How small businesses can make a big impression.
Small businesses make up a huge number of the enterprises that operate online. They add variety, commitment and a unique flair to our online experience. From a personal point of view, I probably buy services / products from small businesses / independents 9 times out of 10. This is because I value what small businesses bring to the plate and am impressed by the ingenuity and diversity of what they offer.
There are many smaller businesses out there that have huge followings. They have tens of thousands of social fans with high engagement and definitely shouldn't be intmidated by big brands.
Below, we've collated some ideas that we think will help any smaller business trying to succeed on line.
The personal approach
Small businesses have the advantage of being able to offer a unique personality as well as a more personal touch. Instead of sending out welcome emails or order confirmations, if you have the time, personal emails tailored to each customer would make a rare and postive impact. Consumers are so used to being just another number that feeling special is unfortunately quite scarce.
People just want to feel valued for their custom, a personal hello here, a facebook interaction or a thank you letter there can really make you stand out. It doesn't cost you anything, just time and I think most people would agree, it's time worth spending.
Big brands in your industry may be offering big ticket items as freebies with purchases. Small businesses just can't afford to spend so much on giveaways. However, they can use their unique skillset to offer something of value.
- A design company could offer a free logo for a limited time or a free theme / template to all customers.
- A photographer could offer some free desktop wallpapers or a short video tutorial.
- A crafter could giveaway some free sewing / knitting patterns.
Companies could also go quirky but inexpensive:
- If you sell mugs, you could add a sample teabag sachet
- Booksellers could add a free bookmark
- Toy sellers could put free stickers / colouring pages in with their orders
- Cake shops could add free recipes to orders
If nothing else, a handwritten thank you note or a discount off of a customer's next purchase is a nice touch. This is something that etsy and Folksy sellers do frequently and it adds a more personal approach.
It doesn't take much to make a customer feel truly valued, you just have to listen. As an example, I recently visited a new independent bar in Sheffield (The Tramshed - it's great by the way). They do great bar snacks for £1 each and as they looked so tasty, I went over to get some.
I was with a vegan friend so asked about the options available. They didn't have any vegan bar snacks but had some onion bhajis that were suitable in their sister restaurant next door. We were pleased that we were offered a solution, enjoyed our bhajis and went on our merry way. My vegan friend visited a few days later and was happy to report that vegan bar snacks were on the menu. We were really pleased that they had taken the time to listen and adapt what they had on offer. It certainly made us feel valued as customers.
Above and beyond
As a small business, you might have the spare time to give your customers a little extra care and attention. Big brands may have thousands of customer service representatives but they are often on time scales for each call and can't always offer an indepth enough customer experience.
Spending the extra time to follow up on customer service issues a week or so after they have been 'resolved' may be an option. Just a quick email to say 'Just checking in. Hope the ...... is still ticking along nicely. Really glad we could help'. It's always nice to feel that you haven't been forgotten and that your experience matters.
If your customers send in a good photo or have something to shout about, give them a platform and show your appreciation. Lettoch Cottages in Killicrankie (Scotland) do this really well on their Facebook page. They often post links to people's (visitors to their cottages) websites, give them shoutouts or post their pictures. This is a great way of building a relationship with your customers and will more than likely increase their loyalty to your business (although I'm sure the latter isn't why Lettoch Cottages do it - they're just lovely people).
Interaction is key
Don't just interact on social, if you can dedicate the time, keep the conversation going elsewhere. If you have a blog with comments enabled, try to respond to any feedback and questions. If you have a forum on your site, post on it regularly and be a presence to reassure your customers.
Be part of the conversation wherever that may be.
If it's possible for you to take on bespoke projects, go for it. This is a great way of expanding what you can offer your clients. It also gives you a great opportunity to create interesting content to post on your website or social channels.
Plantabox are a company that create planter crates for different occasions. They demonstrated the value of taking on a bespoke project by creating a cat bunk bed out of their crates for a client. This is an interesting product as it isn't something that would immediately come to mind when you think of crates and that is why it's so brilliant.
Plantabox posted about this project on their blog. As well as this, the recipients posted a picture on the Plantabox Facebook page. This gained attention from fans with some stating that they also wanted a cat bunk bed. This is a great example of thinking outside of the box (literally) and engaging with customers to offer exactly what they are looking for.
Announce your achievements
If you've won an industry award or other accolade, let people know. Thank your customers for their continued support and never become complacement. Some big brands win so many awards that it almost becomes inconsequential to them.
Don't make your announcement braggy, sound humble and grateful and your customers will congratulate your success. Using 'We are delighted / excited ....', 'We are proud....' etc are good ways of conveying your attitude towards winning your award. These types of phrases add to the 'human' element of your story - you're not robots, you're real people that people want to connect to.
Taking risks is difficult, especially when you are small and don't want to rock the boat but small businesses are in a unique position to capitilise on today's appetite for viral content. Foot cardigan are a company we have just recently discovered (definitely adding a subscription to my Christmas wishlist!) Sock subscriptions like any subscription box these days are really popular but just a quick scan of Foot cardigan's website and social channels shows just how creative & bold they are as a company.
Their Facebook page is full of topical and original content. We particularly enjoy their 'alternative use for socks' posts. The innovative use of social doesn't end there, on their homepage, any one of their customer's feet can appear if they post to instagram using the tag #footcardigan. The most impressive thing of all is that they offer shipping for $2 anywhere in the world. This is a very brave move but it means that they have instantly opened themselves up to an international audience.
All of these things just require a little creative input, a willingness to try / test new things and offer something that makes your company appeal to a wider audience. Keeping shipping to the same cost for any destination, may be too risky for you personally but if you can work out a good deal with a carrier, it's worth a try.
Become an authority / expert
It can be difficult to gain 'expert' status online but it can be done slowly and surely. If you have a business that you are passionate about, the chances are that you know an awful lot about what you do. This is a great starting point. You could start by creating video tutorials on Youtube, making sure that your content is accurate / informative and slowly gather subscribers. You could work up to webinars, podcasts or talks. If people trust you as an 'expert', they will also trust the product / service that you offer.
Turning what could be considered a negative into a positive is something that can be difficult to manage. However, it is also very important and can make a great impact.
Lost my name are a company that create charming personalised books for children. They appreciate their customers, create great content and are generous to fans. Occasionally their books are held up in the post (something that many businesses have to deal with that can't be predicted / avoided). When this happens, they send out replacements but they don't leave it there - they give away the 'homeless' books to their Facebook fans who know children with similar names.
This is a really great way of giving back to fans and is a transparent approach that shows how the company fix problems quickly and efficiently while putting a smile on other's faces.
There you have it, a collection of tips that we think may be useful for all you entrepreneurs out there. If you have any great ideas you'd like to share, please do in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you.
This article was written by Christina at Squirrel Hosting.
Please note, businesses mentioned are used for examples because we think they are doing awesome things. By listing them, we are not labelling them as small businesses or otherwise, their example as independent retailers / service providers is what we think others can aspire to.
Leave a comment
Has this guide helped you? Have an idea for a guide or need help? Let us know below.