The magazine, Fast Company, recently declared that Americans are becoming a nation of "free agents". They described a generation of consultants and professionals, all selling their services for the length of a project or until a problem is solved. That brings tremendous freedom, and new responsibilities to run our careers as businesses! Unfortunately, many "free agents" have never run a profitable business. The following are my list of critical issues in creating a career/business that will remain profitable for years to come.
- Customer Benefits. You and your customers must clearly understand the benefits that your services provide. What are the 5 benefits of working with you vs. anyone else in your market place? Can you communicate that clearly? Customers buy benefits.
- Extra Value. Customers must receive more in value than you charge for your services. Most of us don't want a "fair" exchange; we want a bargain, the sense that we got extra value for our money. Can you communicate the 5 extra your customers get from you?
- Superb Service. This means attention to detail. Answering the phone on the first ring, providing an 800 number and 24-hour customer service numbers are examples. L.L. Bean has made a fortune with it's "no questions" guarantee. Do you have a guarantee?
- Know your Audience. Who are you 5 best customer types.
- Location. In the old days, this meant the street address of your shop or store. Now it means getting your marketing messages into your customer's hands when and where they are receptive. Be certain your website is located at the top of the search engines.
- Convenience. Customers expect to shop at their convenience, to pay by credit card, to call an 800-number, and to have their questions answered correctly the first time. Make it easy to contact you!
- Innovation. New is good, newer is better. Customers expect the benefits of the most modern technology. At a minimum, they expect the convenience of email, voice mail, and efax. If there is a faster, better, cheaper and more reliable way to do it, adopt cutting edge techniques before your competition does!
- Reliability. Consumers assume they can rely on your services. If they are purchasing your time and expertise, they rely on your availability, your advice, your attention to detail, and your follow-through. Durability may be less important in a throwaway age, but consumers demand 100% reliability. Be there for them every single time!
- Planning. Planning takes on strange twists when a computer chip "generation" lasts 6 months and a website may be "old" in 6 weeks. Planning is the ability to monitor, influence, and profit from change. Planning means having a mission statement and the flexibility to respond instantly when new information allows you to fulfill your mission more effectively. Planning means you control your destiny.
- Communication. This means instant, 2-way communication between every level and every branch of an enterprise. It means communicating with your vendors and competitors, and working with your customers so they become your most important designers, researchers and customer service experts. It means an "open door" policy and flat organizational models. It means listening is more important than speaking. It means ideas rule the world.
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