So how is a small business to compete with the "big guns?"
The answer is by utilizing effective communication strategies with their customers and clients. It is by using strategies and means that are affordable and practical for small business owners. These are very different from the big corporate model.
As a small business owner, communicating with your customers or clients should be at the top of your agenda. Your customers will give you feedback which may help you improve your business. And, as the business owner, you must be sure that someone is listening because the most common loss of current customers... and new prospects, is indifference on the part of your service team.
If you use the right communication strategies, and team training, you can also cement your business in people's minds so that they become repeat customers and loyal referral champions. So, their loyalty builds with you more and more. And, they become evangelists for your cause, ongoing.
Unfortunately, all too often small businesses miss this step and conduct themselves in a manner more reminiscent of large corporate companies. Number one: indifferent. Number two: impersonal. Number three: we're right and "sorry about that" attitude. And, the list goes on. This can spell disaster for the small business owner. Unfortunately, big business often gets away with this. You won't for long!
Here are a few tips to help you avoid these traps and communicate effectively with your customers and clientele:
#1 - Ask for feedback. Good or bad, feedback from customers can be the saving grace for any small business. You can't fix things when you don't realize they are broken. So negative feedback is good to have, versus working in the blind.
It will help you improve, tweak, and keep what's working and get rid of what isn't working within the business. It's important to never become a "legend in your own mind," or in the minds of your team, when it comes to customer satisfaction. First, and always, ask your customers or clients how they feel about your service. How do they think it could be improved? It is really only their perception and opinion that matters.
You can ask customers to fill in a simple survey card or a fun poll about their preferences, their experience, and so on. It may help to make the feedback anonymous and to make it easier for the customer to state their true feelings about your business. Adding a small incentive to do so doesn't hurt either. Just remember it is what "they think" that matters. Not just patting yourselves, one another, on the back and saying, "We're doing great!"
You simply are not the judge in this that matters. In this end, the customer is always right. Since, if made wrong, they'll simply leave you! So, guess who wins.
#2 - Stay in touch. It's a battle these days. You are fighting, whether you know it, or not - to stay in the minds of your customers - versus thousands of other marketing messages they are hit with every single day.
Even if the customer was impressed with your business in the first instance, it's easy for them to forget about it or go somewhere more convenient when they're in a rush. However, if you stay at the forefront of your customer's mind then you'll up the chances of them becoming repeat customers.
Local internet marketing, social media marketing and offer many free marketing strategies for small business owners to profit from. And, this is another big opportunity and area to explore for small business owners!
Send your customers reminders about your business and news about special offers that will benefit them. You can also offer repeat customers a discount voucher and other incentives to get them to come back to you. But keep in mind that the best incentive for customers to return is often a simple "thank you" and great customer service. And, this is a team effort. Not just an idea, or a once-in-a-while happening. Consistence in all forms of business marketing is key.
#3 - Differentiate yourself and dominate your market. You can do this by treating each and every customer as though they are your only customer and making them feel special. Send out birthday or Christmas cards to your customers - when everyone else is "too busy." Look for ways to be memorable and remarkable, in your market, versus others who just copy cat one another.
It is unique distinctions that set you ahead of your competition. Whereas, most business owners just copy what their competitors do and soon they all look alike (to the prospect). That's when price becomes the primary question for the prospect, since there isn't anything else that really makes you unique or special in their minds.
#4 - Show constant appreciation. After all, if it weren't for your customers and clients, you and your team have no reason to be there. Right? So, freely let your customers know you appreciate them by sending a simple thank you card, perhaps with a discount voucher inside. Or, maybe an online option through your own newsletter through services like Constant Contact. And in some cases a small thank you gift may be a worthwhile investment for major loyalty and return business - depending upon your customer's contributions to your business.
Treating customers well is one sure way to stand out from the competition in any economy - in any business.
#5 - Get creative. Many businesses use the same old boring marketing strategies. Why not stand out from the crowd by "juicing" up your marketing? Humor goes a long way in marketing - come up with a funny campaign that will grab your customer's attention. Or, something engaging your customer like a "quiz" night at your restaurant, or bar, for example.
What may seem "crazy" to some can catch the eyes of potential customers or clients and get them interested in your business. Being at your place a particular night of the week, versus home, or somewhere else. The first step is always getting the customer through the door - a creative marketing campaign will help you do this. Once they're in the door it's up to you to WOW them with your services and keep them coming back.
Communicating effectively with customers and clients doesn't have to be difficult. It's all about connecting with people on a more personal level and setting up your business to help your customers to receive exceptional value. A few simple strategies can help you achieve this and stand out from the competition.
#6 - Use local marketing online. This is one of the most front running marketing gold mines today. As of this writing, 43% of all searches on Google are for local businesses, by city, state and zip code. This is people using local search, to buy services and products offline, at brick and mortar stores like yours. Online search has taken over internet yellow pages and print yellow page use and is growing daily.
Google is the king of local search marketing these days. You may, or may not be part of "page one" on Google. If you're not, it is wise to find out how you can be - since this is the "king of search engine traffic" and people finding your local business via Google is money in the bank. Our clients absolutely love this solution with us, since they begin seeing new traffic in their doors almost immediately.
In any case, reach out to local business experts in your area, or online, and find a coach or mentor to help you speed your business success. Learn how you can optimize local marketing online. There are too many options today, to be an expert is every area, and run your business, too! So, look for experts who can help you take advantage of local online marketing options at reasonable fees. They may even offer you a customized marketing plan to use as your monthly map to business growth.
#7 Every "pro" has a coach. To help speed your marketing success along, you will be wise to find one or more mentors, to help you in your business ownership journey. And, Lord knows, it is a journey! Personally, I'd say do it now. Find a business and personal coach sooner than later. It can speed your success by years ahead of your competitors... and, probably save you thousands of dollars, if you connect with the "right one for you."
All that is wasting is your time, money and loss of customers in the meantime... if you don't really have the marketing expertise you nedd, in addition to your specific business know how. Most business owners I've met over the years know their "business expertise" very well. Other things, like marketing, is another matter. And, often since they are week in marketing, they simply don't do it. Big mistake!
As I say, find a coach, a pro to help you... and, watch your business grow beyond your competition! Much in successful marketing includes a practical, systematized plan, that is consistently acted upon. No time like the present to ACT upon your success! My best wishes to you in that end!
Sandra is an experienced mentor in business growth strategies and practical small business marketing systems. Her target market is business service professionals. A business management and marketing consultant since 1987 - practical marketing and leadership coaching for independent business professionals are Sandra's passion and expertise. She is a small business success systems pro. She offers over 20 years of proven experience: practical and affordable business solutions. Sandra has served hundreds of small business professionals to prosper nationwide.