In Business: SCORE advises building on existing customer base
Members of SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives), an organization created and supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, offer in-person and online counseling for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations on Martha's Vineyard.
In this monthly column, The Times has invited SCORE members to discuss business issues familiar to Vineyard business owners and managers. SCORE members will also answer questions from readers, posted at mvtimes.com.
In recent months, there has been a flood of new SCORE clients as business owners' thoughts turn to the coming 2013 season of day-trippers, vacationers, and returning summer homeowners. For merchants and service providers, the focus is on how to make this a great season.
The recurring question SCORE clients ask is, "How do I get more customers or clients?"
In addition to creating a budget for advertising, including the use of online social media, it is surprising how often businesses overlook the simplest, most affordable technique.
For companies in the service sector, as so many Island businesses are, the easiest and most affordable way to increase customers is to use current — and happy — customers.
Of course, a seasonal "reminder" sent to your database of customers is a must. However, your current customers may directly and indirectly assist you in increasing business.
"Word of mouth" is a superb way to spread the word about your services and happy customers (third-party endorsers) have the ultimate impact. Ask your customers to spread the word.
SCORE counselors also advise business owners to ask their customers, directly, to provide the names and contact information (email address and telephone number, preferably) for three of their friends and/or neighbors who need to know about their quality service. It may be helpful to also offer a discount in future service provided if a lead generates new business.
With new names in hand, create a simple email or snail mail one-page letter to be sent to each new potential customer. The first sentence of the letter must mention the name of the referring customer, for example: "Jane Doe suggested that I contact you..." and attach or include a brochure that attractively outlines the services your company offers. Try to make a follow-up telephone call to the potential new client within a few days.
Of course there will be people who have no need of your services. However, telephone contact may result in new work, if not immediately, then in the near future.
Be sure to create a database that stores all of the information gathered from current customers and any "critical learnings" from these telephone contacts. If a potential customer says, "I am not interested now, but call me back at the end of the season," you do not want to leave it to chance that you will remember this lead after a hectic few months.
There is also a question that SCORE clients never ask but should: Can I afford more customers? More clients demand a lot: service providers (additional staff), additional equipment, supervision and training.
Before taking the time to attract new customers or clients, be sure to determine if you have the capacity to expand. If, during the season you as well as your employees are each working a 70-hour week, perhaps you cannot afford new clients. There is great danger in taking on new customers/clients and not providing them the quality of work deserved. The new clients will cancel and also "spread the word" that your services are to be avoided.
SCORE on the Island needs your help. If you are a retired or semi-retired business executive become a counselor. If you don't have much free time but are able to provide resource expertise in the areas of law, accounting, or technology and you could offer as little as ten hours of time annually, let us know. Please contact SCORE at 508-696-9687 to get involved.
Seeking counseling service? Go to www.score.org and complete a brief application.
Susan Silk is a semi-retired communication consultant. Prior to moving to the Island full-time, she was the founder and president of a communication consulting and training firm in Chicago.