During my lifetime, I’ve lived in towns and cities of all sizes. Large cities like Washington DC and Berkeley, California. Mid-sized cities like Pensacola, Florida and San Jose, California. Small cities like Santa Cruz, California and Flagstaff, Arizona (where I finally landed). But since my husband was a forest ranger, we’ve lived in some tiny towns as well — like Springville and Happy Camp, California.
As a result of this, I’ve learned that there is a big difference in how people treat each other in large cities as opposed to small communities. The same is true of selling our products locally as opposed to online sales.
Both large cities and online sales fail to have that sense of connection that you find in small communities. There is the general feeling that If I’ll never see or hear of you again so what do I care if you’re unhappy with my service? There’s always another person, another customer to take your place. It’s just a numbers game.
What I’ve found, however, is that applying the same mindset that I found in small and even very tiny towns to online sales works so much better than the big city mindset. But what are the small town mindsets. Ask anyone who lives in a small community and they will tell you that:
In a small town, what goes around, comes around. Treating one person poorly will come back to haunt you. Giving one person exceptional service will also come back. Consistently helping people and giving great customer service are the best guarantees of repeat business.
Always Be honest
If you wouldn’t want your mother to read about it on the front page of the newspaper, then don’t do it. If you always think about business in an above-board way, you’ll seldom have to apologize for bad decisions or statements that you made.
Be part of the community
These are not just your customers. Your buyers are people who, together, make up a community. In a small town it is easy to be part of that community. Go to events. Donate to important causes. Listen to what concerns people have. That’s harder to do with an online business but it is possible. Keep in touch with your customers by email or social media or even direct mail. Send them a newsletter or some information that isn’t just selling them something. Remember their birthday, if you know it.
It’s easy to find the right person to talk to
In a small town, it’s easy to find the right person to talk to when you have a problem. When I was on the City Council in Yreka, California and on the School Board in Happy Camp, there was always availability to the community at events or by phone. Don’t make your website like a big city municipal phone system where you can never reach the right person. Make sure your content information is available on your homepage so people can either email you or pick up the phone and call you. Many of my online orders come after a phone call asking me a question.
It’s hard to hide who you really are.
In a small town, everyone knows all your warts. It’s hard to pretend to be something you really aren’t. The local beauticians know all the gossip in town and the local banker knows how financially sound you are.
On the internet, it’s easy to pretend to be anyone you want to be. But when the truth comes out, it can destroy your business.
I could say a lot more. Get to know your customers. Be friendlier. Be more flexible and do what it takes to help people.
When you live your life online like you would in a small town, you are building the kind of business that has staying power. You also build integrity, and that matters for the rest of your life.