“Happy New Year” is a common phrase used every year to represent a “new beginning”. This year it is 2012 that symbolizes a fresh start for everyone. There is always something great about the start of a year because it stands for challenge, hope, planning and the ability to “make things happen”.
Normally, we don’t talk about our company much in our blog articles, but ABD is embarking upon its 30th Anniversary Year in 2012 so we will do so just this once. This article will talk about a few tidbits that we have learned throughout the years that we would like to share.
Business success is reliant upon watching the market and planning the right moves at the right time. Working in any niche business requires a firm understanding of the needs, and the flexibility to change and adapt in order to accommodate those requirements. Marching in the wrong direction is costly. Yet, jumping in front of the pack without weighing all of the factors of doing so can be equally detrimental. This is a fine line that must be walked.
It is always best to scope out the landscape, assess long-term industry goals and act at the appropriate time. Although quantity often means quicker revenues, all cost considerations and long-term profitability and stability needs to be assessed. Quick delivery may mean lower quality. Lower quality represents re-engineering and replacement. This greatly affects cost and future revenue because of the injury to reputation. For long-term sustainability it is sometimes better to go at a slower but forward-thinking pace.
The customer is number one. Nothing is more important. Treat customers better than well. Give more than what is expected. High quality product combined with superior service and an understanding of customer needs puts a company in a position of long-term balance and stability. This posture deliberately generates a steady stream of revenue, growth and profitability. Stay personal. People want to talk to people.
Be innovative. Think beyond the box. Be different. Use your product if you can. ABD uses its staffing software product for marketing, servicing, internal HR management and back office invoicing and payroll. We use what we sell. The product has been re-written from the ground up several times throughout the years to stay technologically current. Whatever you sell, always keep making it better. It’s costly but the cost of not doing so is greater.
Stay close to your customers. Find out how they are using your products. Ask questions about what could improve their experience. Encourage customers to provide ideas and yes even complaints. Take a “hear it first” approach. If someone is unhappy you want to know. Every concern is valid. Many times it is just a misunderstanding about how something works. Learn everything you can about your customers.
Don’t nickel and dime. Sometimes you have real costs and are not able to give out a free-bee. Other times you can give something either at a discount or at no charge. If you have a long-term steady paying customer that is totally low maintenance try to do something for them. Perhaps offer some free training classes or advice that will allow them to use your product more effectively. Stay in touch.
Build relationships. To keep customers long-term takes more than just a good product. Genuinely caring about your customers goes beyond offering a good product. Maybe they need longer terms because of some unexpected expenses or were unusually affected by the economy. If you could accommodate then do it. Maybe they need help after hours or require some special scheduling. In turn, good relationships offer recommendations by customers which will benefit your firm. Any relationship is a two-way street by nature and it always goes beyond the normal realm of business.
Next, all business is not good business. If you know that your product is not a good fit, do not take the business. This is probably the most difficult challenge yet it is an important one. Attempt to do a discovery meeting before you proceed with any sales cycle. This will allow you to assess the needs of the prospect and if you are not a good fit, direct them elsewhere. Remember, there is no harm in recommending a competitor. We receive referrals from competitors and also give them. It’s good business and everyone wins. Competitors do not have to be enemies.
Get out there. Today business goes well beyond a website. For example, set up a LinkedIn® client group to share advice and ideas among clients. This can be more intimate and exclusive than an open network. For a more open environment try a Facebook® page. These take a while to build up so do not be discouraged if the response is slower than anticipated. Keep posting current items. These take work though. If you do not have the time or person to work on this it is best to wait until you do
Take the word “policy” out of everyone’s vocabulary at the company. “Policy” is a word that indicates that the company is inflexible and unwilling to accommodate a special circumstance. Policies should be guidelines that are needed for business operation but should not stand in the way of a solution.
Treat employees well. A company is people. Unless people are treated well and respected for their talents they will not be able to service customers. Offer whatever benefits you can afford. Create a nice atmosphere with good work tools. Listen to issues. Be considerate if an employee has personal problems. Try not to micro-manage. Praise when deserved. Do not praise when not deserved. Know when to give a second chance and when not to. If you are less than perfect on this then keep trying. Most of us need to keep trying.
Document everything in an automated system. All information stays with the company. Keep client matters confidential and secure. Buy a shredder and make everyone use it. Store everything on a corporate server not desktops. Maintain a secure network with anti-malware. Ensure that data backups are taken and securely stored. Information is the business. Never lose sight of this.
Nothing is perfect. Keep checking processes, procedures and practices. Be willing to change as well as stay the same for good reason. What others are doing may not be right for you. Manage growth and assess profitability constantly. Never travel without a roadmap. This ensures that you will always get where you are going.
Terri Roeslmeier is President of Automated Business Designs, Inc., software developer of Ultra-Staff staffing software for the staffing and direct hire industry. Ultra-Staff is a staffing software business solution with components for front office, back office and the web. For more information on Ultra-Staff go to www.abd.net.