How to Get Your Small Business to Succeed

Patronizing other small businesses in your area can help grow your own.
A baker owner behind the counter.

by Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach & Consultant

When I'm in Omaha on business, I stay with an old friend, Richard. This is how our day begins. "I'm going for doughnuts," he says. "What would you like?"

Much as I hate to begin my day with doughnuts, I also love to begin my day with doughnuts ... and it can't hurt once every six months or so.

"Where are you going I ask? Krispy Kreme? Dunkin' Doughnuts?"

Richard tenses up. "Corporate doughnuts?" he glowers. "No way. I'm going to 5 AM Doughnuts."

Richard is a small businessman and one of his principles is to patronize other small business owners when he possibly can.

Take Advantage of What You Know

Did you ever think about this? If you run a small business, you know many things:

  • How hard to you work.
  • The exceptional service and products you offer.
  • How hard it is to compete with major chains, corporate "stores," and discount franchises.
  • That, therefore, you must be exceptional.
  • That you offer a better product for a decent price, better service, and a greater value.
  • That if people don't patronize your business, you're not going to make it, and your neighborhood will lose a great asset.

It happened in the town where I live overnight. For years we had been patronizing "locals." There was a wonderful book store with a quaint name and unique appearance. The woman who ran it was the owner's son and had taught elementary school for more years than I had been alive. When I went in there with my son, in elementary school at the time, she lavished attention upon him. She would go and get a book she recommended and place it in his hands. She would tell him why he would like it (or tell me why it would be "good for him") with glowing eyes and enthusiasm in her voice.

She knew her stock, she loved books, she loved children, she knew parents ... and when the store went under, when the big book stores moved in, our community lost a great asset. My son and I felt the loss personally.

There are ways in which small businesses can't compete. It's hard to get the price down to the rock-bottom that larger chains offer, but sometimes there are much greater benefits, and you will get more value for your dollar. That woman had a knack for picking books for a 10 year-old boy that helped feed a lifetime love of learning. Yes, I was teaching this at home, but you know how it is - confirmation from someone other than "Mother" works well.

Your Policy as a Small Business Owner

If you have a small business, consider making it your policy to patronize other small businesses. Look for the local book store, local hardware store, and yes, the "5 AM Donuts" store on the corner.

From your website, to photography, to clothing, to the corner pub or ethnic restaurant, you can often get a much better experience at the local level. Small business owners are free to meet the specific needs of the community, and sometimes a lot more interested in doing so.

In marketing and graphics, especially, you will often get a far better deal with an independent owner. Having worked both on my own, and for marketing companies, I saw what went on behind the scenes. A website designed by a talented individual who cares has a special feel to it - the personal touch that's needed for selling on the Internet. When you contract with a large operation, your account may be signed over to the lowest person on the totem pole, and you'll get a cookie-cutter product churned out by someone under time pressure, not free to reach for excellence. There are incredible deals on website design out there from individuals working alone, and this is just one example.

The Stores

Small business owners often staff their store themselves, or with family. It is rare that the owner isn't around a lot - either actually working, or just hanging out to make sure things go well, and to greet customers and get to know their patrons.

If you think about it, there are still some areas where you simply don't see franchises. I could be mistaken, because I live in South Texas and haven't been everywhere in the US yet, but I've never seen a franchised Greek restaurant. In my town, at least, the local Greek restaurants are absolutely superb, including the totally best French fries and salads in town, not just the "Greek food."

They are all family-owned and either staffed by family, or the owner is always there, and his family is often sitting at one of the back tables, the children doing homework, the wife "pitching in." With such attention to detail, you know things are going to work well, and if there were some incident needing addressing, there's no trouble "talking with the owner." He or she is right there, in your face.

Small business owners are heavily invested in their own businesses and this often produces a high level of excellence. If they don't, they won't make it. We expect a higher standard from them, and we get it.

It's no secret that it particularly shows in the staff. It's common to walk into a major chain and find salespeople who are not familiar with the products, not well trained in either sales or people skills, and decidedly disinterested in serving customers or making a go of the concern. Also
you may not see the same salesperson twice in a one; the turnover is high.

Small businesses don't have the huge advertising budgets large chains do. They're dependent upon word-of-mouth and it shows. They can't afford to alienate a customer who makes it into their store. You are noticed and valued.

"Texas" Candy

I had out-of-town company this week, and was playing tourist in my own town with her. In one stretch of highway crammed with "buy here" stores, we stopped at "Texas Candy." This was my friend's request. She wanted a "Texas experience," and yes, we got one.

The woman behind the counter in the small and divine-smelling store, had put out samples of everything they sold. Except the cinnamon rolls which we could smell and which, she said, were warm from the oven. Could we resist buying some?

Beyond the samples, we were an "event" in the small store. Company had come! She chatted with my friend and gave us a warm experience, with superior product well-presented. We would've missed so much if we've stopped at the store that begins with an S and is on every highway in the US.

My friend is still talking about how "friendly" Texans are!

Patronizing other small businesses makes a statement, and shows your commitment. At the same time, you learn. A small establishment which manages to make it - restaurants particularly having a high failure ratio - is doing something right, something you need to know about it you want to succeed.

If you want YOUR small business to succeed, patronize OTHER small businesses, and let others know.

©Susan Dunn, marketing coach,
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