Making Your Small Business Blossom

How to tell if someone’s in love with you(r products)

While many small businesses figure out their customers by pulling daisy petals in a “they love me, they love me not,” approach, there are better ways to understand your customers’ needs.

Customers are your business’ most important concern all the time, and understanding them is essential to success. This takes is some old-fashioned research, a requirement to be brutally honest and a detective’s determination to get to the truth.

Champions of small businesses naturally want their favorite stores or suppliers to stay around – so they urge others to buy from them, even at higher prices. It’s nice to indulge such prices for friends’ businesses, ones that you want to support until they get going, as it were. In the longer run, though, it’s not good for the businesses because they can’t survive on friendly people suspending value judgments.

Most people have no interest in paying more to support someone they don’t know just because he supposedly has a nice factory or treats his workers well. Congratulations! If he had some products worth buying, people would buy them – but not because they feel sorry for him.

The harsh truth is that if you don’t make things people want to buy, you will not be in business for long.

A better solution is for the business to re-evaluate its attitude towards customers in 2 ways:

  1. understanding what customers want and

  2. communicating how your products meet those wants.

1. Understanding your customers

Incredibly, this essential objective is often trivialized or ignored by most new businesses.

What does ‘understanding’ mean?

Understanding your customers means that you have a confident view on at least the following key questions:

  1. Why do customers buy my products or services? What do they like about them? What do I have to do to make them buy again?

Find out from your customers – either by asking them directly or getting someone else to ask – what they really think. Find out what they thought when they bought it, and then afterwards. Compliments are not usually very useful, but they are what most small business owners accept before patting themselves on the back. Don’t do that.

CRITICISM IS GOLD! Ask customers, “please think hard, be honest and tell me where the business could improve its offering.” Get them to be specific. Or get someone to do it for you so the respondent doesn’t feel obliged to be nice!

Keep doing your research when your business is established – your customers need change.

  1. How many customers could I have (how big is my potential market)?

Create a range of products that have low prices as well as high – the no-frills low-priced version may well sell more.

Ask yourself: If my highest priced products don’t appeal to certain customers, could I sell them lower priced alternatives?

  1. What alternatives do my customers consider when buying from me?

Be *clear* in how your products are different and why people who are not your friends should pay more. I mean *really* clear. If there’s any doubt, customers will just compare on price – and you’ll lose.

Ask yourself: Is the premium price on my products justified by benefits which are totally, absolutely clear to the customer?

Do your homework!

You can rarely answer these questions sufficiently by intuition or guesswork alone. You must do research and confirm it all in reality. With real people.

2. Communication

Once you have understood what your business is providing to customers, finding the right words to explain it to them is usually easy.

Tip: if you can’t explain what you do in very simple terms (6 words or less) you can’t expect your customers to understand.

Take your simple explanation and make some simple marketing materials from it. This could be a simple page – a flyer or draft web page – and give it as much visibility as you can.

Be simple, direct and believable

I really can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be simple, direct and believable. Most small businesses choose names which are much *too* clever – an inside joke, an obscure pun or something totally unrelated to their business.

It is much better to be simple and understood than to be too witty or clever and be ignored.

If possible, you should make it clear from the name what your business offers. The name of the business is the first and often only thing listed when people are searching. Make it so they have a good idea of what to expect when calling or visiting your website. Make sure they can understand in literally less than 1 second.

Ask yourself: If someone who doesn’t know me or my business looked at the name or promotional material, would they understand, in no longer than the blink of an eye, what we are offering?

Get creative

It’s nice to be creative when designing your company’s logo (only do this if you actually are a designer, otherwise hire a professional!) but creativity is *essential* when thinking of cheap ways to get your business’ name out there.

Make sure you are listed on all the free places you can find that target your potential customers.

You may want to think of unusual offers or angles that newspapers might want to write about.

Try partnering with other non-competing companies to attract customers with combination or special-occasion offers.

Keep track of where you get most of your business. If you use the internet, which you must if you’re serious in business, use the many tracking tools to find out how people find out about you.

If you get a lot of business by telephone, you may want to consider getting several phone numbers to attach to different advertising campaigns so you can more easily figure out which ones worked.

Get out there

Until you get ‘established’ you need to be relentless in promoting your business and your products in a simple, direct and believable way. Over time, your customers will no longer need the explanations and, because you understand them, you will develop an effective shorthand for telling them what you’ve got.

In the meantime, be inquisitive about why your customers buy, be relentless in simplifying your messages and make sure you are offering a full range of products and price ranges to attract the most sales.


Justin Mencher has started and run several of his own businesses as well as advised small medium and large businesses on starting new enterprises. He offers help on marketing, strategy and financing for start-ups.


© Copyright Justin Mencher 2010 All Rights Reserved

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