How To Use Your Small Business Advantages

Regulars line up outside the family-owned restaurant.

Regulars line up outside the family-owned restaurant.

I was recently talking to Eric Groves, CEO and cofounder of the small business social network Alignable, about the constant competition and tension between small businesses and the big brands, and in four words he captured one of the most important assets small businesses have on their side: proximity to the customer.

He had some more excellent points, and I’ll get to those a little later, but I wanted to start with this one. Proximity to the customer is something that the huge corporations can never buy. They can hire firms to poll consumers and do marketing research from here to Timbuktu, but they can never be as close to their customers as you are to yours.

We often talk about social media marketing as a way to build relationships between you and your customers – and big business can play that game – but as a small business owner you have the original social media on your side: proximity to your customers. You live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same soccer games and share in the future of your communities.

Relationships walk through your doors

Use those social connections to build your relationships to your customers and continue building them when they visit your place of business. “When was the last time you were greeted by the CEO of a big box retailer when you walked in their door?” Eric asks.

An associate of mine used to own a small inn located in an emerging California wine producing valley. The sign coming into his town said, “Pop. 472.” Phone numbers were quite similar in this little area and people would often dial “wrong numbers.”

However, because of the nature of the area and the people, there really never was a “wrong number.” More often than not, he would recognize the voice on the other end and they would end up chatting for 10 or 15 minutes.

Locals coming into your business should never feel like the have the “wrong number.”

Dollars spent locally

From the consumer side of the small-business-big-box dichotomy, Eric says consumers should consider the complete picture, including both the financial and social impacts.

“Ordering from Amazon may be easy, but remember that all your cash just left for Seattle,” he says, noting that for every $1 spent at a locally owned business, 67% stays within the community. That’s three times more than stays if that same $1 is spent at a chain store.

“Think about which businesses support your local community the most– school auctions, nonprofits, programs that support the elderly – and make sure you in turn support them,” he urges.

Be responsible citizens

But be aware that this wraps back around to local business owners. You need to “exercise” your proximity to your customers by being in those places. Consider your neighbors through the years. There are those who pitch in when you forget to set out your garbage on pickup day morning and there are those you never see except occasionally in passing.

Be a small business owner who is always ready with a helping hand. Engage your customers not only at your business, but in your community.

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Image: Image: AV Italian Restaurant, © 2007 David, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.