Feedback is an important thing. Without feedback from the world around us, through our senses, we wouldn’t know where we were, what we were doing or where we were going. In business, without feedback from our clients and prospects … well, we wouldn’t know where we were, what we were doing or where we were going!
There are two important sets of feedback we should all try to gather as we go through our business life, whether that business is a one-person enterprise or a multinational company.
Customer feedback, aka references and testimonials
Whenever I complete a job for a new client, along with their invoice I have some text I send them which includes a request for a reference or testimonial, if they are happy with my work. I used to link to my Facebook page where they could add their own reference, but since that feature has been removed, I now just provide a link to my references page where they can see what other people have said about Libro’s services. I don’t get one from everybody, but when I do, I make sure I put it up on the references page, first in the “new” section at the top of the page, then when I add some more new ones, I move the older ones down into their categories. I arrange them into categories so people can find work like theirs to look at, rather than just having a jumble of stuff on the page – and I highlight important phrases to break it up a bit. By the way, sometimes I hear back from someone weeks after I asked. I never hassle for a reference or remind someone, though, as I feel that would be a bit pushy.
So how do I use these references? First of all, I put a little announcement up via social media when I get a new one. Hopefully people will pop over and have a look. This has a few benefits: people will see I’m doing well and be reassured that I’m a viable business to work with; people will see that I do a good job; people might see that I work in a different area to the ones they know about (I have diversified my services along the way so some people I met early in the life of Libro may still only know me as an editor) and then have some work they can put my way or someone they can recommend to me. Obviously, having the references there means that I can direct people to them if they enquire about my services or ask what I can do for them. And quite a few companies I work with have asked for a CV – having taken some advice from peers, I put together CVs for my different work areas, using the references I’d collected but adding more detail about the kinds of jobs I’d done for the clients.
As well as using my own references page, I am on a few advertising sites which have references – and of course LinkedIn, which has a recommendations feature. I’ve had to be a bit more blatant than I might wish to be in asking people to add references onto these – and I usually only ask regular clients with whom I have a good, ongoing relationship – but no one has minded so far, and it’s helped build my LinkedIn profile and my profile on other sites.
So I make these references work for me – and I am convinced they help me when people are considering whether to use my services.
As an additional point, if the person giving me the reference has a website, I’ll pop a link to the site at the end of my reference. That’s a Google-pleasing link back for them and a touch of generosity on my part that they might remember for next time!
Oh, and if you’re building up your business and doing bits of work for free, make sure you make it a condition of your doing the work that the client gives you a reference. People actually value something more if they have to pay for it, and ‘paying’ by giving you a reference gives you that kind of relationship, plus you have something useful to add to your references page!
The other kind of feedback that’s vital for businesses large and small, young and old, is market research. You may have done this in the initial stages when you were seeing if there was a potential market for your goods or services. But it’s important to keep checking that you’re on the right track, that you know what your clients and prospects want. I’ve tended to do this myself for my blog rather than for my business as such, although I’ll look at that as I go along. After I’d been running this blog for 6 months, I put up a quick survey asking if I was posting too frequently/infrequently, posting about the right kinds of subject, and whether I was alerting people about the posts in the right way. Actually, in this case, the results I got pretty well balanced each other out: for everyone who thought I posted too much there was someone who thought I could post more, and a majority saying it was just right, and for everyone who was bored by my monthly updates on what I’d been doing, there was someone who said that was their favourite bit! But at least that told me I was on the right track, and this and subsequent feedback on my alerting process led me to minimise the alerts about blog posts on my personal Facebook page.
That’s the thing: you do need to respond to feedback and to do something if something needs doing. We’ll talk about that in a minute …
Other kinds of feedback
You can also seek other kinds of feedback – another interesting and important area is when you are heading down a path and you need to check you’re going the right way. The Entrepreneur meetup I attend in my city is a good place to chat about what you’re doing and what you’re planning and see if you have the right ideas. I was talking to the owner of a cupcake company a few months ago and persuaded her to look into doing a range of low-fat as well as the usual gluten-free cupcakes; if I want the former, I’m pretty sure there’ll be a set of other people in the city who want them too. A couple of months ago, I had a bit of a tricky business problem that coincided with the Social Media Cafe I attend. So I talked it through with my peers – and I did that recently over email with a couple of peers too; it’s so useful to get feedback from other people in the same line of work, or same size business, as you. On another practical note, many of the authors and publishers I know will distribute online or print copies of their new books to a few selected readers (Joanna Penn calls these ‘beta readers’). They might then use their comments to improve the book, or use their reviews to publicise it upon publication. All useful interstitial feedback.
Take feedback on board and do something about it!
It is, of course, important to take note of the feedback and generate something useful from it. If your clients all describe you as friendly, and you like that, build your brand to include and emphasise that aspect, as if that’s what a lot of your clients like, then more will like that too. If people are being driven mad by your constant alerts about blog updates on your personal social media, scale it back to one round-up per week. If your beta readers hate your character’s name, look into changing it!
No request for feedback is without an ulterior motive – you want to tailor and target your outward face to match what your potential clients are looking for. If you’re going to get something out of people …
- make sure you say thank you
- use it
Oh, and talking of ulterior motives, I’ve got a survey on the go at the moment to try to find out how I can post the most useful articles possible on the language sections of this blog. Do go and fill it in, please. You know I’ll take note of the answers!