So you want a successful local business? Listen up

Published 1:39 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

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People are immigrating to our little towns and beautiful rural countryside in droves, and with that comes the rise of small businesses by entrepreneurs looking to supplement and sustain themselves. Beware; it’s not easy.

Having lived here since 2011, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the small business growth while also spending my measly dollars at existing businesses, often long-time operators.

My hope is that everyone will flourish, but statistics show many will fail, even some old standbys. That doesn’t have to be the case if they follow a few do’s and don’ts. Here are my two cents worth on what local businesses are doing right and doing wrong as seen through the eyes of a customer.

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Above all else, be friendly, smiling and welcoming when a customer crosses your threshold, no matter whether you’re a shopkeeper, run a food truck or pull a landscaping trailer. Be nice.

Be courteous and thoughtful by not allowing any employees–yourself included–to use parking spots that your customers might use. Park somewhere else.

If you failed to develop a budget and a business plan before throwing yourself in front of the buying public, you’re probably just as likely to succeed at playing the lottery.

Good marketing. Good promotion. Good signage. Repeat. Don’t rely on your Aunt Martha to do your signage because she knows her way around the computer. Nothing is as important in signage as readability and attraction. No names here, but we have prominent local businesses whose signage on their truck doors and at their storefronts isn’t readable because Aunt Martha just “loves, loves, loves” those “adorable” swirling script fonts that look like the calligraphy she always dreamed of doing by hand. If you want people to easily read and understand your name, make it easy to read. Think Amazon and Verizon signs.

Hiring good employees might be your biggest challenge. Don’t keep anyone whose expression says, “Don’t bother me because I hate my job.”

Neither you nor your employees should ever be using a cell phone when a customer enters or approaches. At the very least, put the phone down until the customer leaves. If you can’t do that, just put up a sign that reads, “We Don’t Care.”

Train. Train. Train. Create a clear and concise set of your expectations, print them out like index cards and give them to each person you hire. If they lose it, be ready with a new one. Tape it to the cash register. Share it with your customers and let your employees know that.

Pay a respectable wage. While you might believe that paying well means taking money out of your pocket, it’s the opposite. The better employee performance you have, the larger your sales will be.

Visit other small businesses, especially the competition. See what their best practices are. Imitate and improve on them.

Listen to the customer. Don’t talk too much. Never disagree. Always guide them to a good outcome. This can be a huge challenge because the customer you love is not always loveable. In today’s era of nastiness and entitlement, far too many customers are people you would never invite into your home. So be determined to help them simmer down. Show empathy and kindness.

Smile, and use response-inviting phrases: “Hi. How may I help you?” “How are you doing today?” “What can I do for you today?” “Nice cap. What will it be for you today?” “Hi Martha. How’s your mama’n’em?”

Good luck, and thank you for reading. Please come back.


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at