This is probably a good time to recap, not least for any of you who haven’t been following since the beginning (psst! Go back and read the first few posts…)

This is probably a good time to recap, not least for any of you who haven’t been following since the beginning (psst! Go back and read the first few posts…)

Just checking.

Here’s what we’ve been talking about so far…

1: Open your eyes.

Step one – arguably the most important – is recognition.

Ask yourself this: what is the point in having a great product, fantastic service or the ultimate in customer care if you’re held back by down-at-heel premises, shoddy marketing materials, cheesy homemade graphics, lacklustre photography, or dog-eared, out-of-date literature?  Or a visual presence that isn’t a fit for your target audience?

Do you really want to drag your business down from “great” to “good” or from “good to “mediocre”?  And if (perish the thought) your business is already low-end, a poor visual presence will position you right down there in the gutter.

When you have had a taste of excellence, you cannot go back to mediocrity.
— Maximillian Degenerez

The good news is that once the light bulb comes on, you’re headed in the right direction. 

In fact, you’ll have a distinct advantage over many of your competitors.  Why? Because a lot of businesses out there just don’t get it and blunder on without stopping to take a good look at themselves. 

2. Ask.

Can you really trust yourself (or anyone else close to the business) to be objective about how it looks?

Instead, ask the outside world. After all, it’s their money you’ve got your sights on, so it’s their views that matter.

Asking for feedback is the best way to get the lowdown on how your business really looks.  But remember - right people, right questions, right time.

One thing that we haven’t talked about so far is how and what to ask. 

There's a good reason for that.

First, it's caveat time.

Customer research is a complex science, and I’m not the one to take you on a tour of that particular science lab.  Just do a web search and you’ll see what I mean when you come across companies like this

If you really want to know how to set up a survey, what to ask, how to ask it, then you’ll have to look beyond this blog, as I'd be a liar and a fraud if I tried to tell you what to do.

There are endless sources of information out there that will plug your customer research knowledge gap in mind-bending detail (bearing in mind that much of it is probably best suited to big corporates).

But caveats notwithstanding, allow me to humbly offer the following under the heading of “common sense” -

  • be transparent about why you’re asking – people don’t like being hoodwinked but will respect you if you’re upfront.  Tell them you're wanting to make improvements and that you value their views;
  • plan and prepare your survey carefully: make sure it's clear, well worded, and designed to extract the information you need;
  • be logical in structuring your survey, to make it easier to deal with the information later.

And don’t forget: keep it short; don’t put obstacles in the way (like a registration process); and make sure it doesn’t cost them a cent.

In fact, in my view you should probably incentivise them – perhaps a chance to win something, or a discount.  Call me selfish but I rarely - if ever - complete a survey unless I feel it’s worth my while.  Respect peoples’ time.

Exactly what you ask depends on what type of business you have, and on your goals, vision and aspirations. Again, look elsewhere for expert advice on this.

But in simple terms: do you see yourself at the top end of your market? Do you want to attract aspirational thirty-somethings? Are you aiming to pull in the country set?  Or is your ideal customer usually found wearing a hoodie and trainers?

Ask the kind of questions that will tell you if you’re in the right ball park.  Be specific.  Find people in your target group, and ask them how they see your premises, your website and social media, your marketing materials, your photography, or anything else about your business that has a visual impact.  Ask open questions as well as closed, and invite comment.

If a survey seems like too much you right now, at least do something to find out what the world thinks - even if it's as simple as asking customers in the passing, or bribing a selection of like-minded friends or business acquaintances with coffee or beer and forming an ad-hoc focus group.

And don’t forget to don a thick skin. It’s not personal, it’s business.

3. Plan.

Armed with the information you’ve gathered, it’s time to do something with it (you haven’t just collected it for fun, have you?).  Or, if you’ve been reading earlier posts, it’s time to start eating that elephant.

At this point you’ll reap the benefits of the careful planning you did when putting together your survey.  It’s so much easier to make sense of information when it springs from carefully worded, logically structured questioning. You’ll also notice the added clarity that comes from having asked the right people.

"More of the same" is the order of the day – if you fail to plan and to break down the task ahead, you’ll soon be tempted to throw in the towel.

And whatever you do, make sure you set aside enough time to do the job justice. The effort you put in now will be well worth it.

4. Act.

At last.

You’ve got the feedback, you’ve analysed it, you’ve identified any mismatch between your view of your business and how others see it. 

You’re now ready to begin making changes. 

This is the fun bit.

And I suspect it’s also the point where you’ll start feeling the need for help and inspiration.

Luckily, you’re following the right blog…