It takes a lot to run a business: commitment, money, time, and organization skills, to name just a few. But there’s if there’s one thing that is singularly important to running a successful business, it’s this: knowing your customer.
From the start, a full understanding of your customers (and potential customers) is essential to any business. It’s not enough to have a passion for what you make or what you do – you have to know that that thing that you make or do is in demand.
It’s not enough to keep working hard – your business must evolve with your customers’ needs and tastes. It’s not enough to spend money on advertising – you have to know your customers well enough to meet them where they live. Your customer is all-important to your business.
Starting From Scratch: Your Customer Is Your Business Plan
When most people start a business, they start with a passion. I’ve always wanted to open a butcher shop, they’ll say, or My father loved cars, so I want to keep that passion alive with my new auto garage.
That sort of passion is important to business success, but it’s far from the end-all and be-all. The truly important thing isn’t that you love your business (though you should) – it’s that your customers love your business.
So while it’s great to love meat, you won’t get far with your passion if you open your butcher shop in a town with large numbers of vegans or people with a religious opposition to popular meats. And an auto shop is a worthy endeavor, but you’ll meet with more success if you don’t open yours in a train-centric city like New York.
In other words, understanding your customers isn’t just a task for established businesses. It’s the single most important thing to do before you open your business in the first place! Find out where your market is, and be brutally honest about your idea’s potential. If you take the time to make sure your business is something customers really crave, you’ll meet with far more success.
Grow With Your Customers
You can probably name more than a few once-great brands that have fallen from customer’s graces – and perhaps even folded completely. Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are no more because technology left them in the dust. High-priced clothing brands like True Religion jeans don’t have to keep up with technology, but changing tastes can be just as deadly.
If your business takes off, that’s great – your business plan was a success because you understood your customers. But customers change, so be sure to keep an eye on them. With a small business, that means tracking inventory (which way are sales trending for each of your products and services) and keeping an eye on the competition, particularly when it seems innovative.
For bigger companies, that can mean extensive market research. What matters is that you’re on top of things, always willing to change when your customers do. Remember: they’re in charge.
Market Where It Matters
You can offer people exactly what they want, but it won’t matter unless they hear the offer. So make sure that your marketing is run in the same way that your business is: with the customer as the key concept. That means investing in marketing plans that actually reach the customer. But where are your customers?
You may not know, and you may not have the market research budget to find out before you invest in advertising. But you can design your advertising in such a way that you learn as you go. It’s called direct response marketing, and it means including a call to action in your ads that leads to a measurable response from your customers. If you get a lot of people signing up for text messages because of a radio ad, you’ll have learned that radio is a great advertising outlet for your target market. If you offer an email newsletter subscription in a digital direct response and get very few responses, then you’ll have learned something else – and can avoid wasting any more money on a dead-end marketing technique. With direct response marketing, you’ll be making your customers your guide – just as you should be doing with your business itself.
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