I have been writing a small business Q&A column called “Ask an Expert” for USA Today for 15 years now. I hear from a lot of small businesses via email and talk with many entrepreneurs at various events where I am asked to speak. What I love is that I get to hear what works and what doesn’t, what their best tricks are and what to avoid.
Personally, I have started three businesses since I graduated from law school more than 20 years ago (but don’t worry, I have come to my senses and don’t practice anymore). One thing I have learned, both through my own experience as well as that of the many small businesspeople with whom I speak, is this: Not all small businesses are created equal.
Some are good; some are bad. Some are great, and others, you wonder how they stay in business. So what’s the difference? Why are some small businesses more successful than others, and what can we learn from those that are?
There are seven things that set the best apart from the rest:
1. Every experience counts: My friends at P&G Professional know this better than anyone. Every experience does count, and the best small businesses live this maxim, especially in the hospitality industry. For instance, P&G Professional’s trusted trio of Spic and Span®, Comet® and Mr. Clean® products are three multi-purpose brands that ensure your customers will encounter an establishment that is, well, spic and span.
The fact is, people make judgments. If you create systems, regimens and schedules that ensure their every experience (or at least almost every experience) is a positive one, you will go a long way to creating a loyal fan base.
2. They take care of the small stuff: Great small businesses pay attention to the little things. Whether it is making sure the counter is always clean or if the waitress knows the regular’s name, a great small business understands that a lot of little things add up to a big thing.
3. They get the 80–20 rule, and live it: The 80–20 rule states that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. It can be expanded (and should be) in many ways:
You get the idea. One thing I have learned along the way is that great small businesses understand who and what butters their bread, and they give those people and things the extra attention they deserve. If you have a few customers who create the majority of your business, it would definitely behoove you to treat them like the rock stars they are.
4. They market their business, and then market it some more: Customers go through three stages: new customers, existing customers and departing customers. Customers leave for all sorts of reasons — they move away, they change habits, they find someone cheaper or more convenient, you name it. So it is your job to keep creating new customers, because they turn into existing customers — that is, if you get that every experience counts!
So, how do you get those new customers? Marketing. The good news is that today there are more ways to market your business than ever before, and many are very affordable. Social media, pay-per-click, websites, etc., make getting the word out about your business easier than ever.
5. They work to be the best: Great small business owners take a lot of pride in what they do — whether that is keeping the premises the cleanest they can be or offering a service that exceeds expectations.
6. They involve their employees: Employees who feel appreciated, listened to and taken care of are employees who will go the extra mile. Never forget — your staff is on the front line of the customer experience. If your employees are treated right, they will treat your customers right, and your customers will treat you right.
7. They know it is about more than making money: Oh sure, money is great. We all love to make money, but the best small business owners are in it for more than that. They want to make a difference — for themselves and their staff. They want to create an exceptional experience for their customers. They want to create a business that brings value to themselves, their teams and their customers.
And that is how you create a great small business.
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