In a world with this many consumer options and so much competition, building customer loyalty is vital to your success as a small business owner. Without those die-hard and devoted customers, most small businesses will struggle to survive. The Internet is full of advice on exactly how you can find, win and keep that goldmine of a loyal customer base; there are already a million helpful blog posts on this very topic. So, why write another? Because it’s time to think outside of the box.
Read on for stories of five small businesses that went outside of the box, creating successful businesses, raving fans and loyal customers while marching to the beat of a different drummer.
Rule 1: Just say no
The reality of small business ownership is that you have to say yes. Frequently. However, when it comes to creating loyal customers, a solid “no” can be more powerful than a thousand half-hearted or insincere affirmative answers can ever be.
Lynn Jawitz of Florisan Wedding and Event Design in New York City is an award winning wedding and party florist. Because of her legal background, Lynn is cognizant of the potential ramifications of some client requests. High floral arrangements that tower off the table are hugely popular, but in Lynn’s eyes they are clearly risk -- a liability Lynn refuses to accept. She is willing to say no, and accept the loss of profits, when it comes to following her beliefs, insuring the safety of her clients and protecting her business. Rather than losing customers due to this refusal, Lynn has discovered that clients are truly receptive to her honesty and increasingly weary of vendors willing to sell at any cost.
I'm proud of the work that I have accomplished, and my clients know that with my years of experience behind me, they will get the straight truth from me, acceptable in popular culture or not.” –Lynn Jawitz, Florisan Wedding and Event Design
Rule 2: Something for nothing
What do you do when building trust for your main project is a difficult and time-consuming process? If you’re a part of Crew, a worldwide community of handpicked, quality freelance developers and designers, you break the mold entirely. The founders of Crew knew that online trust can be hard won, especially in a world where low-quality freelance websites are increasingly popular and negative experiences run rampant. To counter the low-quality perception, they decided to stake their entire business on changing that reputation in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
We’ve used the traditional ways of building trust—a high-quality product, solid social proof, good design, customer reviews, a strong brand, and success stories, but to be really successful we’ve had to find additional ways to build that trust a lot more quickly.” –Luke Chesser: Design and Development, Crew
Launching a number of high-quality side projects in conjunction with Crew and making them available for free gives a unique spin on the ‘try before you buy’ mentality. Prospective clients can experience for themselves the caliber of work, commitment to 24/7 support and dedication to quality. Unsplash, one of the successful side projects, is a completely royalty, restriction and license free photo site. After struggling to find nonstock-looking images to use on their own site, the Crew team took matters into their own hands, hiring a photographer to shoot some photos at a local coffee shop. One of the photos was used for the homepage and the others were released as a set, with no restrictions on how they were used. The response was unexpectedly huge, shot to No. 1 on Hacker News, Designer News and Sidebar and completely overwhelmed the bandwidth of their original delivery system. No amount of old-fashioned effort could have provided the exposure and loyal following that Unsplash created without even trying. As a result of their efforts, Crew’s average project budget has consistently grown and now stands at over $10,000 USD per project. Their completely transparent blog further aids trust building and the company currently has a strong following of loyal customers and freelancers supporting their efforts.
Rule 3: Go out on a (green) limb
When a topic matters deeply to you, it will inevitably filter its way into your business or your life. As a small business owner, you may sometimes feel that you should keep the two separate. Sometimes the exact opposite is true. In reality, being vocal about your passions and allowing your deeply held beliefs to guide your business can lead you in the direction of authentic success. This was the case for Ethical Marketing Expert Shel Horowitz of Green and Profitable.
In 2002—when this was still a radical idea—Horowitz began to speak very openly about how green and ethical business practices could be an ingredient, instead of a barrier, to business success. Instead of separating his marketing work from his activism, he chose take a risk and integrate the two.
As I got to be more and more public and outspoken on these topics, I very quickly started attracting better, longer-term, and more lucrative clients, several of whom have said with certainty that my stance on business ethics and green business led them to work with me—even if that work was unrelated to those topics.” –Shel Horowitz
Despite encountering plenty of skepticism along the way, Howowitz was able to point to successful business examples and profitable companies that have benefited by growing green, even when profit is the driving motivator. Walmart, for example, single-handedly doubled the organic food market—providing ample proof that even when dollars are the bottom line, going green can make good business sense.
Rule 4: Give ‘em the shirt off your back
Allow your customers to set their own prices? That’s crazy talk. Given the opportunity, prospective customers will always place low-ball offers, costing you profits and sustainable operation. Won’t they? Except maybe they won’t. Just maybe, given enough information and trust, your customers will surprise you with their willingness to offer what you need, and even more. The Singapore-based company 3tees embraces such an unconventional pricing model. The company serves organizations that are promoting events with a social cause and have managed to be profitable, building a loyal customer base within their ideal market and helping these social causes save on costs.
Our marketing campaigns revolve around our slogan of "You price it. We print it." We go directly to our prospective clients (the social and volunteer organizations) and instead of giving them name cards, we give them our cotton tees. This is to show that while we are cheaper, our quality is also fantastic.” –Benjamin Chua, 3tees
3Tees practices what they preach, promoting social good by hiring underserved populations to help with delivery and being flexible with profit-margin in order to further the social