While we all wish sales were great every month, the sad reality is that just like in the world of big business, not all months are created equal. Businesses naturally ebb and flow, but when business is down far more than expected, it can cause problems.
In big businesses, the solution is usually to whip the marketing and sales departments into action to look for some short-term revenue. If that does not work, then there is always the lay-off option to help balance the books. While these options are painful and hard on employees, they can help a larger business.
Unfortunately, micro and small business owners usually don’t have these lazy options. In fact, of the 29 million small businesses in the United States, nearly 21 million don’t even have employees! I have seen first-hand what happens to a small business when there is an unexpected dry spell or prolonged period without revenue, and it is not pretty. I have also heard stories of how small businesses are impacted when a competitor opens a new location in a small community. All you have to do is look up the success and failure rates in the SBA small business statistics to see the painful truth.
So, what options do small business owners have? If you are a start-up, micro, or small business, I am happy to tell you there is a something you can do. In fact, not only can you do something right now, today, but you can protect yourself from situations like this in the future.
Here are ten things you can do today to jump-start sales for the short term:
1.) Call very old clients: Look through your account lists and make a list of customers who have not worked with you or bought product for years. Ask for an opportunity to regain their trust.
2.) Call old clients: Look through your account lists and look for any customer that has not placed an order within the past year. Simply making a call to say you appreciate their business and want to stay in touch can generate activity.
3.) Call some current clients: Look through your recently active customers and give them a call to say thank you for their trust and the business. This, too, is a good way to generate activity.
4.) Ask for referrals: When you call any client, offer them dinner or a Starbucks gift card if they can send other customers your way. Nearly everyone in business understands the need for referrals, but few ask for them.
5.) Follow up on a current order: When a small business owner asks a customer for feedback on a recent order, it shows empathy, concern, and caring, which is why many people like working with small businesses.
6.) Follow up on a recent poor customer experience: If you know of a problem that recently occurred, give that customer a call to see if they feel you handled this situation well, and if not, to learn what you can do to make it right. Customers understand this takes courage, and not many small business owners can do it. Often, the best customer relationships are forged in the heat of battle or when a problem occurs and you fix it fast.
7.) Send out thank you cards: Phone calls are nice, but it is also nice to send out thank you cards to all of your clients, new and old, to thank them for placing their trust in you. Always mention that you know they have a choice and you appreciate them choosing you.
8.) Send out a survey: Asking your customers what you do well and what you need to work on is powerful. You will be surprised by some of the answers you receive.
9.) Entertain when you can: Take your best customers out to lunch or dinner. Sure you can simply send them a gift card, but the conversation and the relationship-building can have both long-term and short-term positive results.
10.) Invite your customers to a lunch & learn event: Assuming your business lends itself to such events, bringing in a group of customers and educating them on a specific topic that would be helpful to them is a great way to get face time and make you a go-to resource for information. This idea may not be as quick as the others, but it is also very powerful.
These are just a few of the many things you as a small business owner can do should you find yourself in a slow period. The only limitation to this approach is your creativity. As you can see, the one common thread here is that all ten of these ideas are focusing on clients you already have. So, if you are one of the many small business owners who is deathly afraid of sales, let’s not call this selling; it is simply calling customers to say “Hello,” and “Thank you,” and follow up.
Greg Andersen is a speaker and the author of Small Business Sales, WTF (Without the Fear). He works with small business owners to help them understand that using the power of sales is the best strategy for growing and protecting a small business.