10 Things You Can Do To Grow Your Small Business

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 10 March 2016

Tags: , , ,

If you’ve ever run a small or medium-sized business, you know that it’s hard to get new customers and equally hard to keep the ones you have. Competition is fierce! Larger competitors have the resources to out-market and out-sell you, and also have the financial strength to out-bid you. And internet shopping has placed increasing price pressure on retailers who have to pay for brick and mortar and still remain price competitive. So how can you compete in this competitive market and continue to grow your business? The answer lies in building a customer-centric business that consistently exceeds expectations.  And that means investing the time and resources to build a culture in which employees are highly engaged, and are passionate about creating exceptional customer experiences.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from consumers when they are assessing a business is the lack of responsiveness. Sure, it’s important to have the product the consumer wants at a price that he/she is willing to pay. And it’s critical that services provide quality service and show up on time and clean up after themselves. But many businesses never get the opportunity to demonstrate these competencies because they can’t get past the impact of being non-responsive during the pre-sale and the purchase processes.

Now I’m not being naive. I realize that especially with small business, time management may be an issue. Small companies are often run with a limited number of people, wearing multiple hats, including scheduling, billing, and actually performing the work. But to the increasingly demanding consumer today, those challenges all represent excuses for the lack of a customer-centric culture and a reason to choose a competitor. How many times have you walked into a small or medium sized retailer and walked out empty handed because no one was around to help, even when you walked into that store with the intent to purchase?

There is conventional wisdom that dictates that it’s easier to see what an organization should do right when you can see what others are doing wrong, and the impact that those aspects have on customer purchase decisions, loyalty, and retention. So let me share some experiences I have had over the past few years with regard to service businesses. I have repeatedly run into small businesses in my market that have been totally non-responsive when I actually reached out to them with the intent to hire them.

I contacted a tree service that had provided service for the previous owner of our house and asked him to come out and trim our trees. Now keep in mind, I did not ask him to come out and give me an estimate. I asked him to come out and DO the job, based on his past relationship and recommendation from the previous homeowner. I called him on a Tuesday in August and he said he would be there on Friday. Friday came and went and the guy never showed up, I thought maybe something had come up so I waited. After 3 months, I finally called him again and he just said that he had forgotten.

I contacted a local photographer to schedule an appointment to have a head shot taken for our Inward website. 4 days later I had not had any kind of response, even though I made it clear that I was ready to hire the person and needed the head shot right away.

My wife and I wanted to add a sun room to our house, with an estimated cost of $35,000. I share this number to make the point that for a small business, this was a relatively big job. I contacted a contractor who had done work for many of my family members and he came out to look at the job and understand what we wanted to do. He told me he would get back to me with an estimate the following week. That was 9 months ago! 

And I saved the best for last! I contacted a handyman who advertises that there is no job too small or too large for him. I called him to ask him to come out to the house and look at two small remodeling jobs. He told me he was already at someone else’s house quoting a job and I should send him an email with my request. I was somewhat baffled because the job he was quoting was in my neighborhood and he knew that. But he didn’t offer to stop by to meet me just to set up an appointment. I sent him the email immediately with my request. 3 days later, I had heard absolutely nothing. So I sent him another email asking him if he was interested in doing the job or not. Two more days passed and again, I got absolutely no response. Now at this point, most consumers would have already moved on, but now it became a quest for me. So I called him a week later and left him a message asking him if he was interested or not. Again, absolutely no response. Four attempts to actually hire the guy and he didn’t quite understand the impact of being non-responsive on the future of his business.

So how does a small or medium sized business compete with larger competitors and internet companies in this fiercely competitive environment in which consumers have become more and more demanding? Here are ten suggestions for driving growth

  1. Create a culture of high employee engagement that focuses on exceeding customer expectations at every single touch point
  2. Hire someone to schedule work and make appointments other than the person doing the work. 
  3. If you are in retail business, hire someone to greet customers at the door and offer to help them find what they’re looking for.
  4. In today’s world of mobile technology, there is no excuse for forgetting to call someone back or keeping an appointment. Use electronic calendars and reminders on your phone and other portable device.
  5. Establish a policy that demands that calls, emails, or person to person visits have an assigned follow up date and communicate that in your website, voicemail message, email account, etc. so the customer knows what to expect in terms of response time.
  6. Recognize and reward others for referrals with a token of appreciation, which may be something as simple as a thank you.
  7. Establish a customer-centric culture with a service mentality so you can show the value you add that justifies pricing that is slightly higher than just purchasing products on the internet.
  8. Develop a list of customer testimonials that you can use when bidding on new jobs.  Consumers today spend a lot of time researching before they buy and having the opportunity to talk to someone who has used your services can have a great impact on their buying decision.
  9. When you mess up in terms of timely responsiveness, correct it as quickly as possible and be humble enough to apologize and ask for their understanding.  If you have a legitimate reason for a delayed response, be open enough to share that reason. 
  10. And finally, even if it’s to simply say that you got the message and will get back to them at a specified time with a more detailed response, respond as soon as possible, even if it is before or after hours so the potential customer knows you are interested in talking to them.  This can be a simple one line response that does not take much time at all, but goes a long way towards communicating your customer-centric culture.