Sarah Deveau: Money Matters


Small Businesses Make Dumb Decisions

Hey small business, why don’t you want my money?

I learned so many lessons in running a business, and there’s one major rule that I see small business owners screw up on a regular basis.

Number #1 Rule in Retail: Make it easy for customers to give you their money.

Common sense, right? You’d think so. Instead, I watch small business after small business make it nearly impossible for me to spend my money with them. Here are the top two ways they make it impossible for me to give them my business.

Offer limited or unreliable hours
Many small businesses are closed evenings and Sundays. That’s fantastic for the work-life balance of the owner, but makes it nearly impossible for working parents to patronize your business. Often businesses will try evening or Sunday hours for a short time before deciding no one is shopping those days and they shouldn’t be open. Rubbish! When I first opened my store I was closed Sundays and Mondays but quickly opened seven days a week. Two years in, and I would still have Sunday customers try the door, find it open, and express surprise, asking, “When did you start being open on Sundays?”

It takes a very, very long time to establish business during added hours, but that time can be well spent building your business by tidying and stocking, reorganizing, brainstorming, planning and executing marketing strategies, networking, planning promotions, etc.

Once you’re open, don’t close randomly. My local coffee shop used to make these incredible paninis that I loved. I’d buy them once or twice a week. But the store began closing randomly. An employee was sick, manager was sick, training days, it was quiet so they closed early, etc. After three trips made and finding them closed, I stopped going. Small businesses need back-up plans. Guess which boring but reliable coffee shop put them out of business?

Too many limits on promotions
It might be a midnight madness or friends and family event, or a one-day sale of some sort. Whatever you’re offering, I’m sure the point is to make money. Put cash in the till. Maybe find new customers and impress them, or offer a perk for regular customers.

So why do so many businesses create arbitrary rules that discourage the very thing they should be encouraging?

A local attraction we patronize sells annual passes at a steep discount for a few months of the year when they’re closed over the winter months. Once they’re open, you can’t get the same deal and it’s far more expensive. I don’t mind this promotion, as it’s offered for months, and well publicized. Plus, anyone can buy the passes at a local grocery chain, and you don’t need the people using the passes with you at the time of purchase.

Compare this to another attraction we visit. They put their passes on sale randomly, sometimes with just a day’s notice. You must be present with your children to purchase the pass. No one can buy the pass for you and you can’t buy the pass over the phone and pick it up later. Then, they limit the promotion to a single day, or even half a day.

Do you want my money, or not? Offer longer promotions. Air Miles and Safeway give customers a week to collect their bonus Air Miles, and if you can’t make it, someone else can use your card and coupon so you’re still rewarded. Let people send a friend to pick up their purchase for them. Extend the discount “under the table” for regular customers who ask because they can’t make it in.

When you make business decisions, make them with the goal in mind of bringing in cold hard cash and making loyal customers for life, not frustrating your regulars and turning away potential customers.

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