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Is your business ready to be recommended to complete strangers ?

September 18, 2017

This article deals with the very core of the idea that "You only get one chance to make a first impression" - This is probably one of the most important lessons a small (and, sadly, many not-so-small) businesses need to learn.

The hardest thing about failed first impressions is that you rarely, if ever, are made aware of them: Your potential new - and now lost - customer never gets in touch with you, never purchases from you and never even mentions you to others - they simply move on, with your business on their mental "Find some place better" list.

In order to truly gauge if your business is properly set up to make a good impression, you need to do something very difficult: You need to pretend you don't know yourself, your business or, in many cases, your product or service.

Let us say, for this example, that you are the proprietor of Acme Widgets. You know that you make some of the best widgets around, as do the customers you have already managed to serve. The key question is: Can you convince a total stranger, who has never heard of you, in less than thirty seconds, to at least give you thirty more seconds of interest to make their decision.

One of the most common scenarios is in social media: Someone posts to their friends or to a local group, asking for recommendations on a great provider of widgets. If you happen to see this - great - there is nothing wrong with you replying that you are a purveyor of fine widgets. It is even better, though, if a satisfied customer of yours does this for you, for the simple reason of credibility ("They bought widgets from this company and were satisfied, so it must be a decent company.") -

So there is step one: Making someone aware that you exist: One point if it was you that did it - five, if it was a happy customer.

Here, however, is where many businesses fall down: What happens next ?

The least best is either a request from you or the person who recommended you to "private message you" - Why ? Because, at this point, you are still no different than a member of the anonymous masses who says they can provide what was asked for.

Second best is for the person asking for the recommendation to be sent to your social media business page - Be that Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or some other platform.

The best option is to have a website to direct them to - It is an even greater level of legitimacy and feeling of a "real business" than simply a phone call or email from the general masses of people.

There are a great many webhosts out there - Far too many to go into any great detail, here; Suffice to say, there are free hosts (typically with third party advertising on your site - not ideal, but better than no web site) and there are many site hosts who will provide service for as little as five dollars per month, for small, low-traffic sites.

The next best thing to have is a domain name - it's the internet address typically after the "www" - For example: www.acmewidgets.com - Many, many domain names are taken, either by legitimate businesses or squatters (people who register and hold domains to sell them to the highest bidder) - You may have to get a little creative with your name - Rather than acmewidgets.com, you may have to use NewYorkAcmeWidgets.com or OttawaAcmeWidgets.ca - If you are not familiar with how to get your own domain name, your best, first stop is your Internet Service Provider that you get your Internet access through.

Next on the importance list (we'll come back to the website in a minute) - is to actually use your domain name - not just for your website, but for your email, as well - I cannot tell you how many businesses I have passed up, myself, because they had the social media presence, they had the website, they even had some locals recommending them, but when they emailed me, it was from a freebie webmail provider - Usually with an email address like acmewidgets@google.com or something similar - That suggests a lack of competence with your company's image (fair or not fair - that is the effect that it has)

Back to the website: Many people balk at getting a website, thinking it is too expensive. They can be, without question, but they can also be as inexpensive as your time to put together a few documents and upload them, or even a hundred dollars to a locally talented web designer for something really basic.

Are you going to have a cnn.com or amazon.com type website as your first go ? Of course not - But even if you are the least aesthetically inclined person out there, with a very tight budget that does not allow for a professional designer, you CAN have what is called a "brochure-ware site" - a single page on the web, under your company's domain name, that shows<

  • Your company name
  • Your contact information
  • Your location (if appropriate)
  • The products and services you provide.

You should always provide at least a sampling of your prices - Far too many people have a very old-school mentality that if they don't list their prices, the customer will be forced to call, thus increasing the chances of purchasing - This could not be further from the truth (A car dealer, local to me, learned this when he told me he'd been in this business for 30 years and didn't need some punk telling him he should list his prices on his site - Within three days, my wife and I each purchased a vehicle from a site that did post their prices (thus telling us, up front, if it was worth the drive to check them out) - I politely faxed him a copy of our sales receipts, along with a copy of our email exchange. I never heard back from the man, but I do note that his site now lists prices on all his stock.

The point of the above is that if there is something that you will not provide to prospective customers, especially something so basic, such as price, it is a guarantee that your competition not only will - but is already doing so.

If your product/service is customized with each purchaser, then by all means, say so, but provide at least a starting range. It will not only save you time, but potential customers, as well: If your minimum price is $100 and a potential customer has a maximum budget of $50 - there is absolutely no need for either of you to waste each others' time.

I shouldn't have to point this out, but I will, nonetheless; When you are contacted by someone based on a recommendation: respond to them right away. An even better thing to do is to ask them how they heard about you - If it was an individual, let your potential customer know you will be thanking them - even if a transaction is not completed. (A "thank you" is a lot cheaper than Google advertising and helps ensure the recommendations will continue) - Customer loyalty and recommendation rewards are another topic, entirely, but you should know they are a good thing.

Finally, to come full circle, back to pretending, for a moment, that you have never heard of you or your business; Ask yourself; If someone were to recommend your business to you, where would they send you ? What would they see ? Before they take the step of getting in touch with you personally (which, for many people, is a big deal) - can they learn enough, on their own, to see what it is that you provide and can you meet their needs ? This is critical, as that decision must be made on their own before they pick up the phone, start a new email or open a private message box: And it can all be provided by you for little or no cost, other than time.

Marc Bissonnette, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada

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