Improve In-Person First Impressions of Your Small Business - dummies

Improve In-Person First Impressions of Your Small Business

By Barbara Findlay Schenck

Protect your small business by controlling the impression you make on your customers, especially in-person. In-person contact can happen via telephone and voice mail, or through a visit to your on-ground location. It’s up to you to ensure that the impressions your customers form drives them to your small business, rather than away.

If a person walks into your business, looks around, and asks, “What kind of a business is this?” you can make an educated guess that the drop-in was unplanned and triggered only by a look at your signage or window displays. (You may want to improve these impression points to better address this obvious question.)

Many businesses boast that their signage is their most effective means of attracting first-time visitors. But before banking on your sign to draw people in, realize that when people respond only to your signage, they’re making spur-of-the-moment, drop-in visits — perhaps at a time when they’re short on both time and money.

Instead, work to achieve destination visits by making impressions and cultivating interest well in advance of prospects noticing your sign and walking through your door.

Improve the first impression of finding your small business

If your business relies on consumer visits, convey directions on your website and in ads, mailings, and other advance communications. Build a mobile version of your website to quickly help on-the-go customers reach your location. Invest in directional road signs or billboards if appropriate.

Establish a Google+ Local page, a free Google service that helps your business appear in local search results along with a map showing your location. Also, be sure that when visitors arrive at your business, whether you’re located in a high-rise building or a home office, they see a sign with your business name and instructions on how to reach your front door.

Improve the first impression of parking at your small business

Is your business’s parking area clean, well-marked, well lit, and capable of making a good impression? If a parking fee is involved, do you have a validation program that customers know about in advance?

Have you saved the nearest spots for customers rather than for your car or your employees’ cars? (How many times have you driven into a parking lot only to see the spot nearest to the door marked “Reserved for Manager”? And what do those three simple words tell you about your standing as a customer?)

Improve the first impression of your small business’ front door

As a prospect approaches your entrance, does your business look open and inviting? Here’s a list of questions to consider:

  • Is your signage visible, clean, and professional?

  • Do signs and window displays clearly indicate what your business does?

  • Is your business well lit?

  • Is the entrance easy to find?

  • Is your entryway signage welcoming or is it papered with negatives such as “No UPS,” “No Smoking,” “Deliveries Use Back Door,” or “No Outside Food or Beverages”? With just a little editing, you can state your rules in a positive way. “Let us hold your umbrella and packages while you shop” sure beats “No backpacks.”

  • If your business success relies on foot traffic, do your windows have show-stopping capacity? Stand back and look hard. If necessary, adjust lighting to improve visibility or to cut glare.

    Replace small objects with big, bold items that are magnets for attention. Use mirrors to slow people down and also to help them adjust their dispositions (remember, people automatically put on a friendly face when they look in the mirror), both of which are likely to benefit your business.

Improve the first impression of your small business at arrival

Walk through the process of approaching and entering your business. Forget for a minute that this is your business. Imagine how it feels to a stranger. Does it convey the right set of impressions? Consider the following:

  • Is your entry area impeccably clean?

  • Is the entry area decorated to make a strong statement about the nature of your business, its customers, and its products?

  • Do your surroundings present and promote your company, or do they inadvertently promote other companies whose logos happen to appear on calendars, posters, coffee cups, and other items that sneak their way into your environment?

    Rather than making your lobby a display for others, turn it into a showcase of your own products, your clients, or your staff. If you want customers to be proud to associate with your business, proudly spotlight your offerings.

  • Does your business have a clear “landing area” — a place where a visitor can pause upon entry and receive a good first impression?

  • Does your business offer an obvious greeting, either by a person or a welcoming display?

  • If you have a customer waiting area, do people head straight for it or do they pause and look for an invitation before entering? In some businesses, a coffee maker, a stack of logo ID cups, and a welcoming sign are all it takes to break the ice. Other times, you may need to remodel or at least redecorate to break down obstacles and enhance the sense of welcome.

If customers consistently stop in a certain area or study a particular display, consider that area as prime marketing real estate and think of ways that you can enhance it to deliver the strongest possible statement on behalf of your business.