The internet is awash with advice on how to understand the people on whom your business depends, your customers. A lot of the advice is aimed at companies who have access to big budgets and big data, and that might be you, but it probably isn’t.
The world of being self-employed is rarely so. Of course, if you are Mark Zuckerberg, then congratulations! But what are you doing here? Get back to work.
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What we’ve done is sift through a wealth of information to pick out the bits we think are most relevant to growth and the self-employed. In a word, we’ve done the research for you. Here are five questions to ask about your customers to help you grow.
1. What am I offering my customers that is more than the basic product or service?
The physical result of your job, whether it’s a new coat of paint, some handmade earrings, a piece of furniture, a logo, a loaf of bread, or whatever it is that you offer, is only one part of the whole. People love stories, they love context. Give that to them.
How you do is just as important as what you do.
Take two identical pairs of handmade jeans, each crafted with love, skill and attention. Put one pair of jeans in a large chain store. Light the chainstore with fluorescent lights, and fill it with discounted televisions and plastic furniture.
Put the other pair of jeans in a little sidestreet boutique. Music plays, the store is flatteringly lit and feels like the loungeroom of a close friend. The jeans have a little tag explaining who made them, why, and the philosophy behind their craft. Which pair of jeans will sell for more money? Which pair of jeans will the buyer want to tell their friends about? Which one has a story?
The moral? Presentation matters. How you look, how your premises looks and the story you tell are all part of your product.
If you don’t believe us, go visit an Apple store. They make computers which do computer-things just like other computers. They make phones that do phone-things just like other phones. Yet people are willing to pay a premium. Why?
One. They look beautiful. Apple are a standard bearer for modern industrial design, even if their computer’s inside parts are the same as the other brands.
Two. They tell a story. Apple claim to represent the cool side of technology. They are hoodies and jeans and hammocks and ping-pong tables. Other computers are pocket-protectors and nasal spray and cubicles and not getting enough sun. Apple are for young, smart, sexy and dynamic people. Other computers are for the tragically unhip, they say. Computers might not matter to you, but Apple have made billions with that story.
But is that true? It’s what people believe, so it’s true enough. Story, perception, and presentation matter. Have a think about what can you do to stand out from the crowd.
“I’m a plasterer, this doesn’t apply to me.”
Yes it does. Being friendly, well-presented, punctual, and telling a story will work hugely in your favour. Even if the story is on your website and as simple as, “My dad was a plasterer, and now I’m a plasterer too”, or, “I really love plastering because…”, “I take enormous pride in my work.” A little snippet like this gives you context, history, and meaning in the eyes of your customer. Your story doesn’t need to be War and Peace, but you should still have one.
When your customer’s friends need some plastering done, what will they say about you? Will they say, “Our guy was late and rude. The work was fine, but try someone else if you can.”
Or, will they say: “We know this lovely person. It’s been their family business for generations. Sure it was expensive, but it was worth it.”
2. Do they know I exist?
This might seem like a stupid question. But is it? Are you waiting for people to come to you? Or are you going to them? That ad you put in the Yellow Pages 10 years ago might be running out of steam. Aside from the word of others, how do you let them know you’re here and open for business?
Here are a couple of ways to consider getting your message out.
Message boards. Have you posted a sheet with your details, a little story about what you do, and a bunch of those tear-off numbers? Try it. Gyms, markets, malls, co-working spaces, and anywhere else you can think of.
Have a website. If they google you but find nothing, what then? It doesn’t need to be big, flashy and expensive. Just a simple one-pager would do for many self-employed endeavours.
Social media. Do you make stuff or build stuff? Do you have an Instagram account to show people what you make and build? Have you invited people to like your Facebook page? Once they do, you can keep them updated about your business. You could even create a private Facebook group to keep your customers close.
Email. Some customers might need to be reminded that you’re around. If they’ve already given you their email, it can be great way to keep in touch.
In person. Have you walked from shop to shop, getting to know people and handing out business cards? If you choose wisely, this can be a great way to meet future clients.
Traditional. Do your customers read The Age, Herald Sun, Beat Magazine, or the Financial Review? A well-placed print ad could be expensive, but might pay off well.
Another way to ask this question would be, “What is the best way to reach my customers?” You know them a little bit already. Where might you be able to get in touch with people like them?
3. Have you asked them what they think?
You might not believe it, but asking people what they think is a great way to find out what people think. This will help you grow. Giving face-to-face feedback can be really uncomfortable for some people, so why not hand them a little questionnaire or card asking them what they like and what you might be able to improve on?
First, it shows you care about your work, and care about what they think.
Second, knowing what people want is the best way to grow your business. This is like big data for the little guy. Get rid of the guesswork!
If you want people to participate, we recommend you keep the surveys short and sweet. Five questions max. You can even set one up online. Then you get the added bonus of people’s email addresses so you can keep them in the loop.
4. Did I fix their problem?
We don’t always get it right. Going above and beyond to address a customer’s grievance and fix their problem can do great things for your reputation. On the other hand, ignoring the issue or responding badly might do damage that it’s hard to recover from.
If you do a good job at redressing the balance in whatever way you can, they will tell their colleagues and friends. You might just find yourself with a few new customers as a result.
If there’s a bad review online, make sure you respond in a courteous way. Remember, stay calm and get to the heart of it. Do your best to make amends. Customer service counts.
But not all complaints are created equal.
5. Who else do they consider before coming to me?
Knowing who your competitors are is a great way to stay ahead, catch-up, or start-up your business. Keeping abreast of the landscape in which you exist is essential.
Knowing your competitors gives you the benefit of learning from their failures, and their successes.
How did they respond to criticism? Could you do better? Or did they set a template you might want to follow? How much are they charging, and for what? Could you do it cheaper and provide the same level of service? Could you charge more and do something amazing?
What does their online presence look like? Too fancy? Not fancy enough? Is it clear? Can you find all the information you want on their website?
If they’re offering the same thing as you, should you change? Or, what could you do to stand out from them?
We hope you’ve found these useful. Taking on some of this advice could be a great way to find a little growth in your own way. Best of luck.
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