It is never too early in your career to consider how you would act if you were in the driving seat in a business.
If you are in that position, then I hope you find our tips on the Secrets of Business Success to be immediately useful.
If you are not yet in that position, then it is a useful exercise to note the actions and attitudes of those around you. Consider what you approve of and adopt it yourself, and make a mental note not to act in ways you do not find helpful.
Staff and customers are the two most important groups of people to your business, so it pays to ensure everything concerned with either group runs as smoothly as possible.
Customer service and retention
Customers will be the lifeblood of your business. Whatever your business activity, it only exists because ultimately, customers are paying for the goods or service.
If you provide a service at arm’s length, say insurance, people still choose to buy their insurance from you. And they can just as easily choose not to!
It is much easier, and therefore cheaper, to retain a customer than to attract a new one. So a lot of your company time and attention should be spent on making sure the customer experience is as good as it can be. Because if they have a bad experience, you can be sure they will tell plenty of people.
It is worth remembering that many people are willing to pay a price premium for good service.
Customers can be difficult, demanding and argumentative, but not usually until they have had the run around. Until then most are reasonable, but they do expect a certain standard of customer service. If a problem does arise, make sure that everyone in your business knows that they must do everything in their power to ensure the customer is satisfied.
They need to know that although the customer is not always right, they are always the customer.
And that the small things are often as important to the customer as the big things. Sometimes a small maintenance job done correctly can lead to a big purchase later. You are building your reputation. People will test your service with a small job before they invest in you with a big project.
You can differentiate your company from your competitors by taking excellent care of each and every one of your customers. This will ensure you keep your customers, and will eventually start winning over some of your competitors’ customers as the word spreads.
Ensure that you, and everyone who works with you, are courteous, professional and helpful at all times. Always keep customer appointments, complete the job on time and make sure the work is done as well as possible.
This will help to build your reputation and your business. Word of mouth advertising and repeat customers will help your business grow.
Ask for feedback and testimonials
Build in a process to collect feedback, good and bad, from your customers. Review it regularly, and take action wherever it is needed. Even after the event, contact customers, apologise for the poor service, and ask how you can make amends.
Ask customers for testimonials and display them where potential customers will see them. This may be in your store, or on your website.
Look after your employees
There are a many reasons why you should look after them. Firstly, do as you would be done by.
But also the employees are the company. They are your representative to clients. Their demeanour reflects on you.
Research shows that if staff feel valued and respected, they will experience job satisfaction, will perform better, be loyal to you and help your company to be successful. So this will save you money, and make you money as well.
A contented employee reflects well on you from a customer’s point of view. A customer’s opinion about the company is often based on their interaction with one or two of your staff.
If you want to ensure your employee’s job satisfaction, you should always accord them respect, and treat them as people, not commodities. Keep in mind that they have first-hand knowledge and experience about the daily running of the business. They may have valuable input into ways you could improve the service, or save time and money.
It is a good idea to tap into that valuable resource. Encourage and reward suggestions and ideas. Make sure there is a process that facilitates exchange of ideas with staff, whether just by letting them know you welcome feedback or suggestions, or by a more formal process.
They will feel valued, and you increase the effectiveness of the business.
If you do implement an employee suggestion, it is a great idea to reward the person who made the suggestion.
Rewards can be whatever you can afford them to be. It doesn’t have to be a cash bonus, although that is usually well received. It could be extra holiday time, an extended lunch break, Friday afternoon off, a discount, or even free goods from your company.
It could be different in each case, and be something relevant and appreciated by the employee.
Get rid of any dead weight
There is nothing more demoralising than having a person on the team who does not pull their weight. Someone else has to carry them and that just leads to bad feeling.
Why should they do their own and someone else’s work, especially when that person is paid to do their share. If management does not tackle the issue, it will pull everyone’s performance down.
So an effective manager needs to deal with the problem .Speak to the culprit, set them SMART targets to improve, and if they don’t, take appropriate action, even if you have to terminate their contract. Ensure you follow the correct procedure to avoid any comeback later, but you do need to deal with it.
Include staff in your success
Keep them informed of the company plans and targets. Make sure they know what is expected of them, and how they are affected. Communicate with them, thank them for good work, and reward them for success.
Let them know, often, that you know how important they are to the business. Give them a sense of ownership, and foster a feeling of pride. Try to find ways to be appreciative, respectful, and sincere in staff interactions.
Make sure your staff are paid as well as you can afford. Provide competitive benefits and maintain a safe, clean, pleasant work environment.
If your employees are well cared for, respected, and have a sense of job satisfaction, you will have more loyal employees, less staff turnover and are in a much better position to get the best applicants for positions that become available.
Put everything in writing
If you want your business to be a success, and safe from disputes, make it a habit to put everything in writing!
When things are going well, you may wonder whether you need to do this, but as soon as there is a problem, you will find it is easier to resolve issues and disputes if there is a written agreement in place.
Normally it is only when things go wrong that disputes occur. Or when they go very well, and significant amounts of money are generated, then disputes will arise about who is entitled to what.
If either situation arises, and legal processes are involved, you will always come off best if you have made a contract and kept to it. A dispute that goes to court can cost significant amounts of time and money. It is best to avoid the situation getting to that stage, by having a written agreement in place.
So you need to have contracts with;-
Business Partners, usually in the form of a Memorandum of Association or Partnership Agreement.
Customers, usually in the form of Terms and Conditions, or individual Job Specifications for projects.
Employees, usually in the form of Contracts of Employment.
Suppliers, usually in the form of a Purchase Contract.
Contracts with business partners
Business partners may be spouses, relatives or friends. As well as disputes, you also need to be concerned about illness, disability or death. What if someone can’t fulfil their obligations for any of those reasons? What if a business partner is involved in a divorce and their ex wants to make a claim on the business?
Contracts with customers
Putting agreements in writing allows you to manage customer expectations because it specifies exactly what is included in the price.
So when you finish the agreed work, if the customer expects more, you can politely and professionally point out that you have done what was agreed.
This works both ways. A contract protects your customer too, because you are contractually obliged to do everything you put in writing. This offers your customers protection.
Contracts with employees
A written agreement is required by law in many countries, so check your local legislation. As a minimum, you will probably need to specify hours, paid holidays, place of work, salary and benefits if applicable.
Contracts with suppliers or service providers
This is useful for managing expectations on both sides. You need to specify the details of the transaction. “Who, what, where, when and how much”
Negotiate contracts where appropriate
Contracts are more effective if they are negotiated, rather than imposed. Once they are in place, it should be clear to everyone what is expected of them and what they can expect in return. This should lead to transparent agreements and management, and a business that can concentrate on achieving success rather than resolving disputes.