Entrepreneurs share what they learned in 2011 and how they hope to improve business in the coming year.
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More than a year after some economists announced the recession was over, many small businesses found 2011 to be as challenging a year as they’ve ever encountered.
But despite the challenges, 2011 has also been valuable in terms of providing experience and insight. Here’s a sampling of some of the lessons learned over the past year, directly from the sources themselves:
“The biggest lesson I learned in 2011 was for our business to question our beliefs. We all have preconceptions about what our customers want, how best to market to them, how best to support them and so on. But if we set aside those preconceptions and brainstorm new solutions, we can come up with unexpectedly good new ideas.” — Michael Kaiser-Nyman, Impact Dialing
“The one thing I learned in 2011 is that launching an e-commerce site is just as hard as opening a brick-and-mortar store, except you don't have to refinish the floors or paint the walls.” — Lesley Tweedie, Roscoe Village Bikes
“This past year I restructured my pricing using a “good, better, best” approach. The lesson learned was that innovation is far more about using existing ideas and not about inventing something new.” — Leanne Hoagland-Smith, www.increase-sales-coach.com
“One of the main lessons I learned this year is that my best return on investment is through holding free marketing classes and educational seminars. What started out as an idea to give back to the business community has led to new opportunities.” — Karen Taylor, New Destiny Marketing
“Fair trade and sustainability get you noticed.” — Jay Gurewitsch, Arcadia
“People are not spending as much in 2011 as they did in 2008, 2009 or 2010. Nothing has changed. You still offer a great product, excellent customer service and excellent prices. Don't question yourself, your capabilities or your business as a whole — it's not you, it's the economy. Adjust to fit the economy but don't completely change because you feel as if you, yourself, need changing.” — Kelli E. Caulfield, Caulfield Holdings
“Experience is not the most important factor in hiring employees. Initially, I hired recent college graduates with little real-world experience because I couldn’t afford anyone with years and years of training. Although I’m now in the position to hire more seasoned employees, I don’t. This is because I get to train my employees to execute their jobs exactly as I see fit. Also, when I do the training and take them to classes, I learn how to execute the services as well.” — Karin Caro, Blu Chip Marketing
“Some clients will hire you and some will choose not to. In each case, I learned to be consistent in giving every client my full attention and to explain how I can help them. I learned not to take client decisions personally.” — Dhenu Savla, SwagatUSA
“We offer repeat customers a bonus for returning, another one for referring friends and a bonus to the friend. We retain the majority of our customers and every day new ones place orders, having been recommended by others. Today's marketing is not about clicks or visitors. It's all about rewarding the customer.” — Izzy Goodman, Complete Computer Services
“People often say ‘listen to your customers,’ but that's not a complete enough process. First, ask your customers what you’re doing right and wrong, and listen carefully to what they tell you. Then, take action. Here's why. If you don't ask, many times customers won't say that their experience wasn't quite perfect. If you don't put aside your prejudices, you may not realize that a customer is right when you think they are wrong. If you don't take action on what your customers are saying, they will simply quit providing you with feedback.” — Salah Boukadoum, Soap Hope
“I've learned this year not to take on too much work. I have an 18-month-old little boy who is taking up a lot of what used to be my ‘work from home’ time. Rather than stressing about all the stuff that's not getting done, this year I made it a priority to try and ignore the small stuff, understanding that, if left alone, none of these non-actions would cause the company to go down the drain anyway. — Adam Koos, Libertas Wealth Management Group
Those are all worthy thoughts and suggestions. Here’s to putting them to good use in 2012.