Stumped for ideas on how to improve your service? Get a critique of your business from a third party. Here are low-cost ways to get advice:
Find a local professional organization that sponsors business forums. Haven's Candies, a candy manufacturer, in Portland, Maine, presented its business issues at a university-sponsored Enterprise Council meeting. "Receiving feedback from a panel of business experts and an audience of peers was an invigorating experience," says owner Bill Webster. "The discussion generated a number of practical ideas that I have put into practice."
Turn your business into a class project. The Saint Lawrence Center Mall, a shopping complex, in Massena, N.Y., was concerned about its service to Canadian and American customers. The mall's management contacted a business-school professor and developed a case for students to research and analyze. Student teams provided the mall with term-project reports and recommendations.
Obtain free advice from business counselors. Look in the telephone book for a nearby office of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) or Small Business Development Center (SBDC).