SMALL;BUSINESS owners know they need to
keep up with social and technological changes to
succeed and survive over time. Which trends can
bene;t your small business in ;;;;?
Local. Consumers increasingly recognize that
if they want healthy communities, they need to
shop local and support local businesses. Make
sure you inform customers and prospects of
everything you do that supports local companies
and individuals, whether you buy produce from
local farmers for your restaurant, stock locally
made merchandise in your retail store or hire
local contractors in your service business.
Visuals. Millennial and younger customers
particularly respond to visually oriented messages and picture-heavy social media posts.
Small businesses are learning that they get more
engagement when they emphasize visual assets
in all their marketing, not just social media.
Loyalty. Customers increasingly want a
sense of attachment to the companies they
patronize, and you certainly want deeper rela-
tionships with your customers. Whatever you’re
selling, you’ve got to fend o; online discounters,
and having very loyal customers is the way to do
that. Spend time in ;;;; on building and main-
taining meaningful relationships with your best
customers, whether through business lunches or
other entertainment, regular communication
or special discounts. And, of course, through
always providing excellent customer service.
Social responsibility. An increasingly important aspect is to have and articulate a sense
of purpose for your company, in addition to
providing an outstanding product or service.
Customers want to feel like their purchases are
helping to promote an important social goal,
such as helping people in need, improving the
environment, or saving animals. Can your company meaningfully embrace a worthwhile social
purpose? If so, let your customers know.
Mobile accounting. In ;;;;, there’s a whole
array of great mobile tools to help you keep
track of all your expenses and income, whether
you run a manufacturing company, manage
a winery or sell stuff from your basement.
QBO—QuickBooksOnline—has an entire ecosystem of apps, and you’ll also ;nd great mobile
accounting and invoicing solutions from Xero,
FreshBooks and many other providers. C
Small-biz trends for 2018
BY MINDY CHARSKI
WISH YOU could stop marketing and
instead rely largely on the good word of others to acquire new customers for your small
business? It takes e;ort, but it’s possible,
especially if you’re in the service sector.
“Nothing can be more cost-effective
than referral-based business,” says Costco
member Dan Allison, president of the con-
sulting ;rm Feedback Marketing Group in
Omaha, Nebraska. “You can lower or elim-
inate marketing expense—when the cus-
tomer comes in, the trust is already
there—and I think the majority of compa-
nies would prefer to grow because their
clients are so happy they want to tell the
world about their company.”
It takes more than snappy reminders
like “We like referrals” on invoices, how-
ever. You must o;er a service that’s worth
referring, Allison says, and communicate
your desire for new business. Many custom-
ers don’t refer simply because they haven’t
been asked. Asking can be hard, though.
Some owners fear looking sel;sh or desperate, says Allison, whose own business relies
solely on referrals.
A mindset change
can help. “If I truly
believe what I do
bene;ts other peo-
ple, referrals aren’t
about helping me,
but about allowing
me to help other
people,” he says. “I always tell my clients I
want to create such a great experience that
you would want to tell other people to get
Good communication can have a
direct effect on word-of-mouth. “Too
many companies miss a valuable opportu-
nity to engage clients in feedback and
learn from their customers about their
experience and ho w to make it as good as it
can be. That increases the likelihood
they’d talk about you,” Allison says.
Meeting planner and consultant
Heather Sampson has grown her Plainville,
Massachusetts, event-planning ;rm without a marketing budget, thanks to referrals. Many come through the professional
network she’s built over the years.
She’s learned not to feel awkward
about the ask. “I remind [associates] that if
they have a client with a need, here’s what
I’m doing and here’s how I can help them,”
she says. There’s reciprocity, too: “Any time
I can refer a client or another meeting-planning colleague to a supplier that I
know and trust, I’m happy to do so.” C
Dallas-based freelancer and Costco member
Mindy Charski ( mindycharski.com) specializes in business journalism.
Growing your business through referrals
Rhonda Abrams is the author
of Entrepreneurship: A Real-World Approach, now in its
second edition, and other
books for small-business
owners. Connect with Rhonda
MORE IN ARCHIVES
search “Rhonda Abrams.”
FOR YOUR BUSINESS
FEBRUARY 2018 The Costco Connection 13