In past columns I have written about the opportunities created by our current economic climate. Regardless of where you fit on the spectrum of pessimist and optimist, you have to agree that business will never be the same as it was in the past. Too much has changed, and nothing more so than the awareness that entrepreneurs cannot take the future of their business or their current customers for granted.

What does this mean to you? Two things:

  1. Your greatest risk is the loss of your current customers.
  2. Your best short-term opportunity for new customers is through your current customers.

Although the two concepts may at first blush seem contradictory, they are not. Here are five steps to expand your business in any economy.

  1. Know who your core customers are. Don't fall into the trap of believing that anybody who buys from you is a core customer. One of my good friends often tells me it's as important to know whom you don't serve and what you don't specialize in as it is to know the opposite. If you haven't given that any thought recently, it's worth taking the time to consider.
  2. Find out if your clients are satisfied. How? Ask! More important: Listen. Problems, mistakes or discontent may not be obvious right away. It may take more than one or two discussions to find out where you might be leaving an opening for a competitor to win your customer away.
  3. Get creative. Today, customers must carefully consider every vendor relationship and every purchase. You can't just be good at what you do. Find ways to become an invaluable asset your customers can't imagine eliminating. This will take extraordinary effort. For example, you could find your customer a customer, get your customer in the newspaper or nominate your customer for an award.
  4. Act. Tell your core customers that they are among your most important clients and that you're committed to the success of their business, no matter what it takes. Then sit down with them, go over your plan and get their feedback.
  5. Follow through. Every client has been promised the best value and service; few have actually experienced it. When you consistently deliver, your customers and clients will remember.

Keep looking for new opportunities to support each customer. You may be surprised how often such opportunities arise when a client sees that you are helping his business. Your client will want to do more business with you and will happily recommend your services to others.