More By This Author

Current Issue

Current Issue

Posted: April 22, 2014

Best of CoBiz: Five simple steps to grow your creative business

Start by talking to your customers

Neil McKenzie

When working with creative businesses, I find that most don't use one of the easiest tools to take a pulse of the market, check up on their competition and grow their business: Talking to their customers! Good organizations are in continuous contact with their customers, not just a "Hello or how are you doing?" when they make a purchase.

Here is how to get started:

1. Choose which customers to survey
Try to pick a random sample of your customers so you have a cross section that is representative of your business. Choose customers that are large and small, new and established, those who buy frequently and those who buy not so often. Be sure to include customers that you know are satisfied, those that you are unsure of and even those you know who are dissatisfied.

2. Choose your survey method
You have a variety of options available to you on how you can conduct your surveys. It could be as simple as taking your customers out to lunch, talking with them on the phone or sending them your survey by email or regular mail.

Today, there are several free survey services on the internet. These are easy to set up and administer and most provide a basic analysis of the results. If you have a lot of customers you may want to investigate having an outside firm conduct the surveys. You can use any or all of the above methods and I urge you to find out which one(s) works best for you.

3. Develop your survey questions
Involve others in your organization when developing the questions to ask to your customers. Try to keep your survey simple and short enough to gather the needed information without being too long that your customers lose interest. Here are a few basic areas which you should include:

- What and why do you buy from us?
- What do you think we do well/poorly?
- How would you rate our service, pricing, value?
- How do you go about choosing a supplier for the products/services we provide?
- Who is our competition and how would you rate us against them?
- What do you like/dislike about our competition?
- What are some ways we can improve?
- Are there any products or services we should add/discontinue?
- What do you think of our advertising, marketing and sales efforts?
- What publications do you read and what websites do you visit?
- What ideas or tips could you give us on improving our company and growing our brand?

4. Conduct your survey
I suggest that you initially start out slow and fine tune your survey so that you are getting the information you need. Develop a schedule of when and how many customers you survey, keep track of their names and when they responded. When approaching customers to survey, tell them "We need your help" - most people are willing to help and this will improve your chances of getting more and better responses. Lastly, don't forget to thank your customers for helping you out!

5. Analyze, share and act on the survey results
There are a number of ways to analyze your results from a simple list of comments to using statistical methods. The important thing is that you read the responses, consider your customer's ideas and take action if needed.

Many companies make the mistake of not sharing the results with the members of their organization for a variety of reasons - almost all are not good reasons. Make customer feedback and ideas a regular part of managing your business and improving customer satisfaction.

Survey results sitting in a box or computer are not like wine - they don't get better with age, quite the contrary they are more like wine turning to vinegar. Act on the feedback you get from your customers and look for new ideas and opportunities on how to grow your brand!

Neil McKenzie is an author, educator and consultant to artists and arts organizations in the areas of business and marketing planning.  His recently published book, The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox, was written to take the mystery out of business for artists and other creative professionals. He has more than 30 years experience as a management consultant and corporate marketing executive working with hundreds of organizations including some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a visiting professor at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he developed and teaches Artrepreneurship; and at University College at the University of Denver, where he teaches the graduate course, Marketing for the Arts.  He is a frequent guest lecturer to artists and organizations in the creative sector and writes about the creative economy including several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization.  Neil can be reached at 720-339-3160, or






Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Thanks Carrie, I am glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for your support for By Neil McKenzie on 2010 07 30
Thanks for your excellent article Neil. Love your insights and simple, easy to implement ideas. I am linking my blog post, scheduled to run August 9th to your post here. By Carrie on 2010 07 29
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video