As a marketing consultant, I help coach small businesses how to succeed in this competitive marketplace. So I have seen the confusion business owners face when trying to determine how to raise awareness in the community for their store or their services. Whether it’s a local retail shop or business-to-business operation, they face many of the same issues. “Where do I put my advertising dollars so that more people can find out about our business?” “Should I sponsor the little league team and create a float for the 4th of July parade?” “Should I get a booth at an industry trade show, advertise in my local newspaper, blog, send out an e-newsletter, spend time on social media or join my local chamber of commerce?”
As a citizen of a community, I also look at small businesses from the viewpoint of a consumer: “That’s an interesting concept for a business.” “I wonder if their location will hurt them…” “Will they offer any coupons for their services?” “I wish they were open late on Sunday.” “Do they have fast service? Is it kid-friendly?”
Sometimes, despite valiant efforts, a business must close its doors. While the community may be left with a void where that business has been, I think that both the business owners and the community should learn from that experience. Here are some ways that businesses and citizens can work together to ensure small business success:
- Businesses: Know (and serve) your customers: Before opening a business, you should be sure to do your homework by surveying the community to see if the business idea is a viable one. Is there a market for this business? If so, what type of things would people like to see? How will people learn about my business? If the community has many families, make the business accommodating for young children (i.e. coloring pages and a nice children’s menu if it’s a restaurant). In addition, you need to engage with the community by staying active on social media, supporting local causes and being in front of potential customers in any way that you can (attending or sponsoring local events and supporting other businesses as well). The more awareness the business has, the more visible the business will be to others in the community. Finally, you must be open to suggestions from customers. Have a suggestion box or ask for feedback on your website. Improving your business by having customer input will help your business become successful. Consider earning and keeping a customer a privilege, not a right. You’ll need to continue to invest in the community if you want to succeed, because you’ll not win if you simply “build it” and expect people to come.
- Customers: Support Local Businesses: Obviously, when you shop or eat at local businesses, or hire them for services, you’re supporting your community businesses. This is the easiest way to help them, but your continued support is also important to their success. Businesses rely on repeat customers to survive, so if you enjoyed your service/product, shop again. Think twice before ordering that product online or driving out of town to dine out one evening. But don’t stop there. Engage with your local businesses by following them on social media. Tell others about them if you’ve had a good experience (which you can also do on social media, by the way). Help the business out by telling them what kind of products/services you’d like to see them sell in the future, or tell them about a great local event they should sponsor. Alternatively, if you think the business should be doing something differently, don’t be afraid to tell them that too, because I’m sure they’d love to hear how they can improve their business. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know.
I just hate to see great local businesses put their hard work into a grand opening, only to give up after a short time in business. I don’t necessarily blame the business or the community for this unfortunate outcome, but I believe if business owners and the citizens of that city or town worked together, they’d be more likely to succeed.