new contacts or distribute free samples of your product, setting a goal and sticking to it will enhance your chances of success.

Then be sure to follow up, whether it's a phone call, an email, or simply a personal note on attractive stationery. Ask your new contact for a time when you can meet over coffee or lunch to discuss future, mutually beneficial opportunities. Just be sure to listen to your new connection's needs before trying to sell your own goods or services.

And one more thing… be sure to show your appreciation when someone passes along a referral or tip to you. Otherwise, they may conveniently forget about you the next time opportunity knocks.

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Tip #11: Getting and keeping customers

Every business, big or small, needs customers. Fortunately, with the right approach to customer service management, your business can keep customers loyal for life.

Know what your customers want

Customers have one very simple need: to get what they want, when and how they want it. Your job is to give it to them. But before you can do that, you have to listen. Listen to their goals, their needs and their concerns. Then practise and hone your communication and human relations skills to ensure you stay attuned to your customers' needs before and after you get their business.

Earn your customers' confidence

Always be sure you can deliver before you make a promise or claim to a customer; nothing destroys a customer's confidence in you faster than a broken commitment. If you don't think you'll be able to deliver, tell the customer up front and help them find an appropriate solution. In the long run, the customer will trust you that much more, and you'll recoup the expense many times over.

Make a commitment to quality

Making sure you understand your customers' needs is important; so is making sure your products or services don't let them down. In fact, the continued quality of the products or services you provide is a major factor in whether a customer continues doing business with you; always give it the priority it deserves.

Give every customer your very best

Small customers can become big customers over time. So it's important that you treat each customer with the attention and respect they deserve from Day One - it's a powerful (and inexpensive) way to help seal their long-term loyalty.

Go above and beyond

Consistently exceeding the customer's expectations and providing services that are above par ensures you stand out from the competition and keeps your customers loyal. Establish criteria for what your customers can expect from you and try to exceed them every time.

Focus on people and the profits will follow

Keep your attention on your customers. Profits are important, but without customers there would be no profits. Always ask for customer feedback and make them feel like an important part of your business.

Stand behind your products or services

Customers want to shop at a place that is reliable, dependable and trustworthy. They want to do business with a person, not a faceless corporate entity. So when you personally stand behind everything you do - offering a guarantee that your products or services will deliver -- customers are more confident in your business. And they'll be less likely to take a chance on another vendor or supplier.

Make your customers feel special

Rewarding customers makes them feel special and creates a more personal relationship between you. A small gift or token of appreciation makes customers feel wanted and encourages them to keep coming back. Similarly, special discounts and rebates for repeat customers builds loyalty as the customers quickly realize that it pays to do business with you.

Show your appreciation

Send thank you cards. Remember important dates. Keep in touch. It sounds simple, but keeping in touch – by phone, e-mail, regular mail or newsletters – shows your customers that you appreciate their business. And everybody likes to be appreciated.

Nurture your employees.

A happy employee generates an environment that is supportive and responsive to customers. By nurturing friendly, helpful employees, you ensure that your customers will be well cared for, which boosts customer loyalty.

Employee training is also critical. By teaching your employees proven customer service techniques, you can ensure hat customers will be treated in a consistent and professional manner, regardless of the point of contact.

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Tip #12: Balancing business life with personal life

Okay, so you have a business plan … but do you have a life balance plan? After all, making your business a success is a marathon, not a sprint. So it's important to pace yourself by recharging your internal batteries on a regular basis.

Stay focused

It's easy to lose sight of personal needs when you're caught up in the excitement of building your business. That's why you have to approach your personal life just as you do your business life. Decide what your priorities and values are. After all, spending time with your children or enjoying a vacation aren't just indulgences; they're activities that provide you with a fresh perspective on life. And a fresh focus for your business.

Be organized

Sometimes it takes real organization skills to find time for relaxation. So set up a schedule for your personal time if you have to - commit to a set number of personal hours every week, and be strict with yourself. If there are family or recreational events you want to attend, schedule them in your calendar as you would a client meeting. You'll be more likely to stick to the schedule and once you've made personal time part of your weekly routine, you'll find the benefits will help you keep going.

Don't cross the line

If you're a home-based business, try to set a distinct line between work and home time. Leave work at the office, even when the office is only steps away. Commit to having dinner with the family every night, or not working on weekends. Close (or even lock) your office door if you find willpower alone isn't enough to keep you from crossing the line.

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