You’d think that every entrepreneur would consider it essential to welcome potential buyers and clients to their business, but experience shows that’s not always the case. Browse at any flea market or craft fair and you’ll see numerous vendors who are reading a book or chatting with other vendors while ignoring the crowd. And it’s not just exhibiters that do this: many business owners seem to wear a “Do Not Disturb” sign — defying anyone to ask them questions or offer them money.

Smart entrepreneurs make it their mission to let others know that they are in business to serve. Whether it’s home based, virtual or bricks and mortar, truly welcoming entrepreneurs are constantly looking for ways to draw others to their business and to make every encounter as pleasant as possible.

Here are a few welcoming ideas to include in your own repertoire.

Be ready to talk about your business with anyone at anytime, anyplace. Opportunity doesn’t always show up at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday over the telephone. It might come via a stranger sitting across from you at Starbucks. Be sure that you are prepared to provide information at all times.

At the very least, always carry a good supply of clean, unbent business cards. It amazes me how many people say, “Oh, I don’t have my cards with me.” What good is a card in your desk drawer? If you have a brochure or printed materials that are portable, carry them, too.

Get the word out in different ways. When you’re new in business, you probably will spend time monitoring the response you get to various forms of advertising. However, that often only gives a short-term picture of what is working for you. If you have a service business, for instance, an ongoing ad in your local paper and another in the Yellow Pages may only bring in customers after a lengthy period of time.

“The best advice I got about having a web site,” says Michael Kelley, who specializes in historic restoration, “was not to depend on search engines to bring traffic to my site. Part of my advertising effort is directed at telling people I have a site.” Keep experimenting. You’ll reach different prospects with each new thing you try.

Be gracious in all encounters. One day when I was at my bank, the teller asked me for some information on London hotels. I gave her a couple of ideas and then said, “If you give me a call tonight, I’ll give you a telephone number for a large hotel chain.”

When Terry called later on, I answered the phone as I always do. “Why you’re as cheerful on the phone as you are when you come into the bank,” Terry responded. Since I am not psychic, I don’t know when my phone rings if it’s a telemarketer or a big opportunity. So my policy is to always answer as if I’m thrilled to get the call. I’m amazed at the number of home based business owners who don’t seem to have such a policy.

Your telephone is probably an important part of your business. Whether you answer it yourself or your voice messaging system takes the call, be conscious of how inviting you sound. Too many answering messages sound lethargic — depressed, even. Give some thought to creating a message that is warm and welcoming. (Frankly, I am mystified why people choose a message that says, “You have reached 555-4527.” This is about
people, not numbers.) If you use the same telephone for personal and business calls, find a way to answer that is appropriate whether it’s your next big client or your daughter’s school friend on the other end.

In face-to-face encounters with your customers, be scrupulous about your manners and your personal hygiene. It’s easy to offend without realizing it. My own garlic-loving dental hygienist used to make my regular cleanings a horror. Heavy perfume (and men’s cologne) can also be offenders. Whether you have physical contact with your clients or not, be sensitive to odors and other unpleasantries. Stories are still being told about Bill Gates working around the clock in the early days of Microsoft without taking time to shower. You may not want those kinds of stories in your biography.

Slick and glossy isn’t always better. The personal touch can add charm to a small business, so don’t be too eager to look like a corporate spendthrift. Angela Adair-Hoy is a successful author and marketer of e-books. In Make Money Self-Publishing, she tells this story:

We built a new high tech and beautiful web site and put it up in the fall of 1999. Sales plummeted. We left the new site up for about three days and then ripped that sucker down. It wasn’t because of broken links or anything like that because we checked all the technical aspects of it. It was the design. We uploaded the old version and sales shot back up. The amateur part of my site gives people a feeling that they know me. They feel like they’re dealing with a nice individual rather than a corporation. That’s been a huge key to my success.

So think of yourself as a host and focus on others whenever you have the opportunity. After all, no business can exist without the support of customers. Make yours glad that they did business with you.

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