I've been working here for a long time now-so long I don't really remember when I first became the top editor, though it was sometime in the mid to late '80s. Lots of people (I know because they've told me) would get bored doing the same job for nearly 20 years. But then I'm not like lots of people, and this is not just a job to me. Our mission here at Entrepreneur is to teach you something: to share the knowledge, advice and wisdom of others (be they experts or fellow entrepreneurs) so you can act accordingly to improve your business practices.
I was reminded of this the other day when I got an e-mail from Brian, a friend of mine. Brian had a long career (15 years) selling ads for Entrepreneur and other business magazines. But he's one of those "born to be an entrepreneur" types and set out on his own two years ago. (I should disclose that Brian and Entrepreneur work on some projects together.) Anyway, let me quote from Brian's e-mail: "Your 'Editor's Note' in the September issue couldn't have come at a more appropriate time for me and my business. I was literally reading it as a technician was hooking up a wireless router to the computers in my office. He started by saying, 'Wow, your computer really has issues with viruses, too many programs in the startup box. It's too slow.' He thought I'd have to completely clean out my hard drive and start from square one. Instead, I did what you said. I kept my cool. We didn't have to go back to square one. Eventually, he set up my wireless network. As he finished, I turned to page 39 and found the article about spyware. That will be the next problem I handle. Once again, reading Entrepreneur helped me at just the right time. Thanks."
Letters like that, whether from a friend or a stranger, not only make you feel good, but also let you know how you're doing. Since magazines and Web sites (I got three letters from Entrepreneur.com users this morning) are public media, feedback flows in regularly to me and the rest of my staff. But chances are, your businesses are not as public, so you may not know what your customers and clients think. Ignorance is bliss, you say. Not so. In this case, ignorance can lead to the death of your company.
When it comes to feedback, we could all take a lesson from eBay. Feedback there is crucial to the individual buyers and sellers. If your eBay feedback rating isn't positive, other users won't buy from you or sell to you. All entrepreneurs should have some type of feedback mechanism in place. And it needs to be easy for customers and clients to use. You can't passively wait for feedback. Just like successful salespeople ask for the sale, you need to ask customers and clients for their opinions. If you have a Web site (and you should), be sure it's easy to find your contact info. If you manufacture products, make sure your labels or packages tell customers how to reach you. Put a form on the counter at your retail store. Service entrepreneurs can send a questionnaire (a short one, please) with your invoices.
It's not a bad idea to ask vendors and suppliers what they think as well. And while you're at it, don't forget your employees. How easy is it for your staff to offer ideas and suggestions? Often, entrepreneurs are too close to the center of the action (or paradoxically, too far removed) to see the whole picture.
So if you truly want to know how your business is doing, just ask.