It's time to examine what is true about your business to get even better at prioritizing the areas that demand your attention. Here is a series of questions you can use as a starting point for identifying potential problem areas in your business. Please remember that this is not intended to be a full analysis, but rather a tool you can use to focus your attention. It may be helpful to print this page, and actually write down your responses. Take one question at a time and really think about your answers. This is not a test. There are no right or wrong answers. There are only responses that reflect your truthful objectivity about the state of your business.
1. What is your product or service, and what is the idea behind it? How do you make it a reality; how do you produce it? Can you draw a flow chart (a "box and arrow diagram") of the steps in your Production/Delivery process? Answering this question is good for those shows that require you to demonstrate, or for shows requiring "hand-made" only - Even better, for all those customers who ask, "how'd ya do that?"
2. Do you consistently and predictably keep your promises to your customers? Making mistakes is human and forgivable, but do you frequently make mistakes? How many customer complaints do you receive on a monthly basis? What is the average time it takes you to resolve those complaints? Do you experience a reoccurrence of the same kinds of complaints? I used to hand my business card to a potential customer and tell them to get in touch with me - then I realized that wasn't happening very often. So, now I get back in touch with them - more work? yes - but usually worth it.
3. In considering all positive and negative feedback from your customers, is there a common thread? Can you identify new systems or modify existing systems that could enhance the positive and eliminate the negative? I'm a wildlife artist, so after about 20 people asking, "do you have any frog paintings?" - I finally painted one, and the edition sold out in about a month. Don't wait too long to incorporate suggestions from your customers.
4. Do your products or services do what you intend them to do in order to satisfy your customers' true needs? Are they designed that way, with your customers' needs and wants in mind?
5. Have you used your own products or services? Would you? Why or why not? Have you "shopped" your competition? What do they do better than you? What do you do better than them? You'd be surprised how much you can learn by doing this.
6. When you physically deliver your product or service, what is the experience your customer has at the time of transfer? Do they feel good about the value you're giving? How do you know? I always offer free delivery or free shipping of my original paintings. Many customers are surprised by this so I can only assume it's not offered by many.
7. What services do you offer to your customer to enhance the value of your products and services that are not an inherent part of the product itself? Information services, technical assistance, setup, maintenance services, credit and financial services, help with complaints and adjustments? I always write thank-yous to customers after doing a show. I include a Bio sheet, and tell them to visit my website often to see new paintings.
9. Do you provide customer service training to your employees? Is this training documented so employees can use it as reference?
10. How do you identify new customer service opportunities?
11. What are the standards you use to ensure that every product or service is consistent, time after time, and every time? Do you have quality control? This is very important. The quality of your product, and customer service should always be a #1 priority to you.
12. How do you innovate ideas and systems in your business? How do you install and test the innovated system? My best ideas come from my customers. Ask them what they'd like to "see" if you're a visual artist, or "hear" if you're a musician, or even "eat" if you're a food vendor.
13. Identify the one thing you've always felt was "impossible" to do, but if you could do it, would completely transform your business in the eyes of your customers. Write it down. What barriers exist to making it a reality?
Now go back and review your answers. Are you uncomfortable with any of the answers you gave? If so, then you've identified the primary areas of focus for your business development efforts.