As a small business owner with a traditional storefront there are numerous avenues for promoting and marketing your business. Many of the obvious ones such as newspaper ads, direct mail and radio/TV spots all share a common problem, they usually cost alot of money and there is usually a mediocre return on investment. Networking and cross promoting with other small businesses can be a great and inexpensive way to get the good word out about your business. Other small businesses may not feel the same zest for marketing success as you do and this is what I wanted to discuss in this article.
When I opened my first small business I was dizzy with all of the marketing possibilities available to me. I dreamed about forming key partnerships with other like minded business and dreamed how we would all ride our wave of success straight to the top.
I made a list of about 50 local businesses that I would go and visit during the first few weeks after we opened. I devised a great introductory letter introducing myself and my business and how we could both help each other achieve success through join promotions and networking. I remember setting a schedule where I would visit 5 businesses a day until my task was completed. I remember my first day building my “Networking Empire” fondly. The owner of the first business owner I spoke with was very nice. She listened with a smile as I told her about my ideas and said it sounded great and she would look over all of the information. I was ecstatic as I left thinking about when I would make my follow up visit. As I got into my car I saw her at the front counter as she ripped up my letter and tossed it into the waste basket. I felt like I just got dumped. As I drove off I dismissed her as an oddity and moved onto the remaining 4 businesses on my list. To make a long story short, not one was interested in any kind of networking and some treated me with disdain like I was an encyclopedia salesman or something.
So what happened? According to all of my business books, blogs and presentations I have seen, every small business owner wants to build a successful business. Why wouldn't someone want to join forces with another business to share customers and grow their business to new heights? I have learned 3 things about small business owners, especially ones with traditional brick and mortar businesses.
#1 Many of them do not read and study about small business success, leadership, marketing or anything else. Not everyone has a passion about learning new ways to grow their business or how to be a better manager or anything for that matter. It sounds strange but it's absolutely true. Many people go into a new business venture knowing what they know and they think that's all there is to know.
#2 Many small business owners who at one time showed a passion and enthusiasm for their business have since lost it through the daily grind of work, bills, boredom, disappointment and so on. It's easy to become cynical and jaded when what you dreamed your business to be looks nothing like the one you show up for every day, and take home with you every night. There is never time to set aside for a new marketing venture or a course in great customer service because they are too busy minding the store making sure nobody steals anything.
#3 Customer service is a foreign language. Many small business owners identify their business with themselves, if you don't like the business then you don't like me. They treat every complaint as a personal attack and usually respond in kind. The attitude, “If you don't like it then go somewhere else” is prevalent in many small businesses.
So what can we learn from this?
#1 Your small business can't grow unless you are growing too. Keep educating yourself and be open to trying new things. Don't let yourself become the biggest roadblock for your business.
#2 Stay optimistic. Your going to have high and low points in your business. Sometimes it's stomach churning, that's why owning your own business is not for everyone. Building a successful business is really hard, which can be a good thing because if it were easy then everyone would have one.
#3 Your business is all about customer service. It doesn't matter if you sell tires, mop floors or deliver newspapers, your in the customer service business. Your business will grow in relation to how you treat your customers. Treat them well.
To end my story, out of the 50 local businesses I visited, only 4 were interested in any kind of networking. Over the next 2 years I created several joint promotions with those 4 businesses that led to lots of new business for all of us. In one business, their best customer became mine and it led to several thousand dollars in sales, through them and the referrals they brought in. Networking can take up alot of time and effort. It may be frustrating and time consuming walking around and knocking on doors and most will have no interest in what you have to offer. Just keep in mind that for every 10 small business owners who have no interest in your offer, there may be one who is ready jump in and try something new with you.