Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ditching the Corporate Facade

Remember a decade ago when all the small businesses of America tried to dress up like big businesses in attempts to compete with them.  With the recent demise of America's trust in corporate America, small businesses are now discovering what their power over "big business" has been all along.

What big business doesn't want you to know is that they secretly pine for the ability to serve their clients on a close, personal level in the same way that small businesses can.  But, up until recently, I watched time and again as small businesses ignored that asset and tried to replicate the success corporate America was experiencing.  They tried like hell to conceal the small number of employees in their business, used impressive titles and referred to non-existent internal departments to give the impression of an organization much larger than their own.

But corporate is now a four-letter word and small businesses are ditching their attempts to appear large.  In desperation to find a new marketing approach, they are capitalizing on what was their super-power all along: the ability to interact on a personal, one-on-one level with each of their customers in a non-intimidating manner.  This in turn builds into relationship marketing of which loyalty is a natural byproduct.

Yet, still I come across clients who blow up like a puffer fish in order to look larger than they really are and, you know what?  They stick out like a sore thumb.

Here are some ways to live in your own skin as a small business:
  1. Take it Personally - Get to know your clients and their businesses or lives.  Make a point of asking them how their daughter's sweet sixteen birthday went or how their newest employee is working out.  We all want to support our friends, so the friendlier you can make your interactions, the more your bottom line will grow.
  2. Go Social - Whether your business sells to consumers or other companies, you are going to want to spend some time experimenting with social media.  This is amazing when you figure out how to make it work for you. It's all about finding your "voice" and using that voice to build tight relationships with your clients.  Speak to them as though you really want to make their lives easier and they will inevitably develop a loyalty toward your business and your brand. Just avoid any efforts to sell on social media.  This is NOT the place to do that.
  3. Celebrate Milestones - Think about ways to celebrate the growth of your professional relationship. Keep close track of the number of times they've used your services or purchased your products and recognize when they reach milestones. This can be done with a simple "Happy Anniversary" or by offering an incentive.  Think about using this as a chance to introduce them to new products or services that you're offering. 
A final caveat: getting personal with your clients should never be done at the expense of looking like an expert.  Tweeting about a wild weekend binge or a less than desirable customer is never a good idea.  At all times, you want to remain positive, professional and proactive.  Get to know each of your customers' needs, then offer solutions to them as a friend and you'll experience what corporate America can only dream of - customer loyalty through repeat business and continuous referrals.