Cautiously optimistic is how I’d describe the sentiment among small business owners as we enter the new year. Although most of us recognize that there will continue to be economic challenges ahead, we are ready to push forward to build our businesses.
However, here’s something you need to be aware of as you plan your strategies for the coming year: According to the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute’s 2012 Small Business Trends Report, many small businesses will find increased competition for their customer base. The report notes that larger companies will aggressively market to prospects they once considered to be “too small.” More competition means you’ll need to make sure your house is in order. That means staying focused on smart sales strategies to maintain your market share.
Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. Articulate your value. Continue to focus on and communicate the value you provide to your customers. What do you offer that your customers can’t get anywhere else? That value will be key in helping you ward off increased competition. One value enhancer many small businesses can provide is greater flexibility and responsiveness. Customers of larger businesses often get lost in a maze of automated tele-attendants and myriad departments. Emphasize your ability to personalize and customize your service and product offering.
2. Add to your product offering. Larger businesses typically have more products or services to offer a customer, which makes them a more attractive choice. One-stop shopping. Without increasing your business risk or overhead, you can add to your package of services/products simply by partnering with synergistic companies. Make sure you only work with companies that share your business values, and by all means, get your agreement in writing.
3. Nurture the relationships you have with your existing clients. Business clients and consumers don't just want to feel as though their business is important to you — they want to feel like VIPs. For example, before the holidays, the owner of one of my favorite restaurants in New York hosted a party for all of us who are regulars. It was a festive evening with plenty of food and drink, and it was a great way to say thank you for our business throughout the year. Now, get this: A new restaurant just opened across the street. How many of us do you think will be switching our loyalties? (Not me.) Make sure your customers know you appreciate their business. Strong relationships are difficult for a competitor to sever.
4. Ask for referrals. Don’t be afraid to leverage the relationships you have with your existing clients. Ask for referrals. Remember, most people like helping others, and in most cases a loyal customer is more than happy to help you build your business. In a competitive environment, it’s tough to get in the door. A referral not only opens the door for you, but also brings instant credibility to your business.