Find Business Inspiration in Your Neighborhood
We tend to keep our heads down as entrepreneurs, focused on running our businesses. We rarely take time to look around us, to see what’s happening in the world. And yet, there are so many opportunities to be inspired if only we pay attention.
I’m lucky enough to live in a walkable neighborhood in San Diego, where I have my choice of restaurants, shops, and other local businesses. If you’re European, this is the standard, but most Americans have to drive to have access to these sorts of businesses. I love getting to know my fellow business owners, and I’m always paying attention to how they do things.
Here are a few of the inspiring practices I’ve come to adopt as a result of observing other businesses in my neighborhood.
#1. Put Customers First
The really wonderful thing about my neighborhood is how frequently you see your neighbors at the local wine shop, Mexican restaurant, or coffee shop. I’ve noticed there are two kinds of businesses: those that treat each regular like a cherished customer and those that don’t acknowledge them. Which would you want if you were giving your money to a business?
A lot of the former category have seen children grow up in the neighborhood. Been there as customers celebrated life and mourned death. They’re a part of the fabric of the neighborhood, and that’s what has led to their own success.
Now, I own a content marketing firm and I work from home, so nobody’s showing up on my porch for a glass of wine (though they’re entirely welcome!). I try to take this customer-centric attitude to heart, though, and I get to know my clients. We can talk about their upcoming vacation or their kid’s soccer tournament, and it adds another dimension to our business relationship.
#2. It’s The Small Touches That Matter
There’s a vintage store in a nearby neighborhood that I enjoy browsing. Upon entering the store, the friendly owner always offers a glass of champagne or lemonade. Even in the morning! And I’m always quick to accept a glass of bubbly. It might cost her $30 a week to offer refreshments, but the impact goes far beyond the financial value. She’s communicating that her shop is homey and a place she wants her customers to feel comfortable spending time in. It’s part of what keeps me (and many others) coming back.
Again, I can’t offer bubbly to my customers. But I find ways to make them smile. Every summer, I celebrate my brand’s birthday and send my clients gifts. They are, after all, the reason we’ve been in business so long. I also send holiday cards and gifts. Find ways to surprise and delight your customers, and you’ll keep them.
#3. Staying Connected is Key
I’m part of our neighborhood business association, and every few months, we business owners gather to catch up and network. It’s less about selling and more about building relationships. Because we have such a cozy neighborhood feel, these events help us knit the fabric of our community even tighter. We gossip about what’s going into the empty space on the corner. We make introductions that hopefully will result in business. We build trust.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, how connected are you to those around you? Forming an alliance with other businesses in your neighborhood can have huge impact, but you’ve got to be willing to put in the effort to get to know your neighbors.
#4. Sending Business to Others is Always Well-Received
There are a few bars in my neighborhood, but of course I have my favorite. And that bar (because they treat me so well) is where I hold business events and mixers. The owner is always grateful for the business, even if it’s just 10 people, and will offer a discount to us. I get nothing out of it except great service and an amazing selection of beer. But I’m fostering goodwill with that business, and that’s just good karma.
Think about the businesses that you frequent. Are you doing your part by telling others how fabulous they are? It’s such a small gesture, but you never know: it could be reciprocated, and then you’ll have more business as a result.
#5. Incentives for Loyalty Never Hurt
Just like bars, there are also several places to get a good cup of coffee in my ‘hood. Much as I hate to admit, Starbucks is often my first choice for two reasons: one, it’s within a stone’s throw of my house and two, they have a loyalty program. I like earning free coffee! Another Italian coffee shop down the street also offers rewards, so I also go there.
Offering rewards to loyal customers is a fantastic way to say thank you for their continued support. Even something as simple as a punch card that gives them their 10th coffee/ice cream/purchase free can help drive traffic to you.
#6. Giving Back to the Community is Essential
What I love about my local businesses is that they give back. My friend who owns the local Mexican restaurant is quick to donate catering for community events. The coffee shop participated in our holiday bike ride last year. These businesses understand that, without their loyal community, they wouldn’t exist. And so they’re not afraid to donate time and products (and it helps that they are tax-deductible).
For me, giving back is serving on the Board of my business association. It might look different for you. Perhaps you hold a charity fundraiser one night a month for your favorite nonprofit. Or maybe you sponsor a Little League team. However you can best serve your community, do it.
When you pay attention to how the businesses you give your money to treat you and other customers, you can find business inspiration that you can then carry back to your own company. What attracts you to a particular business? What makes you decide to go elsewhere? Remember that your customers are going through a similar thought process when they interact with your brand, so take notes on what works and what doesn’t.
Susan Guillory is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, a content marketing firm based in San Diego. She’s written several business books, including How to Get More Customers With Press Releases, and frequently blogs about small business and marketing on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and Tweak Your Biz. Follow her on TwitterRead Full Bio