Southern hospitality can kill a local business

If you live in the Southern U.S., you’re probably familiar with the kind of nicey-nice you’ll get from natives and long-time residents. Most of the time this “Southern Hospitality” is as welcome and comfortable as a favorite pair of blue jeans (unless you’re a curmudgeon). But where it’s problematic is in the marketplace.

I’m talking about what your customers tell you. Or prospective customers. But more importantly, what neither one will say to you.

See, the way we are here is polite – to your face, anyway. No, I don’t mean to call Southerners back-biting weasels. Mostly, they’re not. They’re just usually uncomfortable with confrontation – even if it is something we desperately need to hear.

They might mention that something to a friend, though. And then add “Bless their hearts.”

It’s such a lonely word

To many people, honesty about your business feels too much like confrontation. If they really like you, they’ll hope someone else will provide the negative feedback that will help you fix the situation. If they don’t like you, or have a big problem with the products or services they received from you, they’re very likely to write a scathing online review without ever having told you in person about the problem.

Lesser offenses may drive them to, without much fuss, choose a competitor. After all, why waste time telling Business A how to better meet your needs when Business B offers what you need at a fair price? They just quietly disappear from your life.

No room for a double standard

Too often I watch as local businesses make penny-wise/pound-foolish decisions about how to run and market their businesses. Don’t they realize it’s no big deal to a would-be customer to Google and find someone they like better? Or that – especially locally – Facebook friends talk as much or more as the days when folks gossiped over the back fence?

“Never pay full price there. They always run a coupon in Chapel Hill News & Views.”

“An AOL e-mail address. Not very professional. Maybe their rates will be lower.”

“It’s hard to tell if they’re open.”

“The last post on their website was from 2012.”

“Been there a few times and there’s never anyone else in there. Not sure they’re going to make it.”

“They only have three Google reviews, and one is negative.”

Tell your own story

2014-09-08 06.43.28 pmCustomers and prospective customers are constantly exposed to potentially better alternatives as they drive in other areas, watch television or browse the Web. Even if yours is a small-town business, people still have alternatives to choosing you. But they are probably rooting for you, because they would rather not drive across town. They would rather see your business thrive and help drive their local economies. And often, they just plain love great stories about how local businesses are born.

Assuming you’ve got something people want, you deliver it with a smile, you’re priced to give customers a fair deal while making a fair profit, and your location is sufficiently convenient and comfortable, and you have a decent website, the most important thing you can do to grow and thrive involves marketing, and doing it consistently, in a professional manner, where your audience lives.

Depending upon your audience, that could be Facebook, Twitter, Google AdWords, blogs or websites in your niche, or local printed publications. It may be networking at the local chamber or B2B group. It is probably not the Yellow Pages or direct mail. There are many ways to market without spending anything but time, and many more that don’t take that big of an investment. Small Biz Survival offers a wealth of marketing ideas for small, local businesses.

Please succeed

Especially in my town, I hate to see a business that gets a lot right mess up in ways that put them at risk of failure. Yes, I know running a business is a process that involves a lot of learning, but I feel really bad when people who’ve staked their future on a new venture lose it all, whatever the reason. Most of the time, you can see it coming. And then one day, you drive by and it’s there: a “For Lease” sign in the window.

You’re too smart for that.

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