I have had the opportunity to work for large corporations in the high tech industry for the better part of my adult life. The companies I worked for provided products and services to the likes of Dell Computer, Adobe Systems, Norton Systems, Hewett Packard and others. The experiences I gained from interactions with high level executives helped me refine my thinking when it came to starting my own business. In effect the concepts I learned became the decisive mechanism to effectively begin the day to day operations of my photography business.
The seven concepts I learned are Packaging, Presentation, Pricing, Training, Politics, Customer Service and how to Work Smarter. None of these concepts are exact formulas; rather they are guidelines to help in the thought processes. Jack Welch said, “An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Today the competition is tougher than ever before and I hope these ideas will help you fight the good fight.
1-Packaging – long after you are gone your customers will remember you by what they felt, which has everything to do with how you package yourself and your company. Every interaction you have with another person becomes more than a contact point it becomes a “packaging point” that will leave a lasting impression. Make sure your packaging strategy is well thought out. Do some research, ask 10 or 20 people you don’t know to do a “package point survey” and then offer them something of value in return for their efforts. Get real life feedback about how you are perceived in the marketplace. Just a note of caution, don’t bring your ego or wear your feelings on your sleeve for this exercise. When all the data has been gathered, find someone whose opinion you value, sit down with them and go over the information. Then write a plan of action or create a course correction task list and execute.
2-Presentation – In many ways presentation and packaging are inexorably tied together. If one of these components is not right the other will suffer as a consequence. A good presentation can cover a multiplicity of problems. Pay attention to every detail, have someone proof read everything you put out and by all means, get help from someone you trust. Everything from your business card to the clothes you wear becomes your voice of presentation and is the basis of the feelings you generate in your customers and potential customers. Great packaging makes the phone ring; a great presentation makes the cash register ring. Your audience may forget your name but they will remember how they felt.
3-Pricing. One of the most difficult things for any service related business person to do is come up with prices for their services. If you charge too much you may lose clients, if you charge too little you may lose clients, from a “cheap perspective point” but more importantly you will lose margin, and this is a high score wins the game contest; but you understand this, don’t you?. Correct pricing is paramount to a long term success strategy. Meet with someone who understands how to create a pricing structure based upon your type of business service or product offering. Analyze every component of your business to make sure every offering is priced appropriately for the marketplace. Create a price list and stick to it. Once the basic pricing configuration is created you can use that to create a pricing structure for newly introduced products.
Oscar Wilde said, “These days we know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” Don’t devalue your products or services by lowering the price out of fear. NEVER discount. If you want to create an enticement for your best customers, give something away for FREE. 20% off holds less of an incentive to buy than the statement “with every portrait session you will receive a FREE 8X10, a $65 value.” The words FREE are truly compelling to every buyer.
4-Training – read everything you can about your business; train, retrain and learn afresh. Aristotle said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” If you don’t make training part of your business plan the competition will leave you behind. I still meet business people who don’t know how to use a computer or do proper research on the internet. Rest assured, if you don’t have these basic skills you won’t be keeping up with your service niche. Go to seminars, talk with business coaches, READ everything you can, then retrain and learn afresh. When you follow this simple concept you will be endowed with an innovative and new understanding of the problems that plague you and fresh ideas will flow to you and your team. Train like an Olympian, because many times the difference between first place and first loser is only a millisecond.
5-Politics - there is always someone who will smile at your face and spread seeds of dissension behind your back. As small business owners we all need the help of others to accomplish our goals. Others like, bookkeepers, graphic artists, programmers, software engineers just to name a few. I have come to rely upon many people as my partnership base and they have become instrumental to my long term success. Pick your ancillary support staff carefully, choose those you can work with well, share leads with and more importantly, give them your trust. Jack Welch said, “The team with the best players wins.” This is true in sports, big business and it is critical in any small business. Syzygy and Synergy occur when you surround yourself with like minded professionals. Continued success will come when you understand how to use that energy as a power source in your business.
6-Customer service is all you have. Make it the focal point of everything you do. Return calls on time, give additional services that are not asked for. You know how to do all this, why aren’t you? For me the best way to achieve excellent levels of customer service is with a system. I have never been able to multi-task very well and I have a terrible memory for names. But what does work for me is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system that I have tailored to fit my needs. You don’t have to have a marketing budget the size of Dell Computers to use this kind of tool. I have used several different CRM tools during my tenure in Corporate America and each has their strengths and weaknesses. If you have more than 300 clients you will need something more than Outlook to help you keep track. ACT is a software package that has been around for decades and Zoho is an application that resides in the “cloud.” Whichever system you choose, the key is to keep it updated and keep the data fresh. After each meeting, make notes and communicate with your contacts. Use your CRM system to help you remember all the details and whatever you do, don’t make it too complicated. Walt Disney said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”
7- Work smart not hard. You can burn yourself out when you put in 60 and 70 hour work weeks, even if it is something you love to do. Your mind will reboot when you are away relaxing with family and friends. When you return to work you will see things from a new perspective, things you hadn’t realized before. The creativity that comes naturally to us over the course of the day is squelched when we are tired and not properly nourished. Too many of us think that if I work for 10 hours and generate $X income then if I work twice that I will generate twice the revenue. There is a law of economics called the law of diminished returns that takes over. Archimedes said, “Give me a lever large enough and I will be able to lift the world.”
Use every available tool wisely, set proper, attainable goals and keep them where you can see them every day, evaluate with another person who understands what you want to accomplish, set realistic time schedules and most importantly reward yourself when you reach important milestones. Jack Welch said, “Don't manage - lead change before you have to.”
Want to learn more, go to these people and places for additional information:
Packaging and Presentation
David Sparks http://biznik.com/members/david-sparks
Ken Peters www.nocturnaldesign.com
Bill Doerr http://biznik.com/members/bill-doerr
"Pricing with Confidence: 10 Ways to Stop Leaving Money on the Table" by Reed Holden, Mark Burton
“Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough“ by Jonathan M. Tisch and Karl Weber
Work smart not hard
"Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results" by Thomas H. Davenport, Jeanne G. Harris, and Robert Morison