In an era emphasizing referrals, social media and testimonials, growing a consumer-facing business is not just a matter of advertising but about building a community of enthusiasts who are wild about your offering and willing to help evangelize to like-minded. Jennifer Lord explains how its done at Twist Yarn in Niantic.
When personal computers began making their way into businesses in the late 1980s the country saw a huge boost in productivity and companies quickly became reliant on their cyber-servants and the information and crucial processes they controlled.
In those days, a computer crisis almost always involved a technical failure of a component and/or the ineptitude of a human being who failed to make a data backup or triggered the erasure of records. Those problems still exist in varying forms but the biggest worry now is the malicious intent of human beings, whether inside our organizations or hiding in some distant cyber “back alley” waiting to burglarize and seize control of our systems.
But what was presented as a nefarious covert system for evaluating the value of every American and either promoting them to VIP status or sending them to the back of the line is really just modern life’s approach to a merchant’s common sense.
Of course, you should take extra special care of your best customers. It doesn’t require a mathematician to prove that the big spenders are important to the success of your operation. The old 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) is obvious to any Main Street business owner. And one doesn’t need an AI-driven, supercomputer to decide to offer a bonus, a gift, a free dessert, or more of your time, warmth and courtesy to your best patrons.
Perhaps the fallacy is that customers should all be treated the same, or that business owners and their workers are capable of doing so. This is not to say that anyone should be treated poorly. A business can’t stay in operation long dispensing bad service or products. But humans like interacting with people they like. And that works both ways across the counter. Buying a lot helps too.
The Small Business Administration has many excellent educational programs for entrepreneurs. Inside the curriculum of several of their courses is a clever reference that I haven’t been able to identify the author of, but the turn of the phrase puts a smile on my face each time I hear it.
They teach that every business owner needs “BAIL.” And once you know the definition, you realize that, in reality, it’s a combination of resources that really can get or keep you out of jail in extreme circumstances
B stands for Banker who can help you not only obtain necessary capital but understand the prudent and efficient ways to finance your business as it grows. While one might be tempted to think of the banker as the one who “bails you out,” that can be a dangerously unlikely assumption. CEDF, of course, is not a bank. So for our clients the B stands for Business Advisor who will connect you to the lending team as appropriate and usually take your worried 11 pm call to strategize on how you’re going to make payroll.
A is for Accountant. And this is meant to cover the territory of both bookkeeping and accounting. Many accounting firms do not choose to provide bookkeeping services, but a certified public accountant is the best choice for both bookkeeping clean up (often made necessary by using a less than experienced bookkeeper), long-range financial planning and preparation of tax returns.
I is for Insurance Agent who will make sure you are carrying the proper kinds of coverage and policy limits. Catastrophes that kill small businesses include not just natural calamities but the disaster of not obtaining easy and affordable coverage for predictable, although infrequent, events.
L is for Lawyer who will consult with a business owner on what legal form to adopt and provide direction for creating operating or shareholder agreements. The relationship should continue as the lawyer is consulted about employment law issues or legal matters related to property or specific industry regulation.
Entrepreneurs love to be self-sufficient and some take this to the extreme of avoiding use of any of these professionals for the sake of reducing expenses. And then, of course, when trouble comes, there’s nobody available to “BAIL” them out.
-- Frederick Welk CEDF Business Advisor
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