Show Your Customers You Care

Showing your customers that you care and value their business is more important now than ever. But how can you do this credibly, and genuinely? The key is to have a reason to communicate (other than just simple appreciation).

Read on for a few effective ways you can show your customers you care:

Say thanks.

An e-mail is good, but a hand-written card makes a much bigger impact. Add a personal touch: Reference a recent contract or project and if possible include a detail showing you know your customer on a professional and a personal basis. A pre-printed card with the message “Thank you for your business” carries little impact; what if you instead wrote:

“Dear Mary,

Thanks for awarding us your database project – we will once again make sure you are absolutely thrilled with our work. Please contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns… and I hope Mark and the kids are doing well!”

Stay simple and to the point, and if you don’t know anything personal about your customer, make finding out a few details a priority. How? Just ask: Most people are delighted to talk about their families and their interests. You don’t have to become best friends… but you can establish a rewarding personal connection that also creates a competitive advantage.

Ask for opinions and feedback.

But do so with a purpose. Don’t send out a generic survey that in effect asks, “How are we doing?” And avoid appearing to be going through the motions; if you do, your customers will go through the motions, too – and that’s if they respond at all.

Many people also use surveys to ask questions like, “What could we have done better on the last project?” The problem with that approach is it automatically calls to mind your failings rather than your successes. Plus, if you truly know your business, you should already know what you could have done better.

Instead, look for specific opinions and feedback that shows your customers you truly value the input they are uniquely able to give. Not only will you continue to build a business relationship, but you will probably get valuable insight into improvements you can make.

Another approach is to ask how you can help your customer provide better service to their customers. For example, your customer’s website visitors may have asked for a particular widget or for client-accessible web tools. The answers you get may create new opportunities for you to service your client.

No matter what you ask, be prepared to make changes based on the feedback you get. When you ask for input you implicitly create the expectation that you will do something with that input.

Walk in your clients’ shoes.

Looking out for your clients’ interests shows you care. But you don’t have to call or write to find out how they’re doing or what’s new with their business; you can periodically check their website or blog (and make comments to their posts), subscribe to their newsletter, or use a tool like Google Alerts to keep up.

Say you’re a web developer and you read an article that has nothing to do with programming but everything to do with a client’s business. Forward the article and simply say, “I came across this and immediately thought of you…”

Not only is it a great way to stay in touch, it gives you a reason to stay in touch… and to show your client you care about their success, and not just in a “What can they do for me?” sort-of way. Or say you receive a Google Alert that your client was quoted on an industry blog – write a quick email and congratulate them.

In short, look at the world from your clients’ perspective, and find useful ways to stay in touch and on their radar. You won’t have to ask for business – they’ll automatically think of you.

Suggest and make helpful changes.

Improvements don’t have to be major; for example, call a client and ask if they would prefer to receive electronic rather than paper invoices. Ask if a different delivery schedule would help. Or ask if more – or less – frequent communication and status checks will help keep a project on track.

But don’t ask questions blindly. Take the time to be sure you understand the possible needs of your customer before you ask.

If you’ve recently implemented a new service, that’s also a great time to make contact. For example, if you’ve set up an online scheduling system, let your customers know! Stressing the benefits to your customers – because, really, they don’t care if the new system helps you better run your business – shows you’re committed to providing the best service you can. While you’re at it, consider running a promotion: Offer a discount to the first fifty people who schedule an appointment online, for example.

Above all, make it personal.

Which makes the bigger impact: The flowers you send your significant other out of the blue, “just because you care,” or the ones you send on an anniversary? Usually an unexpected gesture creates the biggest impact.

Look for openings to learn more about your customers. If a customer says, “I won’t need the project complete for a couple weeks… I’ll be on vacation next week…” use the opportunity to ask about their vacation. Jot down a few details, and next time you talk, ask how the vacation went.

In the end, showing you care takes time and effort – but that effort can pay off in long-term business relationships that survive and even thrive in uncertain economic times.

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Kick-Start Your Sales Team

Do you want to increase sales? Yes? Well, you’re not alone. In all likelihood, you’re limited by the amount of time you can spend finding, targeting, and building relationships with prospective customers. Give yourself – or your sales team – a boost by hiring a freelancer to do your legwork so you can connect with your customers.

You can start by making a list of all your current sales-related activities. Then, list all the things you’d like to do… if you just had the time. Chances are, a number of those tasks can be completed by an Elance provider.

To help spark your brainstorming session, here are just some of the ways a freelancer can support your sales team and help you grow your business:

Research your market.

Market research can help you understand and act on the dynamics of your local or global market, on market trends, and on customer satisfaction with the products and services in your area. In short, market research will help you understand who and where your customers are, and how to meet their needs. Before you devote critical resources to opening a new sales territory, expanding your services, or promoting a new product, make sure a market exists. What you “know” may or may not be supported by the data a skilled researcher can uncover.

Create a lead database.

A freelancer can help source partners or affiliates, drive traffic to your website, collect information from prospective clients, and research, identify, and pull together contact information for key decision-makers within your industry. Pass on a description of the criteria that make a prospect more likely to buy your products or services to help the provider prioritize your leads. Instead of searching for qualified potential customers, you’ll spend your valuable time making contact and building a new business relationship.

Hand-write thank you notes.

A personal touch goes a long way. What means more to you: A pre-printed form letter or a personalized hand-written follow-up or thank you note?

Create a winning presentation or proposal.

Whether you land a new client may hinge on the quality of your proposal. A provider who can help you communicate complex ideas using an effective presentation can make a difference. You provide the information – they’ll provide the presentation. Or, have a freelancer develop professional presentation and proposal templates that you can pour customer-specific data into.

Answer e-mails and calls.

If your marketing campaigns generate customer inquiries, someone must respond as soon as possible – and if it’s a phone call, someone must be there to answer it. But – should that person be you? A freelancer can field the initial queries, answering general questions and provide information based on the materials you provide. You can then follow up with hot prospects and provide detailed information where necessary.

Perform a competitive analysis.

To grow your sales, you need answers to questions like:

  • Who are my main competitors?
  • What are the similarities and differences between their products/services and mine?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of my competitors’ products and services?
  • How do their prices compare to mine?
  • How should I best plan to compete: Offer better quality services, lower prices, more support, and/or easier access to services?
  • What should I do to create a competitive advantage in my marketplace?

The answers to these questions will help you better understand how to promote and how to run your business. Experienced researchers use offline and online sources to help you define strategies and market positioning that help you stand out from the crowd.

Recession-Busting Tips for Small Businesses

It’s an understatement to say that the current economic slowdown has created some uncertainty about the future.

To manage this uncertainty, small business owners are probably taking rational steps to protect their business, such as trimming excess expenses and eliminating unnecessary spending.

However, cost-cutting isn’t the only strategy survival – rather, businesses can also focus on maintaining current revenues and priming the pump for future revenues.

But how can a small business do this?

Simple: one secret weapon to not just surviving, but thriving during this time, are the tens of thousands of talented and professional freelancers available for hire right here on Elance.

Here are a few ways freelancers can help your small business thrive:

1. Focus on Key Customers

You want to keep the revenues you do have, so it’s time to make sure you are closer than ever to your most valuable customers. Hire freelancers to call and connect with your customers, write and conduct surveys, design and execute direct mail campaigns to recognize and thank your top customers, or design special customer promotional offers to thank your customers for their past business.

2. Hone Sales & Marketing

As you look to bring in new streams of revenue, you’ll no doubt target a new segment of customers. Consider hiring a freelancer to re-write your sales and marketing materials, re-design or upgrade your website, help you launch a blog, build and execute an online marketing campaign, produce a radio ad, or simply update your customer newsletter.

Now is a great time to make noise and attract new customers while your competitors stand paralyzed by the economic environment.

3. Maximize Employee Productivity

Let’s face it: there are way too many tasks that get in the way of your employees spending time on activities that can really impact your business. Think about empowering your people to delegate these some of those distracting activities to freelancers.

Tasks such as conducting competitive research, sourcing customer leads, entering data into your database, sorting through inbound email, writing articles for your blog or website, or any other administrative task is ideal for delegating to an online remote worker.

The bottom line is that freelancers are a flexible, affordable resource to help you survive and thrive.

Have you hired a freelancer to help you weather the economic climate, or are you a provider that is helping businesses thrive? Let us know what you’ve done by leaving a comment below.