Buying an established business has many advantages. There are far fewer costs in terms of initial overhead, you don’t need to commit as much time to staffing, and you’ve already got a client base. What happens, though, when staff and clients decide to jump ship?
It happens all the time because, when a business changes hands, customers and staff alike often leave out of loyalty to the prior owner – even when the business was sold under the best possible circumstances. Suddenly, everything you invested in is gone and you have to rebuild that loyalty. The question is, how?
At its root, loyalty is an emotional process and both employees and customers need to have a personal investment in a business if they’re going to express their loyalty. These key strategies can help reinvest staff and clients alike in your brand, despite the sale, and help drive new shareholders to share in that loyalty.
Ask For Help
One of the most important things you can do after you buy an established business is to demonstrate a sense of humility. The business is established, but as an owner you’re the new kid on the block and there are plenty of people who understand it and feel connected to it, both on the employee side and among customers. Both groups will respond to how you act as a leader and that includes your willingness to ask for help.
All business owners should ask customers to help solve problems because customers understand the pain points of sales interactions better than anyone on the other side of the exchange, but as a new owner you’re in a unique position.
You can ask about the prior operations in a way that’s open-ended; find out what mattered most to the community about the business and what was frustrating. Ask questions and listen. Don’t launch a plan or start changing things before you understand what it is that existing customers appreciated about the original model.
Build Up Support Programs
Another key part of building loyalty as the new owner of an established business is to provide ample support and an open-door policy with staff and clients alike. Indeed, customer support is one of the best ways to cut through the noise and ensure your customers are connecting with your brand. Many companies have found success by establishing robust customer service programs, offering better return policies, and generally by building innovative solutions.
It’s harder to build support programs for staff because, as a new owner, you need to establish your authority and gain their respect. That being said, it’s best to start with a gentle opener because your staff set the tone for your customers. If, as employees, they project a problem with the change in ownership, your customers are likely to feel the same way.
Similarly, when employees leave with a change in ownership, the whole community tends to feel skeptical and are more likely to shift their patronage to a different business. Over the long-term, loyal employees are also more productive and drive greater revenue.
As an owner, it’s easy to feel like a business is yours, but the fact is companies don’t really belong to the person at the top of the food chain. No, their fate is determined by those at the base – the customers and core staff who keep everything running and give your business a purpose. Those are the people you need to emotionally invest in your brand and whose loyalty matters most. At the end of the day, the people at the top are interchangeable, but your customers are one of a kind.
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