At some point, every business owner contemplates changing things up. You may find that your current business model isn’t working, or you feel pulled to take a new direction. Maybe you want to increase or decrease the products or services you offer, or change your target market completely. As Richard Branson said, “restructuring can be a difficult process.” No matter what changes you’re making, you always run the risk of losing customers.
You can take small steps to help educate your customer base about the changes you’re making. While you may not be able to avoid ruffling some feathers, you can do more good than not by being proactive. Let’s look at three ways you can switch business gears without losing customers.
Focus on value
No matter what changes you’re making, remaining valuable is your number one goal. If your current customers, and those who will become customers later, don’t perceive what you’re offering as valuable, you’ll hit a brick wall.
Consider technology icon, Apple. At one point, Apple offered ancillary products like televisions, speakers, and digital cameras in an effort to broaden the brand and reach more people. Apple not only lost money with this plan, it also lost focus. Ultimately, Apple cut products that weren’t working and refocused the business back to one thing: computers.
Apple already knew it had a powerhouse in the Mac operating system. And the brand had a loyal following. By making the new Apple computers visually appealing, easy to use, accessible and powerful, Apple slam-dunked the perceived, and intrinsic, value of its product. These computers became highly personal; people flocked to the Apple brand more than ever. Though the company was offering fewer products, it was driving home more value to past, and future, customers.
How can you focus on the value of your new business model?
- Emphasize the benefits, either new benefits or retained benefits.
- Consider how you can make your new product or service personal for your customers.
Be sure to have a clear idea of why current customers should care about the business changes you’re making. And then be sure to tell them what your new business can do for them. By keeping value personal, you’re more likely to keep current customers.
Listen to your customers
While you’re in the process of changing your business, listen to what your current or past customers are asking for. There’s a chance they can give you insight into products or services that are needed, but not currently offered.
Have you ever received an e-mail asking if you carry a certain product or provide a particular service? Perhaps you’ve received the same request several times over. Consider these requests carefully and see if they are something you want to work into your new business model.
So, how do you go about listening in on what your target market may be looking for? Meet up with them in your social networks. Take some time to simply read along on Twitter or any forums where your market likes to visit. See what products and services they are talking about. See what products or services they are complaining about. Then, ask yourself how you can solve their problem or meet their needs with your changed business model.
Stay in touch with your customers
Keeping your customers in the loop about changes in your business can be a very good thing. If you’ve cultivated a social community around your business, you’ve essentially created a little business family. These people are not just social network followers; they are likely to be repeat customers many times over.
Consider how you’ll keep your customers, and your social network family, in the loop during your business change. No one likes to find out after-the-fact that their favorite business has made a radical change. It can leave many customers feeling that their loyalty to a business is meaningless. No business owner wants a potential repeat client to feel unappreciated.
While you can’t, and frankly won’t, be able to please everyone, you can lessen the blow by keeping them in the loop. Granted, you may not want to spill the entire can of beans until the changes are well underway. But you could:
- Announce the changes to your business as soon as you’ve taken the plunge.
- Engage your subscribers by asking them their thoughts on your proposed business changes.
- Update your newsletter, blog and/or social medial venues with little updates as your business changes occur. This can make people feel like they are “on the inside”.
Once your business changes take effect, be sure to offer some benefit to your customer base to come and do business with you again. You may want to offer discounts, free shipping, two-for-one deals or some other promotion. This is a great way to thank your community for sticking with you, make them feel important, and help them spread the word about the new you.
Ultimately, switching business gears takes a lot of consideration, sweat, tears and loads of “what ifs”. You may not be able to hang on to your entire current customer base when you change things up. Taking time to carefully consider the changes you’re making and keeping your customers in the know can help lessen the impact and get you moving in a new direction.
Justine Grey is a Web entrepreneur who writes Work Life Joy for frazzled business builders who long to work vibrantly and live beautifully. You can find her on Twitter at @JustineGrey chatting about life, work and her pop culture obsession.