Many small business owners have felt the pinch (unless they are toilet paper suppliers) as customers seem to dwindle. In many industries consumers have been drawn to bigger companies who offer more online services or booking systems. We often talk about the importance of embracing technology especially during this time. But this may take time and resources you do not have right now. You need customers, so that you can get the resources to invest in technology.
Do not despair. There are some things you can do that are much cheaper than throwing the money you do not have into the dark advertising waters of the world wide web or betting on advertising in the local community newspapers.
What makes you stand out in the crowd
For argument sake, let us say you have a plumbing business. You have advertised your services in the local businesses’ magazine. Your enterprise is one of seven listed one beneath the other. Your buddy next door is an electrician, and his sister does hair and nails for a living. Your mother bakes the best brownies and caters for weddings. The question for all of you is how do you draw people to your business?
No – it is not the size of the ad or the fancy font or logo.
Yes, price is an important consideration in these difficult times. Many small businesses fail because they drop their prices below a sustainable level. So, how do you move your business away from ‘how much you are going to charge me?’ as the only differentiating factor?
Your clients will trust you if they trust their friends
I have clients who come to me because five relatives spoke about me at a party and they did not want to be the odd ones out. Let me tell you two stories:
Mary wants to take the wheel
Mary, a single mom of many, became a client 10 years ago. Mary knew she needed to provide for her children’s futures and had only a certain amount of money and years to do so.
She wanted to know exactly what her money is doing for her and her brood and how this was happening. She wanted to be in control of every decision. She made us work hard but these are the types of clients that we gladly work hard for! Mary is a much respected, well-connected person in her community and sat on many committees.
Over the years Mary told about 20 of her friends and acquaintances about our business. About 20% of the income of Northwood Financial Services is related to Mary and her network.
Let me tell you about my oldest client
We will call him John to protect him from undue Facebook friend requests. He is 96 years old. In 1988 his wife dragged him into my office. He soon realised that working with me was cheaper than divorce and preferable to dying a slow death by nagging. I must have done something right since a) he is still my client and b) I have helped many in his circle of friends to protect their lifestyle and build wealth. In some cases, I have done the same for the children of the friends he had referred to me.
In whom do you place your trust?
The Ipsos MORI Veracity Index measure the level of trust members of the public place in various professions and is one of the oldest of its kind. Though the survey is conducted across a wide variety of people from different backgrounds who reside in Britain, other comparisons have shown that their findings pretty much compare well to other countries such as ours. Despite the pandemic, the 2020 survey only shows minor shifts.
- Nurses, doctors, and engineers are the most trusted professions in the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index 2020. Teachers, judges, professors, museum curators and scientists all receive high trust scores.
- The ordinary woman/man in the street received a 57% trust rating
- Priests and clergy received a 56% trust rating
- Economists received a score of 53%
- Bankers received a trust rating of 44%
- Professional Soccer Players received a score of 30%
- Estate agents received a 27% trust rating
- Politicians received a rating of 15%
- Advertising executives (bottom of the list for many years now) received a rating of only 13%
So, there you have it. People trust ordinary people more. People would even trust your favourite soccer star more than an advertising executive. Yes, chances are that you will draw some clients to your business through good reviews and ‘likes’ on your Facebook page. Most of us have trained ourselves to ignore the endless adverts on social media. We have also all heard of just too many scams.
Kiss and tell – but at the right time
If you are anything like me, you also bristle at the hapless call centre agents who, after a single robotic-like, routine interaction, pulse you to divulge the names of your nearest and dearest so that they can harass them, too. They may ask you to leave a raving review on Hellopeter, mentioning them by name, when you KNOW they will not remember yours. These types of scripted, automatic interactions are more likely to harm your business and KEEP them from telling others about your brilliance.
Trust, like the good Whiskey you cannot buy right now, takes time to mature
So, show your stuff! Do what you do best – FIRST. Once you have built a connection with a customer and they have become ‘hooked’ on your service THEN you can ask them to spread the word about your brilliance! At this point they would WANT to, and it is their enthusiasm and real-life story that will sell your service to their connections.
It is not rocket science – just think further than your nose!
- Sipho is a plumber. He has come to realise that he is entering the most private spaces of his clients – the bathroom, shower, kitchen. When he leaves the property, he makes sure every area, even those beyond where he was working, is spotless. (His mother is so proud). He makes sure he dresses neatly as it reflects his style of work. He makes a point of keeping noise to a minimum and takes precautions to curb dust and debris. THIS is what sells his business.
- In Sea Point one builder used the slogan ‘I will be there on time, every time’. He built what started as a one-person concern into a multi-million Rand enterprise by keeping that simple but important promise.
It is the quality of the service and the reputation that becomes the reason people will use, return to, and refer their friends to your business.
My job is not easy
Money, for many, is at best an uncomfortable topic to discuss and at worst a complete taboo. As a certified Financial Advisor, I do not just steer you in the direction of an off-the-shelf policy because I make the most money from it.
Far from it.
By the end of the first hour, I need to get my clients to divulge their most closely guarded financial details – the stuff they will not even share with their spouses. I help them take a long, hard, honest, and often painful look at their relationships with money and the state they find themselves in. There is always hope but lasting solutions rarely lie a one-size-fits-all financial product.
How do I convince my clients to talk about the difficult subject of finance with others?
I start each meeting with my clients with a review of what has worked for them, what their current situation is and what their ideas are. I put them in charge. Many professionals who provide services or products often think that they know what is best. I do not. This sets us apart.
Once we have gone through these conversations twice or thrice, I ask them what it is that has drawn them to my company and, more importantly, what keeps them coming back.
This helps the client put into their own words what it is that they like about my business. It gives me a natural way to see what they understand, what has been helpful and inform them of some of our other services. We can then talk about the needs and opinions of their friends and family and offer to speak to them, should the client refer them.
Now you can see if have turned a happy customer into a fan. A fan WANTS to tell others; they do not feel obliged to do so. You know that they will be more convincing than a billboard.
Whether your business, like mine, deals with advice, or you are a demolition specialist, a florist, a scrap yard concern or a hairstylist, the same question applies: how can you offer your service in such a way that it sets you apart? Academics refer to this as your Value Proposition.
Sometimes all it takes is to ask
So, you want referrals? When last you asked your clients to refer? Remind your clients every time why they come back for more! Treat them like they hold the golden key to the door to a vast network of interconnected people. Tell them how much you would appreciate it if they would introduce your work to others. Follow up with them with a thank you, should someone say they have been referred to you by so-and-so.
Happy customers, treated consistently well, will become your brand ambassadors in the future.