Adventures In Micro-Business: Don't overlook your existing customer list

Russell Smith answers your queries
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The Independent Online

Q. My business is doing well but I feel it could do better. What is the one thing that every business should do to sell more?

A. While generating leads for new sales prospects is vital, many owner-managers overlook one great asset: their existing customer list. It is generally recognised that, for any business, repeat sales take less effort to achieve than new sales. Consider coming up with special offers for repeat sales. Add to that any new products or services that you may have introduced recently and revisit this process on a regular basis but be careful not to overdo it. You need to make customers feel that they genuinely have access to great deals and are not simply the recipients of junk mail.

Q. One of my employees has requested extra time off in order to fulfil commitments to the Territorial Army. Do I have to give permission for this kind of thing?

A. This type of request has to be balanced with how you want to be perceived as an employer and, of course, the operational needs of your business. In my experience, employees pay back such support many times over. Don't overlook the potential benefits to your business that may flow from your employee learning leadership skills and teamwork within the TA.

Q. I am deciding which bank to choose for my business account. Are they all the same or could you recommend a specific bank?

A. While banks may argue otherwise, my view is that most of them offer a very similar service. However, it's the personal relationship that can be so vital in business banking, so find a banker that you get on with. Start with the bank that holds your personal account, but shop around. One good source of comparative information is "Moneyfacts" (www.moneyfacts.co.uk), which claims to be, "entirely independent and impartial". Whichever bank you finally decide to choose, always remember that it should provide you with a service. If that service fails to meet your needs then change banks.

Q. I set up my hand-made greetings card business two years ago with the dream of working from home three days a week. I've been so busy that I'm now working six days a week. Can I get my life back?

A. When a "lifestyle business" takes off it can become hard to remain true to the spirit of fitting the business around other areas of your life. People who set up a business like yours often enjoy the "making" more than the "selling". You may need to consider whether to take on an assistant - a question that all growing businesses must address. But there are alternatives. Why not consider moving the sales component onto a website from where customers can purchase your greetings cards? This could free up your time and help reclaim your dream. Websites are open all day, every day. Information about websites and e-commerce is available at www.businesslink.gov.uk. More specialist technical information and advice about contractors can be found at www.technologymeansbusiness.org.uk.

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