1. Be ethical

Times are tough, and sales are more difficult to come by in many industries. There are those who price gouge, or leave their customers high and dry at the first sign of complaint, and they get away with it, right?

It’s rough being one of the good guys right now, keeping prices fair and placing high importance on customer service and quality assurance. But don’t be duped. What goes around comes around. If you work hard and you’re good to your customers, it’ll pay back in spades.

The number one reason my company is thriving this year when so many are struggling is because of our customers. We call them to check in after a project is done, we give them discounts for purchasing our services in volume, and we’re on call for them 24/7 in case of emergencies. We treat them like family.

As a result, they continue to do business with us, and even refer new clients to us. Being ethical, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard, always pays. Period.

2. Study, study, study

This one is so important, especially in our industry, where things are always changing. As the owner of Aqua Vita Creative, I spend a great deal of time studying ways to improve our products and production levels. I read books on marketing, finance, design, and programming.

I attend industry seminars, and this year I’ll be attending tradeshows and conventions to keep abreast of the latest technology that I can offer my customers.

Knowing your business inside and out gives you an edge over competitors that are just in it for a paycheck. It means faster turnaround times on jobs, which means lower expenses for you and lower prices for your customers, and lower prices mean higher demand.

3. Plan, plan, plan

The longer I’ve been in business, the more I see the incredible time and money saving practice of planning. There’s an old saying: “Plan your work and work your plan.” Man, that’s the truth. My experience has been that one hour of planning saves me 10 hours of work. That’s not an exaggeration.

Here are a few things I plan for Aqua Vita:

Finances.I spend about a half hour every day planning Aqua Vita’s finances, specifically our budget, savings plan, and a plan for investments over the next financial quarter (new software, equipment, promotional materials, extended education, etc.)

My days. I spend about 15-30 minutes every night preparing a To-Do list for the next day.

Sales.I have a 30-minute sales meeting with my sales and marketing director every Monday morning to review prospects and sales for the week, and I have another 30-minute strategy session at week’s end to review the week.

I’ve seen incredible boosts in my focus, drive and productivity when I plan thoroughly.

4. Schedule everything

If it ain’t scheduled, it ain’t happenin’. There are plenty of sales guys, techs and marketing professionals who have no shortage of talent, but can’t keep a deadline to save their life. My observation has been that most of the time, it’s not because the person couldn’t meet the deadline; it’s just because a deadline wasn’t set at all.

Frankly, I’m astonished at how few people schedule things considering the nasty stuff that happens when you don’t. Forgotten appointments, angry customers, broken trust with employees, and hours wasted every day. Yeesh. Schedule everything you can as quickly as you can and save yourself the headache and heartache.

5. Always have a next step

When I first started in sales, I noticed that even though I was having some really great conversations with prospects, the relationship never seemed to go anywhere. Then I realized the problem: I was leaving conversations with no game plan for the future.

Now, I try to set up an action at the end of every meeting, call, and e-mail correspondence. This practice builds real relationships with your clients. You’ll talk more, and you’ll come to know and trust each other better than you would have otherwise. In my case, doing this has dramatically improved my sales, too, and I won’t lie: I like sales.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of the list!