Do not be afraid to toot your own horn, engage customers

May 1 2013 - 6:44pm

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As a rule of thumb, people are generally a bit shy about advertising their skill sets. Certainly, there are those folks that talk about themselves nonstop and drive us all crazy, but for the most part, as individuals we are self-conscious of appearing self-absorbed and arrogant. And that's generally a good thing -- humility and humbleness are qualities we all seek in those we form relationships with and otherwise engage with. With businesses, however, it's different.

As a business, you don't get that organic advertising of your skill sets that human beings get. When friends interact or work together, their skills get brought up naturally -- there's no need to advertise them or brag about what you are capable of. Those around you see your skills in action, because they see you in action on a regular basis. As a business, you need to artificially create those same experiences. Put yourself in front of your target audience on a regular basis and show them what you're capable of.

Don't just send a postcard outlining your services, or put a coupon in the local circulars telling people something is half off this month. Show them that you are doing something special. Show them why they should choose you.

About a decade ago, when I was still at Starbucks, I was constantly shocked at the social and community contributions Starbucks was making without their customers knowing about. Fair trade and organic coffee? They were there. Supporting farmers in coffee growing regions? Yep. Paying and treating their employees well, including full benefits? Absolutely. Sponsoring parks, festivals and youth projects? That too. And tons more.

All of a sudden these small chain coffee shops started making a big deal out of carrying "fair trade coffees" and Starbucks saw a loss of customers who wanted to support this type of coffee buying. But Starbucks was doing it too. Only problem was that people just didn't know.

I think that was a moment of learning and these days you see Starbucks making a better effort at spreading awareness of their mission, values and goals; tooting their own horn a bit.

Let people know what your business cares about. Let them know what your business offers and how that fits into their lives.

"Toot your own horn" a little bit. You don't have to be obnoxious but let people know what you're up to. Let people know on your website, via Facebook or in your print media. Tell them about the cool stuff you're doing for the community, or the high standards you hold for the products that you carry in your shop, or how you donate part of your profits.

Facebook has given businesses the opportunity to connect with individuals on a more human level than ever before. You can post photos and commentary instantly, and then carry a dialogue with your fans. A great example of this connection is Chobani. If you don't know where to start with social media or "tooting your horn" in a positive, non-obnoxious way, take a look at what Chobani is doing because they have it perfected. A few other good examples here locally are The Front Climbing Club and Slackwater. They are actively engaging customers in a real way -- it's not phony or sales-pitch-y.

Create awareness of what you offer and why it matters. Go ahead, toot your own horn.

Kim Bowsher started her management track at Starbucks in Seattle. She now helps small businesses, putting to work the lessons she learned in the coffee business. Contact her at lessonsfch@gmail.com.

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