When we discuss business, especially small businesses
, there's often talk of the need for businesses to “engage.” We hear this pretty consistently in the small business blogosphere; engage your customers, engage potential clients, engage through Social Media. What does this really
In the context of small businesses, to engage usually means to create, foster or continue a relationship between the business and its existing or potential customers. The need to build such relationships is indeed important; in fact, it's what builds a business' bottom line. Therefore, we consistently hear about the need to engage, engage, engage.
Perhaps it's time for small business owners to instead consider a different viewpoint. That is, consider the barriers that need to be broken down before relationships can be built up.
It takes more than a few buzzwords to run a business. Engage? A business can engage, engage, engage all day long and never see a dime in return because buyers can't trust them. Product? A pristine product means very little to your customers if your audience can't find you or don't understand what your business actually does. Your business may seem like the total package; however, there are many fundamental barriers to break down before a successful business can be built.
What are those walls and how do business owners bring them down?
The Barrier to Entry
It's amazing how many business owners manage to sabotage their businesses before they even manage to get off the ground. A forgettable business name, poor location and lacking web or local presence represent a recipe for disaster for businesses looking to survive and thrive in today's economy. Plain and simple, customers need to be able to find your business easily. When we say “find,” we mean both in terms of location physically and online. Additionally, your business needs its own identity to keep it from becoming a face in the crowd.
Consider your business' name. A carpet cleaning company named “Clean Carpets LLC” doesn't have much of a “kick” to it, does it? Furthermore, trying to optimize such a company's web results would be an Internet marketing nightmare for a business owner just getting their start.
When customers seek out your business, they'll be doing so online. Furthermore, they'll either be seeking out your business by name or through keywords related to your business. For this reason, a web presence is absolutely critical. A website is only the beginning; presence through local business directory
sites and Social Media outlets will help your business' presence on the web. Attacking the proper keywords related to your business and your local market will only help break down the barriers keeping customers from finding you.
The Trust Barrier
When a customer first finds out about your business, they'll ask themselves one particularly important question:
Can I trust this business?
They may not ask it out loud, nor may they even realize that they're asking the question. Before you can sell a single product, trust must first be established. If your business looks questionable or shady from the start, your potential customers will move on. Remember; first impressions matter. What does your business look like to a first-time customer?
Web presence plays a big part in establishing trust for up and coming business owners. When a user first looks up a business, they'll be looking at ratings and reviews to see what previous visitors have had to say. For an up-and-coming business, however, ratings and reviews may be difficult to come by at first. Regardless, having some sort of web presence will establish a certain degree of trust; at least customers will know that your business is legitimate enough to manage and maintain a website.
Lack of any sort of web presence is a kiss of death for small businesses. Users are only a click away from moving on to the next business on the block if yours doesn't seem legitimate.
Furthermore, being genuine and personable goes a long way to establishing trust, whether online or on the street. Treat new customers just as well as you'd treat existing ones.
The Barrier to Buy
Overcoming the barrier to buy is obviously the one of the biggest challenges facing just about every small business. How often do see customers meandering around shops with seemingly no intention of buying anything? How often do web-based business owners obsess over the traffic to their sites, trying to determine why their thousands of visitors are bouncing off the page instead of buying?
Sometimes the barrier to buy has less to do with interest in your product and your ability to market and more-so with creating a simple, accessible customer experience.
What does this mean? Customers should be able to buy from you easily and painlessly. The question "cash or credit” should no longer be in your vocabulary, for example. Whether your business is on the web or on the go, the options for accepting payment
from customers today are plenty. Web-based businesses can rely on services such as Paypal, meanwhile roving businesses can utilize applications such as the Square
. These relatively simple and inexpensive options provide flexibility to your customer and allow you to, well, accept their business. It's a win-win and it's just that simple.
While you may or may not agree that the customer is always right, a business should always have the right option for accepting payment from such customers. Is buying from your business a breeze or a headache?
The Communication Barrier
A failure to properly communicate can really, really bring a business down. Remedy this by keeping the communication channels open for your potential and existing customers.
Once again, web presence plays a big role here. Social Media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus
are ideal for your customers to reach out to you, ask questions and leave feedback. Furthermore, keeping the communication channels open will increase your chances of making sure those new customers come back again and again.
Keeping the Door Open
Your customers need to be able to return easily once they've stepped out of your store or logged off your site. Keeping the doors open requires a mastery of the aforementioned steps. Can your customers find you easily once they've left? Can they trust you after their initial transaction? Will they want to buy from you again? Will you keep in touch with them once they've gone again? If you can make sure the answer to each these questions is a resounding “yes,” you'll surely have a satisfied customer on your hands.
Is Your Business Breaking Down Barriers?
Especially in today's troubled economy, there shouldn't be anything standing between your small business
and its potential customers. Do more than engage; break down the barriers that cause so many businesses to flounder and fail. By removing any sense of doubt and establishing trust and ease of access to your business, only then will you truly be able to engage your customer base in the most meaningful way that will build your bottom line and keep them coming back for more.