I live in a small rural community in Western Canada, sandwiched between a “small city” of about 80,000 and a major metropolitan center. There’s a lot of pressure to buy from local businesses in order to support our entrepreneurial base.
I’m in favor of keeping it local whenever it’s possible. I too have a small business and appreciate local business supporting my venture.
However, I still believe that you need to EARN the business. Just because you’re the ‘only game in town’ right now, or the political pressure is to ‘shop local’, doesn’t mean you can take your customers for granted, or ‘diss’ other local businesses.
1. Be gracious, even if you don’t get what you would like.
My son’s hockey team just ordered some tracksuits from the bookstore at our local college. Several teams did the same. The college does not advertise that it can do this; someone just ‘knew’ they could get these suits at a very reasonable price. And since the college too is a local business and supports the community, it’s still “shopping locally”.
The only catch was that the disk with the logo to be embroidered on the jackets was not available to the college. It was only available to the two local embroidery shops, the same ones who did NOT get the order for the tracksuits.
When approached to do the embroidery, one vendor said to our team representative, “Since you didn’t order the tracksuits from me, I’m not going to guarantee my work. So if something gets wrecked, I won’t be responsible.”
The message that kind of talk sends is that this person INTENDS to mess up a few jackets – out of spite! Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s very unprofessional. If you say things like that, you sound like a spoiled brat. Just take your ball and go home then.
Certainly you can let a customer know that you’re disappointed you didn’t get the order. You still smile and deliver a quality product so they can go back to the other 17 families getting their jackets and marvel at the great job you did. If even half those people come to your shop for work in the future because they heard how good you were about the whole thing, doesn’t that pay its own dividends?
2. No one likes a gossip.
When you live in a small town, there tends to be at least two of everything. Two hair salons. Two travel agencies. Two printers. Two hardware stores. Two accountants. You get the idea.
If you spend your spare time gossiping and cutting down the work of your competitor, you do yourself a disservice. Gossip is probably one of the most harmful things you can do – to yourself. If you think it’s a way of letting people know what it’s ‘really’ like to do business with the other guy, you’re wrong. What it does is let everyone know how very insecure you are about your OWN abilities.
Every business has its strengths. And everyone has things they just don’t particularly like to do in their line of work. Instead of competing, try collaborating. Get to know “the other guy” on a personal level. Understand their business. Share resources and information. Believe it or not, this will actually INCREASE your own business.
It’s true. If you cannot help a customer on a particular day with a particular need, refer him to your “other guy”. He will do likewise for you if he’s asked to do something he knows is your specialty.
I’ve got such an arrangement with a local ‘competitor’. We’ve collaborated on a few projects. She’s sent design work to me. I’m referring website queries to her. We both win, and most importantly, so do our clients.
3. Understand that customers are NOT fire hydrants.
You cannot lift your leg and pee on your clients, mark them as your territory, and growl at any other dog that comes within 50 feet of them.
This goes back to the previous point. Customers’ needs change. They grow. Hopefully your business does too. Sometimes, it’s just not a match anymore. They want to move on. Maybe you need to as well.
Again, it serves you well to be gracious. Ask them why they feel the change is necessary. Ask them too if there was anything you could have done better that might have swayed their decision to stay instead. At the end, wish them well, and leave the door open to renew the relationship in the future.
You’re more likely to get referrals from customers who have been given a kiss farewell than a kick in the keester.
None of this is rocket science. None of this is MBA stuff. It comes down to the way our grandfathers used to do business: with a smile, a handshake, and some good old-fashioned common courtesy.
Patricia Simoneau, Creative Genius, provides creative brand image and marketing solutions to rural entrepreneurs looking for fresh ideas. Patricia works with clients in non-urban locales and makes their marketing more fun! Sign up for her wacky and wise e-zine at www.smartypantscreative.com and receive her FREE Bonus Report, “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make with Their Brand Image”.