Letters (Feb. 18, 2009)


Expo was proactive step for business

 

As the executive director of Hillsboro Development Corp. and Hillsboro Ventures Inc., I get excited when I see businesses in our area doing some new and innovative things to stimulate economic growth.

Kudos to Joel Klaassen and a group of business sponsors for putting on the first Buyer’s Edge Biz Expo last Thursday on the Bethel College campus in North Newton. This was a fantastic example of doing more than treading water while waiting for a rescue boat.

The Biz Expo was a free, day-long event open to business people looking for some encourage­ment—and they were not disappointed.

As you entered Memorial Hall, the room was surrounded by exhibitors representing businesses ranging from financial institutions, printing and advertising companies to geothermal heating and air conditioning.

In the center were rows of tables making it a giant seminar room where we heard Tim Smith, a Pennsylvania business consultant, give high-energy, entertaining presentations leaving all of us saying, “Wow, that was great!”

Tim’s morning session was titled, “How to Retain and Increase Your Customer Traffic in Tough Times.” The afternoon seminar was titled, “How to Thrive and Survive in Challenging Business Times.”

Every business in our community could have benefited by taking in Tim’s sessions. Most of what he said was common sense, but often, when under stress, we need to be reminded to go back to the basics.

We learned about the “Seven Eleven Rule.” In the first seven seconds, someone walking into your place of business will make 11 observations. To survive in tough economic times, those observations must be positive.

Tim went on to give us 11 things people are looking for when they come in to do business. Most give you their top 10; we got more than we bargained for. Frankly, I was interested and a bit surprised what made the list.

According to Tim, people are looking for:

1. Knowledge. People want to know something about the product that they didn’t know before. To have an edge you must know every detail about what you are promoting.

2. Friendliness. Do you treat customers as a guest or as an interruption to your day? Start with a smile whether you are in person or on the phone. Does your voice mail message sound friendly?

3. Helpfulness. When people call, they are looking for help. If you are able to help they will call again.

4. Value. Value does not necessarily mean price. You need to know what sets your product apart from the others. Why should someone pay the price you are asking? As an owner, or employee, are you able to add value to your product?

5. Ease of access. How accessible are you to your customers? Do you answer e-mails and phone calls in a timely manner? “I guess they don’t really need my business.”

6. Ease of transaction. How long will it take to do what I came to do? Have you ever noticed how easily and quickly you can go through the drive-through at a fast-food restaurant and pay by credit card?

7. Cleanliness. What do people see when they look around? “I may not see clean but I sure see dirty.” What do your facilities look like? How about your car, or your town? You are a walking billboard for your business and community.

8. Responsiveness. Keep the customer informed. “I really don’t like it when the traffic is slow but if I know why, I can deal with it.” Tell the customer up front it will be a 45-minute wait if that’s what it will be. Or say, “I’m tied up now but I will meet you tomorrow at 10 a.m. sharp.”

9. Credibility. “Can I trust you? Do you do what you say you will do?”

10. Confidence. People want to deal with someone who is confident (not arrogant) about the products and services they provide.

11. Professionalism. Whether we like it or not, people are watching you no matter if you are on or off the job. You can do 25 things right and one thing wrong and what do people remember? Always be positive!

Tim challenged us to take a look at how we’re doing as owners, managers and employees. He ended by posing this question: “If you had to reapply for your job today based on the performance of the past six months, would you get the job?”

Joel has invited Tim Smith to return next year for a two-day event Feb. 10 and 11. The second one will be right here in Hillsboro. Mark it on your calendar; it will be a packed house.

Clint Seibel

Hillsboro


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