For the past nine years, I have been the host of the program Your Business on msnbc, for which I have interviewed hundreds of small business owners, investors and experts. While the companies I’ve covered span a variety of industries from dry cleaners to third generation manufacturers to venture backed Silicon Valley startups, I’ve seen many similarities between the successful ones.
Here are four exercises I’ve learned from companies who have seen big positive transformations.
1. Evaluate your customer base. Not every customer is created equal and it’s possible that you have some customers that are costing you more time than they’re worth. While it’s hard to fire a customer, you need to step back and look at the big picture. Les McKeown, founder of the company Predictable Success does it this way. At the end of every year, he takes an inventory and finds out who the bottom 20 percent of his customers are.
He then sets up a meeting or a call and says to them very nicely, “I’ve really enjoyed working with you and I sincerely thank you so much for your business, but moving forward, I feel that I’m not in a position to be the best resource for you. I do know someone who specializes in your needs and I’ve spoken to them and they’re excited to meet with you.”
The key, Les says, is giving them a referral so that you don’t engender any ill will. And referring a customer to someone else in your industry will build some goodwill among others in your field as well.
2. Understand why customers have left you. Get in touch with some people who used to be customers and no longer do business with you and ask for honest feedback. This can be a casual conversation – there is no need to set up a formal focus group. If you are open minded, you’d likely learn some ways to improve your business, and you may regain a customer or two in the process as well.
3. Step back and take a hard look at all the processes in your business. Are you doing things as efficiently as they should be done? To get to the real answer here, you are going to have to talk to your employees who are involved in these processes every day. Be sure to let them know that you are looking for constructive criticism so that people feel comfortable telling you the truth. One way to encourage this is to offer a prize for anyone who comes up with a good idea to fix things.
4. Take a hard look at yourself. As the owner of the company, you should be pushing the business forward – thinking about strategy and how to create a company that your customers cannot do without. If you are spending too much time on the day to day functions of the company, you may not be leaving yourself enough time for the big picture. So, do a time audit for yourself. If it turns out you need some more time, hire someone to help you – whether that’s a full time person or someone part-time who can help with the easier tasks.
JJ Ramberg has hosted the msnbc program Your Business since 2006. She is also the co-founder of Goodshop.com. Goodshop.com works with more than 30,000 stores including Office Depot, PsPrint and Bloomingdales.
Goodshop.com lists the best coupons and deals and donates a percentage of the purchase at many of the stores to the shopper’s favorite cause. To date Goodshop.com has raised more than $11 million for great organizations.