When you're new to a community, how do you build a positive reputation there? It's a question that many small businesses have to deal with when they're opening their doors. How do you find your way to the customers out there without breaking your bank account?
I've found five low-cost techniques have worked well for endeavors I've been associated with in the past.
First, get the word out to the socially connected people. Do what it takes to get the best connected folks into your business and you'll find that word about your business spreads rapidly.
How do you find the socially connected people in your community? Surprisingly, it's as simple as asking. Just go into a local restaurant or other gathering place, have a drink or a meal, and ask the person at the counter. Simply state that you're looking for some help and you'd like to find a person or two in the town who seems to know everyone. That's the person you want to contact. Send them a big coupon for your business to get them in the door, then do what you can to make them as happy as possible when they visit.
Second, when someone has a criticism or an idea, ask them for advice on how to fix it or implement it. This works so often that I can't believe more businesses don't do that. If you hear of any criticism of your business, say something to the effect of, "That's a good idea! Hmm... how would you suggest we do that?" It immediately empowers the customer and makes them feel involved in what you're doing, particularly if you follow up on that suggestion in a reasonable way.
Third, never leave home without some pocket-sized ads. Every social encounter you have within a reasonable radius of your business is a chance to net a new customer. Strike up conversations wherever you can and give them your card or pocket-sized ad. Tell the person flat-out that this is your new business and you'd love for them to see it. Even better, make that pocket-sized ad a coupon of some sort.
Fourth, be directly involved in community activities. In our area, one local bank is so successful at this that when people ask me for a bank recommendation locally, the first name that comes to mind isn't the bank I actually use, it's the bank that's involved in many, many local activities. Sponsor a youth sports team. Put an ad on the community field. Give prizes to community activities and write off the cost of them. Attend lots of community events yourself, as well.
Finally, have consistent and clear business practices. If there are any practices you have that are relevant to the customer, such as a return policy, make it very clear and stick to it. Keep your hours clearly posted and stick to them. When you do certain things on a schedule, stick to that schedule. People respect consistent policies over the long run and often rely on them; disrupting those policies is a sure way to reduce the reputation of your business.
Your reputation is valuable. It precedes you in many ways that you often can't predict. Putting forth the effort to manage a good reputation can make all the difference in the world.
Image credit: David Berkowitz