A view from the trenches: How Small Business is Coping in Today’s Economic Climate.

A view from the trenches: How Small Business is Coping in Today’s Economic Climate.
With a continual forecast of doom and gloom coming from most major media outlets it can be hard for the small business owner to stay optimistic about what is round the corner. With banks tightening up lending criteria and customers choosing to save rather than spend, many small business owners find themselves struggling to stay afloat.
However, for those of us with the fighting spirit and the ability to innovate, we find ourselves operating in one of the most prosperous times of our lives.
Weeding Out
I am a firm believer in supporting your local businesses instead of going to large chain businesses; however the more I interact with low level business the more I start to scratch my head in bewilderment. As markets grow more competitive we need to lead by example and show our customers that we are the best place to spend their hard earned cash. I believe that tough times are to be looked at, as economic weeding out, where the bad businesses go under and the good businesses prosper.
Personal Experience
I work for a company called Discount Coffee and as I was making the rounds and dropping coffee beans off to various customers in the city, I stopped at one of my long standing customers cafes to catch my breath and have a coffee. My usual contact wasn’t in so I was just another customer to the staff serving me. At the counter I was greeted by a snarling teenager who barely said a word and made no eye contact; he merely took my money and put it in the till. No points for courtesy or friendliness but at least I was going to get a freshly ground cup of coffee in a relaxed atmosphere.
20 minutes later, I have no coffee and have to remind them I made an order. As the teenager scowled at me huffed under his breath he tells me to sit at my table and he will bring it over. The table was covered in old cups and was sticky to the touch. Then when I got my coffee it was cold and tasted like bathwater.
I was really taken aback with my experience that day, that cafe used to be really great, it was a pleasure to go there, but now it conforms to the very sub standard service I see in a lot of small services businesses. It is no wonder places like Starbucks are going from strength to strength, although it is not the best coffee in the world, it is reliable, well priced and friendly.
After my experience, I decided to write down what we have been doing to differentiate ourselves from our competition to help us prosper in tough times.
Tips for Adding Value to your Business
1. Spend time and money on your staff
It is very tempting to hire temps at the cheapest going rate to keep you wage bills down but it is one of the biggest false economies in business. Train your staff properly and don’t assume they will know how to complete a task because it looks straightforward. Invest in them and it will pay back dividends.
2. Master the Fundamentals
Strip your business back to its bare bones and assess your core values as a business and define exactly what you want to provide to your customers. Then once you have you core values in place, indoctrinate your staff with these values and make sure all your daily actions have this in mind. If you are looking for some light hearted inspiration, I recommend this Mission Statement Generator
3. Devil is in the details
Do not cut corners when it comes to small details like designing marketing material, launching a new product or creating a new brand. You are selling a concept of quality to your customer, make sure that they can personally associate with what you are doing. A great example of this can be seen in the effectiveness of proper design. As a test, compare takeaway menus from different places in your city. I guarantee the one with the Comic Sans font and the iphone pictures gets put in the bin. Here is an example a well established business totally missing the mark.
4. If you can’t innovate, win through customer service
People buy from people they like. End of story. If your staff can’t hit the right balance of friendly and helpful then you need to reassess you priorities. Using the service industry as an example, are you more likely to be receptive to a nice chatty person up selling you a cookie with your coffee or someone with a bad attitude spewing out a rehearsed monotone sales pitch?
5. Make your everyday actions your marketing strategy
Using a coffee shop as an example, if you have great baristas doing latte art and exciting your customers with new designs, then encourage your customers to get involved and let them market for you through your businesses facebook, twitter, pinterest or instagram profiles. Example.
Pioneer a new concept that gets people talking. In the USA, it is common for people to buy “on hold” coffee with their regular orders. On Hold coffees are coffees that are paid for by your everyday customers and held for the homeless in your area. A simple piece of marketing that has the dual benefit of doing some good in the world.
My best advice to you would be to get stuck in to new things and experiment with new concepts and channels for your business. You really have nothing to lose but a couple of hours every night, which would have usually be spent watching the x-factor or something equally as pointless. Start living now and lead you business to the success it deserves, regardless of the economic climate.
Author Bio
Ross is the PR manager for Discount Coffee, a wholesale coffee bean supplier from Larkhall. He is a firm believer in the power of small business and loves working in an environment where he can be so agile and quick to market with new products and ideas.

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