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The business that stays competitive is the one that keeps its head above water. Since most businesses close before celebrating their five-year mark, you can see why it’s important to stay up to date on every aspect of your industry. If you don’t, you risk giving up the dream of self-employment.
But staying competitive is much easier said than done. When it comes down to it, what can actually be done? You either make the sale or sign the client or you don’t, right? While that may mostly be true, there are ways to stack the deck in your favor. Here are a few ways you can stay ahead of the game.
Survey Best Customers
Why do people buy from you? Why do they love you so much? While these may seem like strange questions, they’re an important part of doing business. Once you figure out why your current customers find you and come back for you, you can get to work landing NEW customers.
However, the last person to tell you why others love your business is…you. You naturally think you know why your company is so loveable – you turn work in on time, or your products are revolutionary, etc. However, the people who give you money may entirely disagree. For example, they could think that your funny customer service people are a kick or maybe you’re just the only company who fills a specific niche.
Survey your best customers to figure out why they like you so much. Customers come back over and over for a reason. Find out what that is and focus on it to bring in even more dedicated customers and fans.
First impressions can be crucial for any business. When your reputation precedes you, you already have a leg up on a potential sale. A solid reputation can bring you success for many years to come.
So how do you build it? It often has nothing to do with what you’re selling or the service you offer. You can create terrible copy as a freelance writer but still get bites (though the awful work will obviously catch up with you) if your reputation rocks. Mostly, it has to do with interactions with other people.
Seek out some of the heavy hitters in your industry and figure out ways you can help them out. If you see someone say they had roof damage, send them the number of your friend who does that kind of work. Send other freelancers overflow work with no expectation of payback.
Don’t forget about your customers either. Hold customer appreciation events or simply send them stuff for their birthday (or contract signing anniversary!). Give stuff away or hand out discounts “just because.” Word will spread around you’re great to do business with and the money you spend on appreciation gifts will come back quickly.
Get Involved with Your Community
Somewhat ironically, as the world becomes more computerized, connected and smaller due to technology, there’s actually been a movement toward patronizing local businesses. Therefore, it’s very important to focus on your local community in order to stay competitive in the future.
Volunteer for community related activities like fundraisers or holiday themed events. See if there are any groups you can sit in on (community beautification, arts board, or other civic groups, for example) to help improve the area. Whatever you can do to interact with people in your community can spread the word of your business. It also helps that you’ll make lots of great contacts when you volunteer your time.
Also, make sure to network with other business owners around you. Check if there are any business-minded groups or networking events you can attend. Talk to as many people as you can and figure out what tricks they’ve used to stay competitive in their respective markets. These tips can help you in your own industry.