In a time where international retail chains, fast food giants and supermarket monopolies seem to rule, there’s a grassroots movement of consumers inspired by a sense of community and ethical consumption, opting to shop local and support small businesses.
More than ever, consumers feel increasingly connected to the small business community.
More than a third of consumers believe their shopping habits affect small businesses according to the American Express Shop Small 2019 Study.
Getting people through the doors on a regular basis relies on strengthening the already strong relationship small business owners have with their community.
In turn, communities love shopping with small businesses: 63% of customers prefer to buy from them over larger retailers, according to the same research. So how can business owners capitalise on this demand and better-connect with their customers?
Here are five tips to help you ensure you’re building relationships in your community to help your business flourish.
1. Make sure you “perform and deliver”
Small business owners should uphold a passion for quality and service to reinforce their reputation in the community, according to Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) Chief Executive Peter Strong.
“The great strength of small business is that they’re real people who can communicate and connect with other individuals in the community,” Strong says.
“Communities value small businesses and what they represent. Particularly in regional areas, the family running the business will be well-known.”
To uphold community trust and expectations, Strong says small business owners should always put their best foot forward when serving their customers.
“It puts pressure on us to perform and deliver — that’s our big point of difference.”
2. Understand your customer
The only thing constant is change. The businesses that can adapt to changing consumer behaviours and attitudes will be the ones that are best able to grow and maintain their competitive edge.
“Small businesses have to keep communicating and stay in contact with the customer,” Strong advises.
“The businesses I’ve seen fail, did so because they didn’t change to keep up with the way their customers communicate. Successful businesses will respond to the changing nature of social media.”
According to research from American Express, 39% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) said that customers have inspired them to start taking steps to grow and maintain their business. So where do you start?
The channels you choose to connect with your customers are crucial: each serves a specific purpose. Hairdressers might use the visually-rich medium of Instagram to promote themselves and gain new customers, while taking to closed Facebook groups to share business information and industry tips. Small businesses providing advisory services may use LinkedIn to connect with prospective clients and like-minded professionals.
“It’s all about making sure your customer knows what you’ve got and you know what they’ve got,” Strong says.
3. Establish strong ties to the community
Establishing strong ties with the community is more than just sponsoring a local football team or donating to local charities. Actions will always speak louder than words, and being well-regarded in the community requires integrity and respect for all.
“If you’re in a small community, people will know if you’re a good employer; look after your staff and do the right thing by them,” Strong says.
“Don’t be afraid to show your personality and humour. Establish that you’re more than just a shop owner — you’re an integral part of the community.”
Consider combining your business with local initiatives.
Attend local events where you sell or showcase your goods, or even host community meetings in your shop if space allows. Instead of donating prizes to local events, donate gift cards for your store.
It will not only get people through the door but will also cement you as a key part of the community.
4. Find what works for you
Of course, these approaches won’t work for all small businesses. It’s important to find what resonates with your community and works for you.
“Each industry has different ways of looking after their customers, but the most important thing is that if they come through that door, you make sure they’re looked after,” Strong says.
“The biggest complaint people have about big retailers is that no one’s ever around to help them. Make this your point of difference.”
5. Value repeat customers
For some businesses, it can seem tempting to target one-off customers with cheap deals and cut-price offerings. This approach ignores the true value of repeat customers.
“The repeat customer isn’t just that one person. It’s that person’s family and friends,” Strong advises.
“Say you have a 20-year-old repeat customer. Over several years they might end up with a partner or bring in their siblings. They might come in looking for a present for their dad — it becomes a family thing. And now you have the opportunity to create a worthwhile, meaningful, lasting relationship.”
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