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The way your customers shop and buy has changed. Are you keeping up? Recently, I needed to get my carpets cleaned after going way too long without doing so. I went online to get in touch with the company I’d used several years ago, only to find out they no longer serve my area. Frustrated, I quickly Googled “carpet cleaning” and the name of my city. I clicked on the first search result that came up (a local company with a five-star Yelp review), went on Yelp to read about them, liked what I saw and gave them a call. The company was a family-owned small business, and the owner answered on the first ring. He was friendly and able to come out the next day. He also asked how I heard about his business, and when I told him, he said, “We seem to get most of our business from Yelp. In fact, we’ve never even advertised!”

There’s a lesson in here for small business owners—in fact, several.

  • Be sure your business has an online presence. A minimal website will do for most companies—this business had a website with a few pages that listed the services provided, offered several ways to contact them and briefly told the history and background of the business.
  •  Get your business listed on local search directories. When a customer or prospect searches for what you do and your city, your business should come up in the first few search results. Claiming your listing on local search directories such as Local.com, CitySearch or Google+ Local, then providing lots of information in your listing, can make that happen.
  • Don’t fear review sites such as Yelp. As this experience shows, they’re trusted resources for more and more customers these days. Do, however, pay attention to your reviews—the entrepreneur I spoke with admitted he “never looks at” his Yelp page, and I admonished him he needs to! He did have one highly negative review, which should have gotten a response instead of just sitting there.
  • Offer convenience. The only thing that could have made my experience better was if the carpet cleaner had offered an online scheduling option. There are many tools to let you provide this service on your website, including Appointy, Genbook and SnapAppointments. Customers today like to be able to contact you the way they want to—whether that’s in person, by phone or online.
  • Deliver what you promise. None of this would have meant anything, of course, if the carpet cleaner hadn’t delivered on their promise. The next day I received a call that the driver was 20 minutes away; he arrived on time, with a smile, and did the best job of cleaning my carpets of anyone I’ve ever used.
  • Don’t ignore traditional marketing. The carpet cleaner was wearing a logo-ed polo shirt and while his logo-ed van was parked outside, a neighbor came by and said, “Hey, I’ve been looking for a carpet cleaner. Do you have a business card?” which the carpet cleaner cheerfully supplied. For best results, integrate both online and offline marketing to capture the most customers possible.