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Top 3 lessons from successful small businesses

Updated: Mar 30

Updated: Nov 26, 2018


What do successful small businesses do differently from the rest?


Gray wolves were much hated at the Yellowstone National Park as they feasted on helpless elks. So, they lost protection under the government predator plan.


Now, Elk population was rapidly rising in the Yellowstone National Park. They were eating vegetation faster than it could grow back putting many plant and insect species on the verge of extinction. So, the grey wolves were reintroduced in 1986.


They preyed on the old, sick and weak elks. Now, this eased the pressure on vegetation. The plants regrew which attracted butterflies and bees, resulting in growth of new kinds of plants and trees, which attracted birds, thus, restoring the cycle of growth.  Even the Elk population became healthier, as the weakest were eliminated!


You see predators are important as they maintain balance in the environment.


Yellowstone National Park wouldn’t thrive, if not for the predators. Like predators, we hate marketing, but a small business would not thrive without the use of time tested marketing principles.


So what are these time tested marketing principles?


1. A little extra

2. Personalization/Customization

3. Value for money


1. A little extra — doing something extra for the customer


As a young girl growing up in Mumbai, I sometimes accompanied my Mom for vegetable shopping at our local evening bazar.


These vendors sold the same seasonal produce, and if you took the vendor away, the vegetable arrangement on their stalls was almost identical. And these vendors applied the same tactic … they were ready to match or beat the price offered by the neighboring vendor.  In such a competitive and undifferentiated marketplace, guess what stood out? 

Yes, it was the little extra by some of these vendors.  The vendors whom my Mom frequented often added a bunch of curry leaves, chilies, coriander (cilantro), or a lemon for free, even without asking. And the ones my Mom ended up disliking charged her, even though a few extra pennies, for the curry leaves, chillies, etc.  


Not just the freebies, they went beyond that


They were also a friendly bunch, who knew her, acknowledged her, asked about the family, etc. And when they saw her in the market, they called out to her, telling her about the fresh produce, the price, etc., and nudging her in a subtle way to buy from them. It seemed that for a moment they forgot themselves and transported themselves to my Mom’s world.

And my Mom on most days ended up with more produce than she needed.


This success mantra was so obvious, yet many vendors didn’t get it


Yes, — friendliness, knowing the customer, going a little extra mile, were so obvious and simple, and yet many vendors or business don’t get it…and they wondered why customers are not lining up?


2. Personalization - tailoring the offering for the customer 


Just like going the extra mile, personalization refers to knowing the customer and their preferences and tailoring the offering to just what the customer taste or wants. 


Speaking of taste, I speak of a Mexican restaurant called ‘Henry’s’ run by a husband and wife team and where I usually stopped for a take-out lunch or dinner.  After two-three trips to the restaurant over a course of few weeks, I realized the owner remembered not just me but what I normally ordered. 


She knew I was a vegetarian, so told me about the different vegetarian items on their menu, and suggested me to try something other than the burrito that I normally ordered.


And on the next visit asked me how her recommendations were


I was taken aback by the woman’s memory. This was a busy establishment and yet she personalized a part of their menu for me! One time, I forgot to ask for chips as normally did and she reminded me! 


And I ended up becoming a regular


There were other Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood, with may be better food.  However, Henry’s won me over.  Most of us human beings like our preferences to be remembered, as in some way, it makes us feel cared for and heard. And this lady, who did not have any formal education in business, seemed to understand this concept and apply it so well!


Personalization is hard work


Yet it pays. People are awed at the personalization offered by the likes of Amazon and Netflix but they can spend millions of dollars on machine learning algorithms perfecting their personalization or recommendation engines … because it pays to remember your choices.


You and I are like the little Mexican restaurant. We have simple systems, possibly on our phones, on our computers and in our brains. What we have to remember is that people, well, most people, love to be recognized and if you remember them, they will in turn pay more attention to you. And that's a factor of personalization. 


3. Value for money — giving customers more for their money


Before the advent of supermarkets in India, my Mother shopped for her provisions at small provision (kirana) stores owned by individuals.


They would sell the provisions, but also provide services like free home delivery to homes in the neighborhood, take orders over phone and have them ready for pick-up. Some even allowed regular customers, who ran short of money, a monthly line of credit. 


Value for money is subjective


Subconsciously almost everyone is pleased when they perceive that they got much more than what they paid for. It could mean selling goods and services for less than the competition’s price (example : Walmart), or bundling in more for same amount of money (example : one on one free offers), or giving away more of product or service for the same price (e.g., Wholesale stores, like Costco). Or if the product is expensive, it could mean a truly outstanding, personalized and attentive service (e.g. Taj hotels or the small provision vendors)


For a customer to feel they got their money’s worth, they have to perceive they got more of a product, service or personal attention in exchange for what they paid for.


How can you provide value for money?


The simplest way to provide value is by just listening fully to a customer! Their concerns, needs, frustrations and pain. And then personalizing your offering to serve these customers and throwing in that little extra cherry on top!


And you’ll have customers returning for more …


But what about ‘good’ products and services? Shouldn’t a good product or service be enough?


Number rule to any business is creating a product or service that solves a customers problem. If you are not doing that, you do not have a ‘business’. Solving that problem alone does not bring in a steady stream of customers, or customers coming back and asking for more. There are many businesses that will solve the problem and may be even better than you.


But what brings those customers and customers back?


1. A little extra

2. Personalization

3. Value for money


And in successful small business or even larger businesses, these principles are seen to be at work…quietly but certainly!



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