Once upon a time, geography and the surrounding community limited the customer base for small businesses. Today, our connected world offers an unprecedented opportunity for small businesses everywhere because we can live anywhere and work with clients on a global scale.
But what have we sacrificed? Sometimes we long for the days when an owner knew the name of every customer who entered the store. Communities foster customer loyalty and help keep a small business afloat during tough times.
Building meaningful relationships lies at the heart of social media marketing. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not solely another avenue for advertising your products and services. They exist to form a community for your business.
To build a small town atmosphere of support online for your company, remember these four key points.
1. Be a Resource
Customers look for people and businesses that they can trust. Using your social media accounts, you can be a source of knowledge about your company’s area of expertise. Instead of just posting about sales and promotions, use these outlets to share information that you’ve been learning or reading about.
If you’re an accounting firm, this could mean posting easy-to-understand updates about changes in the tax code. Likewise, a natural foods store might post about a new study questioning the health benefits of a product like soy — even if it’s among the products that they sell. By being honest and providing real, objective content, customers realize they can trust you with their purchases.
2. Be in Touch
The ability to directly contact your customers is a valuable asset. First, you have to establish trust – people don’t want to give out their email or phone number in fear of receiving spam. If you can collect this information, however, you now have a direct line to your base. Offer a discount to compel people to sign up for a newsletter or coupons sent through text messages.
Once you collect the contact information, don’t abuse the trust. A monthly e-newsletter can go a long way in helping build on that trust. Shape the newsletter the same way that you do in social media. Balance objective content with information about your products and services. 80/20 works well here where 80 percent of the content is valuable information and 20 percent is self-serving. Likewise, a weekly text message about a great deal helps remind customers to visit your site or connect with you.
3. Say thank you … always.
Regardless the type of business you run, saying thanks never goes out of style. If all of your transactions go through an automated online system, you can send a follow-up email that says thank you and includes a link to a survey or a comment box where people can offer feedback. (Yes, you can automate this.)
If you’re a company that deals with fewer clients than a retail store, it may be feasible to send handwritten cards. Once you order the cards, it only takes one minute to write a line or two of thanks and drop it in the mail. The effect can be a long-term and fruitful business relationship.
4. Remember Special Occasions
Customers need reminded that they’re doing business with fellow human beings, especially in a time when much of our business and interaction occurs through the portal of a connected device. Holidays aren’t an excuse to have a sale. Depending on the size of your company, sending holiday cards or gifts to your most valued customers works wonders in building loyalty and strengthening relationships. If a competitor ever comes along, clients will remember that you sent them holiday wishes. It’s also okay to celebrate your company’s birthday. Remind your customers that you’re growing, and it’s thanks to their support.
In a business world where we’re increasingly separated from clients, it’s important to find ways to establish real connections through relevant content and direct outreach.
What other ways have you found to get to know your customers?
Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a provider of personalized pens, imprinted apparel, mugs, customized calendars and other promotional products. He regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.
Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Sonia Korn-Grimani’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a signed copy of “Sonia’s Song” [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.
About Sonia Korn-Grimani: Sonia Korn-Grimani earned her doctorate in French literature and the teaching of foreign languages, and directed a multi-cultural language program at UNESCO. With her husband John, and their children Anthony and Renee, Sonia traveled and lived all over the world. In her album Cantos al Amor, Sonia sings in 16 languages. In 1989, Dr. Korn-Grimani was knighted Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and in 1996 she was decorated Officier des Palmes Académiques.
Living Life to Its Fullest by Sonia Korn-Grimani
The following fragment is from the Chapter “Hidden Cargo” from my memoir “Sonia’s Song.” It is June 1939, and my brother Heini and I, at the time aged 9 and 7, have been left by smugglers 40 kilometers from the German-Belgian border. The smugglers told us to walk along the track until morning and hide if we hear anyone coming. Even though it took place more than 70 years ago, I remember this long journey, fraught with danger, with extreme detail. At any moment, we could have been discovered by soldiers or sympathizers along the way. It was just one of many, many times that we lived through terrible danger before and during the war.
We continue along the tracks, towards the border. Night deepens. I hear sounds through the trees — rustling leaves and then branches cracking. Is someone following us? I grab Heini’s arm. He’s heard it too. We start to run.
We run through the darkness, until we are out of breath and our legs give out. I can’t catch my breath and wonder if I am breathing too loud, if my breath will give us away.
I hold my breath and listen. The wind rustles the branches of the fir trees. An owl calls, inquisitively, then silence. Maybe we outran them, whomever they were. We continue our walk west along the tracks.
The crescent moon lowers and sets behind the trees. Don’t leave us Moon — we will be all alone in the dark. Just then I hear rumbling again on the tracks. Heini grabs my arm and we throw ourselves into the side of ditch, although it is shallower this time. I press my face into the dirt, and hold my breath.
After the train passes, I roll over carefully, open my eyes, and look up into the night sky. Even though I am too anxious to feel hungry, my tummy grumbles, loud enough for Heini to hear. He pulls out his butter sandwich and tears it in half, then half again. He hands a piece to me, and the butter, a rare treat, tastes like the best meal I’ve ever had. I try to keep the flavor on my tongue as long as I can.
“I suppose we’ve been walking for four hours. We still have a long way to go yet. I doubt we’re even a third of the way there,” whispers Heini.
We press on as fast as we can. After a few more hours, my toes blister, each step becoming painful. I curl my toes to prevent them from rubbing my shoe, but this only helps so much.
“Sonia — train!” We bolt off the tracks, jump into the ditch and wait.
After the train passes, I look up and find Polaris overhead. I see the great wagon and the kneeling giant Hercules with his club making his way across the sky, as we make our way to an uncertain future. The stars become our guide, our hope, our comfort, lighting our way in the darkness.
So much of my life during the war feels like it was broken up into little bits. We were in hiding, living for weeks and months on the run with the Nazis always just a step behind us. Each day, each moment, we didn’t know what was lurking around the corner, what the day would bring, or if we would ever see each other again. I remember each time I’d see my mother I would try to savor that moment in time, because I honestly didn’t know if that would be the last time I’d see her.
And the thing is, we didn’t really know then, and we don’t really know now. Perhaps it is an effect from living day-to-day, and experiencing deprivation and danger for such prolonged periods of time as a small child, but I remember many times during the war my senses being heightened, and my world reduced to what I could see, hear, and smell at that instant. The past didn’t matter, the future didn’t matter. All that exists, really, is the present.
After war’s end, I was able to book passage on an Italian migrant ship, the SS Napoli, which was filled with hundreds of other people like me from war-ravaged Europe, all trying to seek a better life for ourselves. We left from Naples, Italy, and traveled past Egypt on the Suez Canal. During our nights on board the ship, we congregated on the top deck and sang to entertain ourselves. The passengers fervently loved Italian operas. They asked me if I know any Puccini arias, and I sang for them and led them in song. There we were, a chorus of fellow émigrés from all over Europe, united in harmony, singing Puccini under the summer night sky.
We were all so tired, so weary of the war, of our past, of our circumstances. But I felt a shared sense of determination to make something of ourselves in our new land. It was a time of joy as we ventured to our new home, a time to reinvent our lives and break from our past, and a time of sorrow for leaving a part of us behind us. And as I was singing beautiful songs under the night sky with my fellow émigrés, I felt a pure joy as I lost myself in the music and the summer night and the companionship of the other travelers.
I looked up at the stars and thought of the time Heini and I were laying in the soil, trying to disappear into the ground as the trains would pass us by on that fateful trip, pretending very hard not to exist, catching a glimpse of the great hunter in the night sky. And as we were trying to momentarily slip out of existence, so too did our fears and troubles, at least, for a brief instant.
We tend to cling to the past, and always make plans about the future. But in the moment, you are who you are, no more, no less; you are perfect, you are the sum of all that has happened in your past, you are the vessel of potential for every good thing that will do in your future. And if you get lost, the stars to will always be there to guide you on your way.
About Sonia Korn-Grimani‘s Book: At the age of eight, little Sonia Korn is declared an enemy of the German State. She and her family are given a grim option; either find a way to disappear, or be rounded up and sent to certain death. After a perilous escape to the Belgian border, and becoming caught in the chaos and carnage of war-torn France and Belgium, Sonia finds that she must give up everything she knows and loves just to survive. This is the complex true story of one girl, who rises from war’s ashes to sing the songs of hope and love world-wide. A heart-wrenching and poignant memoir, by internationally renowned singer Sonia Korn-Grimani.
Comment and win: The prize: winner gets signed copy of “Sonia’s Song.” For a chance to win, please leave at least a 30-word comment about how you live life to its fullest or what music means to you. You have until 11:59pm on October 11, 2012 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.