Small business owners need to look for every opportunity they can find to sharpen their competitive edge while keeping expenditure down. Fortunately, there’s a lot any small enterprise manager can do to boost business without any financial investment. The following ideas could all help make your small business stand out and will cost only time and creativity on your part.

1. Encourage reviews and “social proof”

For you to trade successfully, it’s vital that your potential customers perceive your business as reliable and trustworthy. One of the best ways to elicit that confidence from people who are not yet familiar with your excellent products and first-class customer service is through so-called “social proof.” All that means is that people are more likely to trust a product or a brand that has been well-reviewed or rated by a significant number of other customers.

Don’t leave the social proof to chance. Make sure that you encourage your customers to leave reviews. Ask them upfront on your website, on an insert in the packaging delivered to their home or office, or on social media. Anywhere you have direct access to a customer, actively solicit a review or rating.

2. Develop the ethical dimension

Increasingly, as the world faces a global climate crisis and significant social upheavals, consumers are aware of the ethical implications of the products and services they buy. If you already do ethical things in your business — perhaps how and from whom you source materials for your manufacturing process, your fleet of non-polluting electric vehicles, or your award-winning employee care and health package — flaunt it to your customers.

If you don’t already have something to boast about in the ethical dimension of your business operations, think about ways you could change that. Take a long, hard look at your business and ask yourself where you could do more to protect the environment, ethically source materials, products, and packaging, or improve your workers’ conditions.

Don’t be shy about making your ethical boast. Put it on your website. Develop a slogan that can go on all your packaging and marketing material. Incorporate your ethical commitments into an official mission statement and publish it. While the quality of the product and the price point will often be the deciding factor in whether a prospective consumer converts, taking care of your business’s responsibilities and public image in this regard can only help.

3. Charitable giving and social responsibility

Similarly, a small business can improve its image and build trust by making public donations to charitable causes and demonstrating its sense of social responsibility. Donations to charities and social support projects needn’t cut into your profit margins. For example, you may donate meeting space to a local charity or host a fundraising event. Many towns and cities have recycling projects or “scrap stores” that collect and distribute materials for school and community groups to use in craft projects. If you’re in manufacturing, you may have off-cuts and waste materials you could donate. A retail business might have defunct product lines or leftover stock or packaging. In many cases, you can actually save money by donating to these organizations, as they’ll usually come and collect, which may save you the expense of disposal.

Of course, you can make a financial contribution to a local social project. That could be anything from regular support for a charity working with a disadvantaged group, or perhaps sponsorship of a cultural event. You could also offer work experience to people with learning difficulties or diversely abled young people seeking to learn new skills. With a little creativity and research, even the smallest business can discover ways to help while raising the company profile and building an image of trustworthiness and responsibility. This will ultimately increase sales.

4. Give your business a “wash and brush up”

Impressions matter. You can do a lot to increase trade simply by looking at your business’s “housekeeping” and making sure that you’re not neglecting your external image. Is your website out of date, still sporting that ’90s look? Simply installing a new, clean theme, updating your content, and ditching gimmicks that are no longer in vogue, such as animated characters and pop-ups, could work wonders.

If you have physical premises, especially a storefront, maybe you could reorganize and rearrange the interior at little at no cost. When was the last time you researched how your customers move through the store and which are the most popular products? Often, just moving the positioning of displays, or making a certain product more visible or accessible, can make a huge difference to whether customers notice it and buy it.

Make sure the store windows are clean, the display is updated, and any sign-writing is refreshed. Consider running a support and training session for your staff to help make them understand and practice good customer service, in person, on the telephone, and online. Simply greeting every customer with a smile and asking if you can help them may make all the difference. None of these enhancements need cost a dime but rather, just a little time and effort.

5. Make paying for goods easy

Online and off, no customer relishes having to wait too long to make a purchase, or being bombarded with added offers and deals at the checkout, when all they want to do is pay and enjoy their new purchase. Make the POS (point of sale) a smooth, efficient experience. Offer the widest range of payment options you can. Any suggestions for offers, deals, or subscriptions can be made after the customer has bought what they want. These principles apply equally in a physical store and at an e-commerce checkout.

From the moment they first encounter your business to the final sale, concentrate on your customers’ experience. Make sure to present a professional image and follow through with the best service you can provide. Make buying what you sell as quick and seamless a process as possible. And always ask customers to leave a rating or a review. There are many points even the smallest business can improve. Each alone may be small, but the cumulative effect can make a huge difference both to your business’s reputation and your bottom line.


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