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With a 10 to 25% vacancy in store fronts across the nation (depending on the geographic region), small business operators want to do everything they can to retain current customers. Growing is nice, but sometimes focusing on customer retention is a big enough chore. What can you – the small business owner – do to ensure that you don’t lose the customer base you've worked so hard to build?
Let’s look at four areas or actions to focus on: Innovate, Communicate, Propagate, and Necessitate.
Never just stand still. When you’re a small business owner, maintaining the status quo means you’re content with failing. If you have an interest in building your business long-term, then you must find new niches to get into. Find new needs that you can fill with your capabilities and the offerings of your company. Advertise in new and innovative ways in order to draw new customers and make existing customers aware of your other capabilities. If you look static, then you’re likely to find yourself out of business in five years.
In business, communication is key. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your existing customers, the new customers you just got onboard, or the customers you’re hoping to reach in the near future. Communicate like there’s no tomorrow. Those automated phone calls we get from Gap and Gymboree about upcoming sales can be annoying, yes, but they draw people in…they do work.
Reach out to your existing customer base in new ways…email, phone, flyers…whatever you need to do to remind them that you’re still around and can still meet their needs. Over the past year, I’ve found myself often wondering if a certain store was still in business before making the drive over. Don’t let that be you…make sure they know you’re still open to serve their needs.
And look for new ways to ask what their needs are. You may be doing ‘x’ for your current customers. But they may have ‘y’ and ‘z’ needs that you could also be filling that are logical extensions of some services or products you already offer. If you can grab that new business from them, then you’ve made yourself even more essential to them and you’ve taken that business away from a potential competitor.
Propagate means to spread and promote. Much like the effective communication mentioned above, you must spread and promote your business in new and efficient ways. Get in print with the local newspaper, do an interview as an ‘expert’ in your field, do free guest blogging on well-known industry websites, and be sure to have a good corporate website of your own that you can sell yourself with and link to all these new ways that you’re promoting your business.
Continue to find ways to make it so that your customers’ needs necessitate that they come to you and only you. Do what you do now very well and engrain your business in their business. Make it so that they could not imagine performing their business without your services because you do it so well for a good price and you give the perception that you’ll always be there for them. As we’ve already mentioned, as you look for new ways to offer them services and new ways to meet some of their other, related needs, you’ll just be deepening that relationship with those customers and making your company even more essential to them.
The main concept here is basically the same as any worker would want to do in this type of job market. Look for ways to make yourself so essential to your customer (or employer for the ‘worker’ example) that there’s no way they’d fire you or stop using your services. You’ve become too critical to their needs for them to think about proceeding without you or to even consider going with someone else. At that point, you’ve likely solidified your company’s ongoing existence – at least for the next few years to come.
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