April 29 marks the start of Small Business Week – a national shining of light on those Mighty Mouses heralded as the backbone of the American economy.
At RT, we hold a special place in our collective hearts for small business. Our own story started with our founders boldly striking off on their own with business plan in search of a small loan. For 22 years since, we’ve helped brands market to small businesses and have cemented a few insights about their minds, hearts and spirits. In honor of Small Business Week, we take a moment to share a bit of what we know to be true, and what these heroes look for in partners to help them survive, thrive and evolve.
Feed the Time-Starved
If you don’t live in the sphere of small business each day, it can be easy to overlook that small business owners literally do it all: often single-handedly managing customer experience, product development, procurement, human resources, employee engagement, accounting, finance, marketing and IT. The nice-to-dos often give way to need-to-dos. As we recently confirmed in primary research, small business owners struggle to manage it all in a mere 24-hour day. A whopping 97% of consider it a challenge to run their business more efficiently – leaving a miniscule 3% that apparently believe they’re running like a well-oiled machine.1
As a brand that markets to small businesses, it’s key to develop products or services that will help them do more with less. Show how you’ll save them time on each transaction, streamline marketing, or ease their end-of-month bookkeeping. Highlight the perk or product feature that will save them a minor, yet inconvenient task. Help them be fast, nimble and efficient.
Get In The “Together”
Entrepreneurs know their path isn’t easy – only half of small businesses survive to see their fifth anniversary.2 Many form official and unofficial communities in which they can give and glean support on everything from vendor recommendations to tax advice. Physical proximity plays a role up and down Main Streets physical or virtual. Whether it’s a group-purchase of ice-melt for an impending snowstorm or pooling resources to share office equipment, they find a way to work together. The coincidental invention of the ice cream cone provides a particularly fitting example: an ice cream seller at St. Louis’ 1904 World’s Fair ran out of cups, and in a swift move of resourcefulness, a waffle seller swooped in with a newly coned waffle. Thus, ice cream cones.
The key to establishing your brand as a fixture within the small business community is to deliver service so outstanding it demands to be shared. Get creative in how to ingratiate your brand into the community, shaping it into a resource they’ll take advantage of together – be it a referral program or multi-seat subscription service. Small business is a small world. Delight them and give them a reason to bring you into their domain.
Technology is the Means, Happy Customers the Outcome
While America celebrates the spirit of Main Street, the romance might seem dwindling by the reality that Amazon alone accounted for 4 percent of all U.S. retail sales in 2017.3 As adaptable and tenacious as small business owners are, they struggle to prioritize aspects of business that are simple and core fundamentals of their tech-based competitors. We know that 82% of small business owners feel challenged to improve customer experience and 72% challenged to keep up with customer demand. Yet only 24% strongly agree that “digitizing and streamlining elements of their business” is a priority.1 So, despite combating the big boxes and on-liners retailers, small business owners’ focus on technology adoption and innovation gives way to the time-honored traditions of customer service. But here’s the rub: Business 101 tells us that quality customer service and satisfaction can’t exist without employee satisfaction and capability. And the best employee teams are empowered by technology that eases their jobs, allows them to deliver the best customer experience and operate efficiently.
Small business owners are less likely to be excited by technology, for technology’s sake. The reality is that the needs and expectations of their customers change at the same breakneck speed as technology. But show how it can help them attract, nurture and charm customers, how it can make their employees more successful, and they’re all ears.
While next week marks a single week to observe and honor small businesses nationwide, there are 51 other weeks a year to win their hearts and minds. Acknowledge what keeps them up at night, what makes them tick and what they crave, and you might just consider yourself an honorary guest of Main Street, U.S.A.
1 Rodgers Townsend. (March 2018). Small Business Pain Points
2 2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/01/27/do-9-out-of-10-new-businesses-fail-as-rand-paul-claims/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.228ef7d78c1a