What the heck do small businesses want from you, the consumer? (besides what you’re probably thinking – your money!) Even if you aren’t buying goods or services, you might be surprised what you can do to support your favorite small businesses. I obviously can’t speak for all small businesses, but I’ll do my best from my perspective.
First though, back to the basics…what even is a small business? And what are its goals? How do you know if it’s a small business? The definition varies a lot, but I ask myself these questions:
1. Are its owners working for a profit to make a living? In other words, it’s their “job”, right? The answer should be “yes.” Otherwise you’re looking at a hobby – and hobbyists don’t need your support to pay the rent.
2. Is it independently owned and operated? The answer should also be “yes.” There are degrees of this, of course – some people would consider a franchise of a large company to be a small business, but those folks are getting help from a big corporate entity somewhere. A real small business has to do it all themselves.
3. Does it primarily support the U.S. economy? Yet again, “yes.” Small businesses seem to stick to other small business as vendors whenever possible too. The materials are bought from local businesses, the items are made locally, and local consumers are benefiting from a product they couldn’t get otherwise, or would have to go far out of their way to find. All that adds up to a net benefit for your community, your country – and you!
4. Is it dominant in its field? “No.” I wish! But “no.” Small businesses are, by their nature, the underdog. But they do a crucial job! By providing choice and competition, they help keep those big retailers honest, help keep industry prices lower, and fill the market with niche products that the big boys don’t bother with.
Side note on my “job”… I’m just like anyone else that works for a living, but my “job” requires more flexibility. I’m no longer just a designer; I do everything from taking the trash out to invoicing jobs when they’re finished. Basically, I wear all the hats, whether they look good or not. Plus, the “fruits of my labor” are directly linked to what I DO and the customers I serve, instead of easily defined numerical goals. Clearly, I’m not working just for a paycheck!
Ok, cool. So onto goals… This should go without saying, but first and foremost, it HAS to be bringing in more money than what’s going out! I struggle with this one because I’d LOVE to give it all away. If only there actually were money trees. So assuming this is happening, at least most of the time, another goal of mine is to offer products and services that are equivalent, if not better, than my competitors. Whenever possible, I like to beat their prices, but “fair” is an absolute must. Plus, growth is a major goal, always. I want to be known for what I do, at least in my community. And speaking of community, I want mine to improve; I want to be part of a healthy local economy.
What do small businesses want from YOU? Or what can you do to support them?
• Get to know them. Even if you aren’t buying, develop a relationship. I may not remember your name, but I will remember weird things we might have talked about the last time I saw you! The more people who know me and what I do, the better. This majorly increases the chance for referrals (next)
• Give referrals and write reviews. Wow, this one is HUGE. Referrals have all but made my business. Tell your friends and family about businesses – you are like our unpaid sales force! Reviews – every day more people are going to the internet to research a company before becoming one of their customers. You are helping a business more than you know by writing a good review. Yelp and google are huge, but there are TONS to choose from. It’s like giving your server at a restaurant a bonus tip!
• Follow-through. If you offer feedback on something, do it! I really do want to see the pictures you promised to send and didn’t, I want to know if your grandma liked her gift, and I want to know when you get compliments on something I made!
• Like your small business! Click away – you have more power than you know. Facebook, twitter, google+, and pinterest are just a few; the list goes on and on. In short, social connections of any kind help businesses tremendously. In short, I want you to like me, but (I’m greedy) I want you to think I’m funny, and awesome, and good at what I do. Until I’m Wal-Mart-big, I am insecure, so…like me, share me, pin me, + me!
• Tell small businesses how you found them. If you were personally referred to me, I want to personally thank your referrer! If you saw a specific ad, that helps me figure out what marketing avenues are working best. That’ll save me money on the stuff that’s not working, and lets me put the money where it’s most effective.
• Speak up! As a business owner, I may not have time to research what things are selling for. I try to make my products/services as affordable as I can, but if you’ve seen something elsewhere, don’t be afraid to tell me about it. I want make you happy, gain you as a customer, and get another product on the market. If I can switch a specific material, alter the job slightly, or compromise on the price a bit, I’m happy to if it means you’re happy! Is Wal-Mart going to say that?
• Realize the gain in quality or knowledge by shopping at small businesses. Affordable and fair might not always be the cheapest. I know I try, but I just can’t beat all the prices out there. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Pay attention to the quality of what you’re getting, the time spent, and the knowledge received by choosing a small business of Wal-Mart or Amazon.
• Remember that I’m right here! Internet vendors and online companies can really be great… if everything goes right. But we’ve all spent enough time on hold with customer service to realize that nothing beats having a flesh-and-blood person on hand to make corrections if something doesn’t come out the way you expected.
• Cash is king! Credit card transactions charge a fee for every swipe – and you’d be surprised at how much they are. Fees are a major pain. They totally add up. I accept all forms of payment, because if that’s what it takes to make you happy, I’ll do it. But, if you’re able to pay with cash or a check, it saves the business bunches.
• Do you have ideas and/or trades? You might have genius marketing ideas that haven’t occurred to me. Couldn’t hurt to offer them up, right? Or, even better, you need what I do, and I need what you do!
• Try them out. This one’s obvious and direct. Grab a coffee at a local coffee shop for a change. Look for a special gift at a place that carries local artists’ wares. Have dinner at a small local restaurant.
Once you start hanging out with your local businesses, you’ll find it hard – if not impossible – to ever go back. How can you eat at an Olive Garden after you’ve tried some local Italian place with better food, lower prices, and owners who know your face? How can you buy somebody a present from Wal-Mart after you’ve seen the personal touch you can get by giving someone something made by hand? You’ll find that not only are you improving the lives of all the small business owners out there, but you’ll also be improving your own.
Contributor Tori Sacco
Tori would like to help you tell your story! She makes save the dates, invitations, escort and place cards, thank you notes, wedding programs, wedding reception favors, desk stationery, baby announcements, greeting cards, and more! Most of what she makes is designed and printed in house, and assembled by hand.