If you're seriously short on new clients and repeat business, you can blame your background, your lack of connections, and a lack of opportunities in your industry--or you can take a serious look at the way you do business. You can evaluate yourself and your staff on the following points, and correct anything that needs correcting.
_ Do you forget a client once the receipt is issued? _ It's easier to retain a customer than to find one--how many businesses ignore this simple fact? When was the last time you sent a thank-you letter, a birthday gift card, or a "thought you might be interested in this" note that really showed you were paying attention to someone's past business? For a really special touch, send a handwritten note. _ Do you squeeze your financial assets to death? _ Presumably you know better than to foist cheap-and-shoddy products on anyone; but when was the last time you gave something away as a bonus, or made a donation to a good cause? And how many times have you put off updating your equipment, or hiring a contractor or new employee, because it "cost too much" to give yourself or your customers the best possible publicity, ingredients, or efficiency? If you don't want to pay now, you may pay later--in emergency fixes and lost business. _ Are you trying to do everything yourself? _ Every successful business needs contract services and employees, at least on occasion. Publicity, website updates, and tax returns, especially, trip up too many entrepreneurs who think they "should" be able to do it alone; even your social media could attract a better return on investment if you paid a specialist to do it. And whomever you hire--contract, full-time, or part-time--trust them to do their jobs without your having to personally double-check everything. _ Are you forgetting to plan? _ Whether or not you fill out a "standard" business-plan template (and it's not always necessary to go into that much detail), have a clear picture of your financial goals, the amount of marketing needed, your personal best work times, your ideal clients, and the specific benefits you offer your customers. Don't_ ever_ take a play-it-by-ear approach to your budget and work schedule. _ Do you think of business as something done "according to plan"? _ That said, if you try to plan out everything perfectly in advance, you'll either never get started because you'll never feel "ready," or you'll freeze up and slide back to square one at the first unexpected problem. Make no mistake, delays and glitches--and unexpected questions and requests--will happen. Leave space in your schedule to deal with them; and, above all else, have confidence in your own ability to improvise and adjust. _ Are you afraid of your own imperfections? _ Of course you don't want to display your worst habits--from snapping at people to picking your nose--in front of customers. But be fair to yourself; every slip of the tongue or misplacement of an order isn't the first step toward bankruptcy. Your customers may even like you better for showing (and laughing at) your fallible side. _ Are you criticizing yourself in front of your clients? _ If there's anything worse than fearing to make a mistake, it's constantly implying that you're bound to make one. Being honest with clients doesn't mean you tell everyone upfront that you've never done this sort of thing before, you're undereducated, you've got two left feet, etc. If you say you're too inept for your work, prospects will believe you--and go elsewhere. _ Do you think about others solely in terms of their convenience to you? _ Yes, your customers know intellectually that your time and budget are limited, that you have feelings too, that their requests may inconvenience you--they feel the same way about their own lives. And, like you, they rarely agree emotionally that anyone else's convenience is more important than theirs. Let them feel that you place their needs above your own, and you've made a customer for life. _ Do you keep people waiting? _ Some waiting, of course, is inevitable. But if a customer is standing at the counter while you're in plain sight doing nothing obviously important, you're building up resentment and tearing down your own reputation. You know how important that text message is, but all the customer sees is you ignoring her to play with a smartphone that could wait until she's checked out--and the text probably_ can_ wait. (Don't keep people indefinitely "on hold" when they phone, either. Try speaking to them long enough to get a number and offer to call them back; they'll love you for it.) _ Do you treat your own promises as optional? _ Even worse than keeping someone waiting in your office or on the phone, is being late with a delivery/return call/product that you specifically told a customer to expect by a set date and time. It doesn't matter how many "your call is very important to us" messages go unreturned these days; it's still annoying, and it does not mean that "I'll do what I promised if it happens to prove convenient for me" is now the universally accepted way of doing business. If you remove the above habits from your regular business practices, you should find that customers become far easier to attract--for both first-time and repeat business. Of course, you could decide that it's easier to stay in your comfort zone of self-centered habits and that the world is unreasonable for expecting anything different. You could also forget about being an entrepreneur, take a dull salaried job, and spend the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself because the world never recognized your talent or made it easy for you to succeed doing what you really wanted to do. Would it be that much harder to change your habits and earn the glow of hard-won success?