Six Ways To Make The Most Of Your Business (written May, 2009)

If you have a small, independent operation, you may be sitting on a gold mine without recognizing it. Almost every business has unrealized potential, and you may be too close to see it. There are probably any number of ways your business could grow and prosper. Here are some possibilities.

#1) Find new uses for the product you sell. Perhaps those doormats could be used to protect the upholstery of automobiles. Clothespin holders could be modified slightly to hold office supplies such as scotch tape, ruler and scissors or every day tools such as a small hammer, pliers and a screwdriver. Almost anything can be put to a new use. If you can’t come up with any ideas, hold a contest and give a prize to the person who has a suggestion you can put to use.

#2) Find follow-up products. After you’ve upholstered a chair for a customer, offer a slipcover to protect the upholstery. When the customer is ready to walk away with the cookware offer of cutlery and dishes, offer them a cookbook or a collection of spices. You may be best off focusing your main efforts on one item or type of item that you know best or will sell best. But if you can sell someone once, you can sell them again, and it’s easier to sell someone who has purchased from you than it is finding a new customer. Follow-up items or items related to your main product or service make the most sense. The customer who has just bought something and feels good about it is in a great position to decide about their next purchase. Money may be scarce, but if you can help the person make up their mind about what to buy next, the sale is yours.

#3) Learn a new skill. If you can refinish your furniture or if you can sew, why not learn upholstery as well? If you use a typewriter or an adding machine, move on to a computer. You probably don’t need to be told that the more things you can repair, the more demand there will be for your services. For example, every day more and more computers, DVD’s and VCR’s are being sold. Soon these products will require repair. Learning to repair these items can turn into a prosperous business. Make a careful assessment of which fields offer the most opportunity in your area. If there is a lot of construction going on, sharpening tools might be very lucrative. Or maybe you could do very well self-publishing. Whichever way you decide to go, bear in mind that the money you spend increasing your own knowledge and expertise is money well spent.

#4) Find new customers. Expand your sphere of acquaintances. Join and become active in business groups such as the local Chamber of Commerce. Also go to social and sports events, meet as many new people as you can every week. If you enjoy being with people, don’t deprive yourself of social interaction. If you can meet people like yourself, you can be increasing your business while you’re having fun. Don’t push business when it isn’t appropriate, but let everyone know what you do. One way is to identify yourself with your business whenever possible. Don’t just say “my name is John Jones.” Tell everyone instead “I’m John Jones of Speedy Television Repair”.

#5) Reward good turns. Ask your customers and your colleagues to refer customers to you, and when they do, give them something to show your appreciation. It might be a discount on your services, a gift or a cash bonus. It only has to be large enough to provide an incentive for them to do it again and again.

#6) Take good care of your customers. Help them solve their problems. First, let them talk about their needs and wants, and listen to what they say. They’ll let you know what products and services you can provide to make their lives easier. You’ll sell with more confidence too, when you know you’re responding to the actual needs of customers. Listen too when they need things that aren’t related to your business. Recommend other small business owners to your customers, and soon other business owners will be recommending you. Do not, however, recommend anyone or anything that could come back to haunt you. You may have been pleased with Joe’s Auto Service, but there’s always a chance someone else may not be.  Follow-up when customers haven’t called you or bought anything in a while. Find out what’s happening with them, why they’ve stayed away and most important, what you can do for them now. Even if they’re not ready for another purchase, it doesn’t hurt to let them know you’re still around. Let them know you haven’t forgotten them and they won’t forget you.

Use these six tips to make the most of your business!

The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.