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One of my daughter’s friends just opened a new shop nearby.  This one specializes in various alcoholic products, vapor products and mixers.  It’s very small, but well-situated in a neighborhood that seems to have been waiting for this to emerge.  I’m not a business owner, but I can objectively see what seems to work well, and what doesn’t.

While this may seen uneventful, it is a unique establishment in many respects.  First, there’s nothing remotely similar to it within 5-7 miles.  Second, its located in the midst of a very affluent neighborhood and near the oceanfront.  Third, the owner once worked for the nearby ABC store, and formed his plan after years of hearing customers ask about where to find just those things he now carries.

While no one seems to have all the magic bullets in the business world, especially in small start-ups, this place demonstrated a few basics that many businesses, bigger and smaller, seem to ignore.  Taking what he’s done, and what a few other places in Norfolk and Virginia Beach have done, I found two things pretty interesting in common.

A Simple Web Presence

Establishing a presence on the Internet has never been easier or more affordable than it is today.  In less than an hour, you can get a foothold on the Internet via social media anchors that nearly every smartphone remains glued to.  Where the “web” was the end-all catch only a few years ago, businesses today can do very well without ever having a traditional web site.

  • Create a Facebook page (the de facto starting point, regardless of demographic)
  • Create a Twitter account (the de facto niche for younger customers)
  • Create a WordPress site (blog, photo gallery, event calendar.  Add more with a paid account)
  • Create an Instagram account (images, galleries, more)
  • Add your business on Google Maps (location, location, location)

All of these are a few clicks away from nothing to something.  The hard part, if there is any, would be maintaining your presence.  Depending upon the nature of your business, you can post updates for everything from major sales and promotions, to the smallest events.  For example, a pub in Norfolk tweets every time they change out a keg on tap.  Just seeing the brands posted brings in many curious patrons.  I know.  I’ve seen it work.

You can also use the built-in analysis tools to measure how your efforts are working and make adjustments.  I would caution not to get too anxious.  Allow a few weeks to go by before you start looking at the trends.  Even that won’t give you a clear picture for seasonal or holiday impacts, but it’s better than freaking out over one or two days of data.

Adding your business to Google Maps is a great way to help customers find your establishment (if you have one).  You can also upload photos to go with the place marker once it’s available.  For food places, don’t forget FourSquare, Yelp and market-specific apps like Un-Tapped and BrewGene.

Solicit Direct Feedback

Rather than a cold survey form or email invite, this owner placed a chalkboard near the entrance and kindly asked visitors to leave comments, suggestions, and wishlist items for him to consider.

Another place I’ve visited promotes feedback via Twitter and Facebook.  In many cases, such efforts are combined with incentives, such as discounts, free-offers, and co-promotions for people with most feedback or most valuable suggestions.  Another place one of my friends shops at asks customers to suggest promotions.  Bundling offers.  Cumulative shopping rewards, and so on.  Actually enticing the customer to help you market your business, rather than just being a buyer.

The best part of this is that almost all of it can be done without a traditional “computer”.  No laptop or desktop.  You might not even need a tablet.  It’s really amazing what can be achieved, armed only with a smartphone and some creative thinking.

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