Small business owners will not be able to attract and retain a customer base unless they understand the specific needs of their target audience and are able to articulate how their company is uniquely suited to address those needs, according to Valeria G. Bisceglia, business adviser at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center.
In a May 1 workshop sponsored by the Town of Fairfield’s Department of Community & Economic Development and the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, Bisceglia explained that the first step to small business success is the ability of both the entrepreneur and the customers to identify what makes the business distinctive.
“If you are solving a problem for somebody or filling a need or a void in the market, the first thing you need to ask is: ‘What problem am I solving? What need am I filling in the market?’” she said. “Who are the people that need to have a problem solved? How do you stand out from how people are currently solving the problem? And what are you doing to provide additional value? That could be as simple as providing better customer service or awareness. It is important for you (to be able to) tell people of relatable results. And be specific and clear cut about the benefits that you are offering.”
Bisceglia noted that having a realistic consideration of a potential customer base is often more difficult than it should be. She shared an anecdote involving a Norwalk restaurant owner who hired a consultant that boldly identified a potential customer base of 5 million people within a 50-mile radius.
“Really, who is driving 50 miles to go a restaurant?” she asked, with a laugh. “Maybe once, if it has a very good reputation. But not on a regular basis.”
To communicate effectively with customers, Bisceglia advised having a cogent picture of the demographics of the target audience while understanding why they would be interested in the product or service being offered. She encouraged small — business owners to pinpoint the needs, circumstances, environment and resources that shape the customers’ world, and to respond to this information with messaging that eschews the generic in favor of specific brand marketing.
“You need to know your customer and know your value,” she said, adding that the U.S. Census Bureau can offer data related to geographic demographics. “If you go to the Census website, they have a specific tool for small businesses where you can enter in your industry code and get some Census information about other businesses like yours in the area, as well as about your customers.”
Bisceglia said that gaining a better understanding of customer needs is a time-intensive project, but she also acknowledged time would be wasted with a broad assumption that everyone in the immediate vicinity could be a customer. She observed that social media marketing, with its too-easy promise of reaching a vast quantity of potential customers, can be a waste of time and money unless the small business owner is specific about which people are being targeted.
“A lot of people get excited that they are going to place an ad on social media,” she explained. “They think, ‘Oh, for $30 I’m going to reach 20,000 people.’ How many of those 20,000 people will actually turn into customers? If you don’t target that properly, zero — and you’ve wasted the $30.”