Why consumers choose one small business over another

Woman with glasses smiling at a smartphone in her hands

I’ve been working with small businesses for more than a decade, and while every business is different, here’s one surprising trait I’ve seen many times:

They often don’t know what makes them special.

Or, to put it another way — they don’t know how to highlight what will make them stand out to a consumer.

For example, here’s the back-and-forth I had recently with one small business owner as we built their website. We had already worked out the site architecture, the design, the content…but we needed a hook, an angle, a reason for someone to choose them. As you can see, it wasn’t easy…

What sets your business apart?

“Nothing special, really.”

What makes you better than your competitors?

“We all do pretty much the same thing.”

Do you offer any discounts or promotions?

“No, we really don’t.”

Then a pause.

“Well, we do meet or beat anyone else’s prices…”

BOOM. Exactly what we were looking for. A specific, easy-to-understand USP (unique selling point) that could set this small business apart. And it would even fit on a bumper sticker!

Maybe… maybe not… and everyone certainly isn’t putting it front and center in their advertising (just look at how hard it was for us to get there).

This happens more often than you think with small businesses, and it makes sense — so many of them are legacy or multi-generational companies that have been doing business this way for as long as they can remember. Some don’t think these things matter to consumers. And still others are practicing what makes them special because, well, it’s the right thing to do.

Here’s another example — in a long conversation with a roofing company, they mentioned in passing that they have one person on their crew whose job is to come back to the job site the day after a project is completed to sweep the property with a magnet, collecting any nails or other debris that may be in your yard. That’s not a limited-time discount or over-the-top promise — that’s a regular part of the job for them. But it’s something that could absolutely make you choose them instead of a competitor.

So let’s talk about highlighting the four things local customers look for when choosing a small business.

If you’re in the business of 24/7 emergency service, you know this is your bread and butter. There are plenty of tangible ways to promote speed to service:

· We can be on-site in an hour

· All calls returned within 20 minutes

· Rush jobs turned around in 2–3 days

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but there are quantifiable ways to promote the quality of your work:

· Provide a satisfaction guarantee or warranty

· Showcase customers reviews

· Highlight “trust badges” — professional certifications, awards and recognitions, partnerships or quality, name brand supplies and suppliers

This one is often the hardest for small businesses — margins can be razor-thin, your local market can shift rapidly, and events outside your control can change your fortunes fast. The last thing most SMBs want to offer is a discount.

But think about what you can offer to make your customers feel like they’ve saved some money, or feel more secure in the money they’re spending:

· Free written estimates (everyone offers free estimates — but written ones are pretty rare)

· Financing options or flexible payment plans

· Specialty discounts for military, seniors, first responders and other groups

Luckily, your customers may already be providing most of what you need to build trust. Online reviews are a huge factor when it comes to a consumer’s choices, so you need to make sure you’re collecting, promoting (and responding to!) reviews on:

· Google My Business

· Facebook

· Listings sites like Yelp, Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs

Chances are, if you sit back and think about conversations you’ve had with your happy (and unhappy) customers, you’ll be able to think of things you’ve heard more than once. If you can’t… there’s no harm in asking your next customer, and the one after that, and the one after that (asking them to give you feedback by way of online reviews is even better).

Or, reach out to your contact list. Whether you ask for free form feedback (there’s a handy template below) or specific feedback in a survey, you’re bound to hear from at least a few people. Take whatever they give you and start thinking about how to leverage it on your website, in your advertising, and in your everyday interactions with your customers.

Oh, and one more tip — the easiest way to assess how your marketing message measures up to your competitors’ is to do a simple Google search. Look at the paid ads that show up to see what other providers are highlighting — after all, that’s what your customers will do!

Example of search results for a local roofing company

Here’s a simple example you can use to ask your customers for feedback…

Hi [Customer Name],

I hope you’re doing well! I wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you again for your business, and to ask you for a small favor:

Can you provide some quick feedback about what made you choose me, and what stood out to you about my service?

I’m looking to make some updates to my marketing and advertising, and feedback from customers like you can only help.

Thanks again,

[Your name]

[Your company name]

[Your contact info]

As the Sr. Copywriter at Hibu, I help small businesses turn their local prospects into new customers with response-driving copy