A while back I asked folks who read my USA Today column to share their best business tips. I received many good contributions, several of which I want to share with you today. The idea behind this exercise was to hear about the valuable ideas and lessons learned from different small business owners.
The question friends and family ask me most often is where I get the ideas for my column. They come from many sources – articles and books I have read, business associates, press releases, seminars and, of course, my own experience. Another valuable source of information comes from what my readers share – you are the ones in the trenches. So that was the idea behind this call to action – get people to share some tried-and-true strategies that the rest of us may not know.
One of the first tips I received was from Don, a residential architect. He says that every time he goes into an interview with a potential client he does so with the “knowledge that I already have the job and act as if I do. I hold nothing back directly relating to their project.”
Don says that when he leaves the interview, because he has shared so much information, “the customer knows me and they have a better understanding of the possible solutions to their project. Interestingly, unlike many professionals who offer a first meeting for free, Don charges for this initial interview – “the potential client benefits from my visit (and I get paid). It's a win-win,” he says.
The upshot? “With the next visit, I am their architect.” Don claims that it is his attitude that closes the deal.
Having the perspective that your small business services are valuable, that your time is worth money, and acting as if you are already hired is advice that many professionals could follow.
Another reader (who asked to remain anonymous) wrote me to say that the key to his real estate career was to have the temerity to ask for exactly what he wanted. He started out selling homes, as many real estate agents do. He wanted to sell bigger properties, but did not know how to even get started, let alone how to do it. “Then, at a real estate seminar one day, I met Marty.” Marty was a broker who specialized in commercial real estate.
The reader approached Marty about working together, and “although it took several months of pestering,” Marty eventually hired him and taught him everything he knew. Today, the reader has a very successful commercial real estate career and still works with Marty. “It never would have happened if I had not asked for what I wanted.”
A.D. told me that the key to business success is to “under-promise and over-deliver.”
Here's a good marketing strategy from Kristy, an advertising executive:
“When I meet with a potential advertiser, I'll often hand them a sheet of paper and ask them to write down everything they believe about their business. Then, I'll hand them a second sheet of paper and ask them to write down what they think their potential clients believe. Now I know our job! Our job is to move the 'beliefs' of the (potential) clients from what they currently believe to what we know to be true.”
That certainly is a good exercise. Write down what you believe to be true about your business and what you think possible clients may think about your business. The gap between the two is where you may want to focus your marketing efforts.
This brings us to the final tip from David. He says that the best thing he ever did for his business was to risk alienating customers. Instead of “being all things to everyone,” David decided that his business needed a niche, and set about creating one. “Yes, I did lose some potential customers in the process, but more importantly, I created an identifiable business that people remember well, instead of a blah business that a lot of people sort of remember.”
Good advice if ever I heard it.
I’d like to hear about your business tips and lessons learned. Please share your thoughts below.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.