Small Business Professionals: What Impression Do You Leave?

Just because a business is small doesn’t mean they are unprofessional, unstable or even a novice in their field, so don’t make these simple mistakes that give your customers the wrong impression of your business. Avoid these mistakes right from the start and you will soar above your competition.

If you’re a small business owner, or aspire to be one, you probably arrived at your decision based on several factors in your life. These can include your unique personal situation or the conditions you experienced in your position with a large company. Typically, a small business owner or entrepreneur has, at one point or another, longed to leave behind the many frustrations of big business and “do it right”.

Depending on who you are and what you do, “it” and “right” will be different, but the concept is as old as business itself and it’s how most businesses begin. Improving on how we do what it is that we do should be the fundamental objective of all businesses, both small and large. If you’ve had any experience with quality management systems either in your current position or in the past, you know that the overarching objective of those systems and the quality standards they adhere to is to identify the weaknesses within business processes and constantly evolve them to improve them.

One of the biggest mistakes that small business owners and entrepreneurs make when striking out on their own is total abandonment of corporate ways. While there are many things that frustrate us within large corporations, let’s face it, they must be doing something right, or they wouldn’t be the large entities that they are today.

There is no need to re-invent the entire wheel to build your better widget. Sure, you need to look at how you will conduct your business to differentiate yourself from your competition. However, don’t forget to pay attention to the things your past employers and competitors are already doing right. Just because you work for yourself now, doesn’t mean that you leave behind the experience you have gained from working for others or what you know you expect as a customer yourself.

Very often small businesses, consultants and service providers miss the mark on some key areas that significantly impact their customer relationships. Sure, customers benefit from your lean and nimble operation with great pricing and flexibility to meet their needs, but there are some basics that no customer wants to give up. Regardless of how great your prices are or how friendly you are, they might just avoid going ‘small time’ and opt for a larger provider if you fall down on too many of their expectations. Check out these Top Five items that can make or break your relationship with your customers. Where are you missing the mark?

  • Punctuality
    These days, schedules are crazy and delays happen – for everyone. Don’t let your own schedule impact your customer’s! Schedule your meetings for times when you are sure you can be there. Your customer would rather negotiate a time that is good for both of you than to sit and wait for you to show up. If you are going to be late, contact your customer before the meeting is supposed to start and give them the opportunity to reschedule. They deserve your full attention for the amount of time you have planned, so never start a meeting more than 10 minutes late!
  • Communication
    Good communication means responding to phone calls, voice mail messages, e-mail messages, etc. in a timely manner. Don’t sit on it for 3 days and then tell the customer your woe’s in your business and/or personal life to explain why you couldn’t get back to them. This really tells them that your business and your customers just aren’t that important to you. If you need to do some research to answer their questions or you need to reach out to someone else to get them a thorough response, that’s fine. However, respond to them right away and give them a general idea of how much time you need before getting back to them with a complete response.
  • Product/Service Details
    Start-ups and small service businesses tend to take a “wing it” kind of approach to many process oriented tasks, such as writing up your detailed service offerings. While this adds to your overhead in terms of time, they are invaluable in providing clarity to your customer. If a customer pays you money, they have a right to expect you to clearly outline what you will do and WHEN. While you get the competitive edge by being very flexible and willing to tailor your services to your customer’s needs, your customer still needs the final details of what they are paying for. Chances are, they are running a business too and will need to review their vendors to make sure they are receiving the products/services and that they are effective. If they still have questions, you still have work to do!
  • Written/Verbal Skills
    Whatever the task, use the resources available to you! Turn on the spell checker and other tools in your desktop applications. If you can’t write well, enlist the help of someone who can. Spelling and grammatical errors suggest that you don’t pay attention to detail. If you can’t write your customer an e-mail without errors, they may ask themselves, “How can I trust them to correctly deliver their product or service?” Your verbal skills are also important. Using words incorrectly or mispronouncing them doesn’t make you sound smarter, just unprofessional. Stick to the skin you are comfortable in! Speak fluently within your own vocabulary and you will sound far more credible!
  • Honesty
    This is such a basic rule, but so many people overlook it. Be honest with your customer. It’s not only your mother who knows you are lying! No matter what you think, there really aren’t very many good liars and your customers will smell the rat. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make something up! Gracefully tell them you don’t know but that you will find out. Then, employing all the tips above, go find the answer and get back to them just as soon as you can. If you or someone in your employ has made a mistake, be honest! Don’t go in to unnecessary detail or spin a yarn that you are inevitably going to trip yourself up on later. Just admit the mistake, apologize and discuss with your customer how you will make it right. The truth is, it’s not the mistake that they will remember, but how you handled correcting it.

Challenge yourself to focus on these areas in your day to day business in the coming days and weeks and chances are, you will spot areas for improvement. Think creatively to identify ways to improve within your unique business. None of these areas should be costly to improve and the long-term gains in terms of customer relationship building and loyalty will take your business to the next level.

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