Refer a friend!

One of the key ways small business owners in the service sector get business is through referrals – either from customers or from strategic introducers they know well.

But many of us are not very good at requesting referrals or managing the referral process. We often don’t even know the value of a good referral to our business.

In fact, how many of the referrals you get are of the type you want? Or do you end up meeting with prospects, which have been referred to you by a ‘good’ referral partner (by good I mean someone we feel knows our business needs), only to find that they are not the type of prospect you need at all?

Unless we take some level of control over the referral process it is unlikely we will get exactly the type of introductions we need.

One way of taking control is to build really solid relationships with a few referral partners who are regularly updated on they type of business you need – and similarly keep you updated on the business they need. That way you are more likely to get the leads you need.

You can even take it further and include these guys as part of your team. I have recently started this type of relationship with a marketing expert. If one of our clients needs what the other offers we introduce them in a joint meeting (which is free to the client). We discuss their needs, and offer a way forward for the client, after identifying the key areas they need to address.

This is a very powerful model because everyone benefits. The referrer benefits because they are seen as a problem solver who can find solutions beyond their area of expertise by their client; the referree benefits because they have a solid introduction to a potential new client; and the client obviously benefits because their problems are solved with the minimum of effort.

So, if you are looking to grow you business in a controlled manner, review how you get your referrals and work on how you can get a higher quality of introductions.

Fiona 🙂

Take a break!

As a small business owner, how easy is it for you to take a break from your business?

When you go on holiday does your business come too? Or are you able to completely switch off meaning that when you return you are refreshed and re-invigorated?

Many small business owners I know find it almost impossible to take a proper break from their business. Even if they are able to be out of the business physically they still feel they have to be in touch 24 7 to make sure nothing goes wrong in their absence.

I believe, however, that no one is indispensable and it should be possible, with proper planning and preparation, for any business owner to take a break and re-charge their batteries.

If you are a one man band, like me, taking a break means telling clients you are not available for the duration in good time to make sure you can cover off the work they need doing in advance of your holiday.

If you are a sole trader in a business where you must be there – running a shop for example – find someone you trust to stand in for you whilst you are on holiday. For example, I know of a guy who runs a pet shop and became very seriously ill. Whilst he was in hospital his friends and family clubbed together to provide cover and keep the shop open. This was with no notice, so it should be possible to do the same, with planning, for a holiday break.

If you cannot find help of this sort plan your holiday at a time of year when your business is quiet and close the premises. As long as your customers know in advance that that is what you are doing you should see no loss in trade.

If you have employees it is vital that they are involved in the planning for your absence and have clear instructions about what is expected whilst you are gone. If they know what decisions they can make themselves, and what decisions should wait until you return, you can ensure the situation is managed. I believe that, if you cannot trust your employees you probably have wider problems than just what should happen when you  are not physically in the building.

If your holiday is in the summer it is likely your customers and their staff will be taking a break themselves. This means that serious projects tend to wait until the autumn anyway meaning you are unlikely to be missing a trick.

I know of a two woman HR consultancy, one of whom has recently come back from maternity leave and the other is just about to go. Both taking proper time out of the business to concentrate on their new baby. You would imagine that this would be the end of the business.

However, proper planning has meant that the business is still there to provide both owners with the lifestyle they want.

And isn’t that, after all, what we all want our businesses to do!

So, if you are one of those business owners who cannot leave the laptop and mobile phone at home when you go on holiday, have a good look at your business and ask yourself why that is. What can you do to change how you run your business to allow yourself a break?