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.
It is “the season” and SCORE clients, like all small business people on the Island, are hard at work trying to amass sufficient profits to see them through the lean off-season. There is little time now to think about business management issues; however, there is much that can be learned during the summer rush that will help businesses in the slow times and even help them prepare for a better 2014 season.
It is my opinion that this summer offers the opportunity to address the most loudly heard customer complaint about Island business owners—the lack of business sense. Few customers believe the plethora of excuses for missed appointments or deadlines that translate to “my dog ate my appointment book.”
If you tell a customer you will be back tomorrow to finish the work, be back tomorrow to finish the work.
If you tell a customer you will be there at 9 am, be there at 9 am, or go to the system of a cable company and give the client a two-hour window during which you guarantee that you will be on site to do the work.
If you chronically fail to keep these promises to clients or customers, now is the time to figure out how to do it in 2014.
SCORE counselor Bill Skinner also suggests that communication is key. “The other part of customer service is calling someone when the ‘part did not come in,’ or when the promised delivery date cannot be met,” he said. “Offer alternative dates because this goes miles in establishing trust and a long-term relationship with customers that will be remembered when the crowd goes home.”
SCORE counselor Mike Adell said that now is the time to learn from customers and staff what works and what fails to hit the mark.
Mr. Adell recommends conducting an in-store or post-sales/services survey. Now is the time to find out what your customers think of your services and products or skills. Ask customers if your employees (or volunteers for non-profits) are knowledgeable about the services or products offered. Ask your customers if the staff creates a favorable impression.
“And, now is also the time to consider how you might improve profit margins, increase revenue and improve marketing efforts,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I buying at the best prices for the goods I use or sell? Are my prices competitive?”
I think the summer is also the time to find out how competitive your company is in the Island marketplace. Become a “mystery shopper” and check out the competition’s prices, displays, and quality of service. It is also time to figure out how you can better distinguish yourself from your competition—is it new products, better advertising, or more frequent discounts?
SCORE counselor and CPA Norm Werthwein recommends that plans be developed so the business will survive during the lean times. “Consideration should be given to reducing expenses, limiting inventory and capital purchases, and negotiating extended payment terms with supplying vendors,” he said. “In some cases, it may be necessary to curtail business for a period of time. All of these actions are intended to preserve cash during the off season and allow the business to continue.”
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.