Through the shit-show that was 2020, a lot of people went out of business, a lot of people held on for dear life, and a lucky few had trouble keeping stock on the shelves because they were getting so much business. Most of the people who did go under did so at no fault of their own. Not many businesses are prepared to close their doors for months on end. But for those who made it through, what now? How do we go forward into the new year with a strategy to stay afloat and even grow.
Think back about the past year. Think about which businesses you wanted to pull through and which ones you didn’t think twice about. Why? What was different about the businesses or entrepreneurs you cared about? Were they family? Friends? Did they make your favourite bagel or keep you in shape? Was there one that you wanted to survive just because you like what they do?
For each business that you hoped would stay alive, I bet you knew something about their story, who they are, a cause they give to, or maybe you and your friends meet there every weekend. Whatever the reason, you had a connection to that particular business that was different than the rest. You had an emotional connection to them as if they were a friend instead of being just another business. This connection is the difference between businesses that have bulletproof support and the businesses no one seems to really care about. And how do they do it? Community and storytelling. Sometimes accidentally.
Here are two key factors that many surviving small businesses have and that you can begin applying to your own business.
The best way to create support isn’t to find quality customers, it is to make relationships with the people who also just happen to be your customers. I don’t mean business relationships, I mean friendly relationships. This is why it is so impactful to remember your regulars by name. This is why it is so impactful to not just give them their coffee when they come to the counter, but ask them how their day is going. And here is the key: Be Genuine! Almost everyone can detect when an employee, server, even the business owner, is being inauthentic.
When I have worked in cafes or restaurants, I could instantly tell which ones do well with their customers and which don’t simply by if the manager had a script for their employees to follow to improve sales. I would watch new employees have countless awkward interactions as they would try to stick to the game plan they were given. I once even overhead a customer leaving the restaurant, saying how their server kept stuttering and sounded robotic. I knew which server they were talking about and knew that person did not speak like that when they were being themselves. But they weren’t trying to be themselves, they were trying to remember the script. The goal is to make friends and you don’t make friends by reading a script.
Key to remember: Be a friend, not a salesman.
While we are on the topic of friends, what is an important aspect of any good relationship? You guessed it… Storytelling! Good communication is key.
Have you ever seen a movie that visually was very beautiful but really wasn’t that good? That’s probably because you didn’t like how the story was told. Have you ever had a friend tell you about something that happened on the weekend and you instantly get a feeling that they are lying because there are holes in the story? We are incredibly sensitive to storytelling and it is a much bigger part of our lives than most people realize. Similarly, it is a much bigger part of successful businesses than most people realize. Without a story, there is noting for customers to connect with. And the interesting thing is that the story doesn’t even have to be that great, it just has to be relatable, consistent, and genuine.
You don’t need to have a story about how you overcame alcoholism, poverty, and depression to create a business and feed your family who once lived in a box. Your story can be something as simple as “it’s a family business” or “I decided to create a business so I could do what I love”. Whatever the story is, the impactful part about it is how it is told. If you tell it well, people will connect with it. If people connect with it they will care about it. If people care about it, they will support it. Everyone has a story. Tell it. Stories are unpredictably powerful when they are told in a genuine, emotional way.
Key to remember: A genuine story shared is better than an incredible story exaggerated.