Things Are Looking Up

Posted: May 4, 2014 by Chuck Matthews in Culture, Ecosystem, Innovation, Leadership, Startup

The optimist says, the glass is half full; the pessimist says, the glass is half empty; the engineer says, you’ve got about twice as much glass as you need for the job.” – Unknown

Dr. Chuck MatthewsWith new buds blooming on trees and flowers, birds chirping, and the return of baseball, Spring always signals a time for renewal and optimism. A positive attitude can certainly be motivating.  For small business owners, this certainly seems to be the case.  According to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, small business optimism has hit its highest level in five years jumping 21 points in the first quarter of 2014. They cite a number of key drivers that contribute to this overall increase in small business optimism: improved cash flow, improved access to credit, and expected increases in revenue and hiring.

Challenges of course remain.  The good news on this front is that according to the WF/GP Index, these concerns are more focused on attracting customers, and targeting business opportunities than on continuing challenges from the overall economy or government issues (regulation, taxes, healthcare).

What can you do as an entrepreneur to use the momentum of renewal and optimism to propel you forward?  What can you do to attract new customers and identify new business opportunities?

Customers Rock.  A customer centric approach to business ensures focus.  After all, without customers, your business will wither and dry up.

Your best new customers may be your old customers. Never discount the power of your current customers to be “new” customers.  They have an established working relationship and are much more open to doing business with you than new or “cold” contacts.  Don’t be shy about asking for referrals or testimonials.  Current customers are powerful allies in finding new customers.

Know who your customers are as well as who they are not.  In his book chronicling the start-up of Southwest Airlines, “Nuts!” founder Herb Kelleher relates the story of a SWA flyer who excoriates the airline outlining everything she didn’t like about the flying experience – the boarding process, no food, overly energetic flight attendants.  Customer service thanked her for taking time to write and her feedback was invaluable. Her persistent letter writing ended up on Kelleher’s desk, to which he succinctly replied, “We will miss you, Love, Herb.” Not everyone is your customer.  It is important to know who they are and who they are not so that you can concentrate on better providing the goods and services to those who are.

Clarify and renew your customer value proposition. The underlying foundation of any business large or small is the value proposition you offer your customers.  This is translated into value exchange between your business and the customer.  You provide a wanted good/service, the customer exchanges value, usually money to complete the transaction.  It is important to periodically examine this value proposition and exchange to ensure it is timely, valued, and addresses changing conditions.

Opportunity Abounds.  Opportunity recognition can often be a bit more challenging. As Mark Twain once observed, “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”  Some argue that opportunities discovered or identified, while others counter that they are created or enacted.  At the end of the day, it is most like a little of each.  More importantly, it is a process rather than a one-time event and undoubtedly a combination of discovery, recognition, and alertness to both.  Here are three seemingly contradictory key aspects of seeking new business opportunities to help your business grow:

Be the disruptor.  Entrepreneurs thrive on market inefficiencies and love to challenge traditional definitions of value.  Value comes in large and small packages. Think of ways that you offer customers value across a variety of good and/or service offerings such as speed, convenience, personalization, price, and more.

Stick with what you know.  On the surface, this appears to be somewhat contradictory to being the disruptor.  The key is to identify what you do well, is valued by your customers and excel at it.  At the same time, you cannot rest on your laurels and expect customers to keep coming back.

Embrace change. This is perhaps the hardest of them all.  Just when you get good at something, change is inevitable.  Customers, technology, rules, the environment and more all change.  The key here is to identify and embrace meaningful change for you and your customers.

Spring signals renewal and change.  What are you doing to renew your business? Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

 

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