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Advice for small business owners

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The current economic crisis hits hard for every business, big and small, from multinational corporations such as Citigroup to local small and home businesses.

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I think it is especially difficult for small businesses that provide products and services in an increasingly competitive environment that we face today.

I am not a business owner, but I have experience dealing with small businesses. I would like to offer a few examples of common sense advice for small business owners based on my own observations.

Honesty is the best policy

Being honest in dealing with customers is the single most important thing to do as a business owner.

Trust is built on honest relationships. Do not, in your desire to make some extra money, cheat someone. Doing so will only cost you more in the long run.

Some years ago in Madison, Wis., I brought my car to a repair shop to get something fixed. The owner charged me more than he should. Maybe he thought I was a female, a minority and didn't know anything, so he could rip me off.

When I found out that he overcharged me, I went back and confronted the owner. He gave me $40 back and said angrily, "Don't come back again."

I was not a fool. I wouldn't go back even if he begged me.

Something similar also happened to me here in Woodbury. I brought my car for an oil change. The mechanic put some liquid in my car and charged me almost $20 for it.

Later when I confronted the manager, she said it was not necessary and refunded me the money.

Then through a friend's referral, I found a small repair shop in St. Paul. The owner is very honest. He charges less than others.

If he thinks something does not need to be fixed, he tells the truth. He doesn't try to make money by doing unnecessary repairs.

Even though he is farther away than the repair shops in town and because I trust him more than anyone, I would rather go to St. Paul for car repairs.

Let quality speak for itself

You can say as much as you want about how good your products and services are, but it is far better and effective to let your products and services speak for themselves.

I see quite a lot of advertisement and media publicity about a local auto shop.

But how can they expect me to believe and trust them when something like this happened: They claimed to have rotated my tires, but they didn't do it.

Regardless of why it happened, I had to question their quality of work.

Even just one simple mistake can seriously damage your reputation. So make your quality count.

Keep your customers' interests in mind

It is understandable that as average human beings we have our own best interest in mind.

But as business owners, you also have to keep your customers' interests in mind. You cannot serve your own interest while sacrificing your customers' interests.

If you can serve your customers above their expectations, they will be happy and come back. So always keep your customers' best interests in mind as well as your own.

Think long term

Yes, you can make some quick money by cheating someone for some time, but you won't be able to cheat everyone all the times.

Sooner or later, people will find out.

So, if you plan to stay in your business for a long time, you have to think long term and make wise choices.

Don't just think about your profit today, but think about tomorrow and the future too. Only then can you grow and prosper.

Show respect and gratitude

In our competitive world and environment, there are many businesses that provide same or similar kinds of products or services as you do.

People have a lot of choices. They can go to different places for their needs and wants.

Why would people come back to you? How do you make people come back to you and stay loyal to you?

One way to do that is to show respect and gratitude. Let your customers know that you value their business and appreciate their loyalty.

Word of mouth is the best advertisement

Businesses spend a lot of money on advertisements.

While advertisements in local media are useful to make your businesses known to the public, I believe the best and most effective advertisement is the word of mouth.

If your customers are happy with your products and services, they will naturally refer their friends to you.

Personal testimonies from people we know have more power than anything we read in print.

And best yet, it's free. It doesn't cost you anything.

Give back to the community

As a business, you depend on the local community to survive. And your local community also depends on local businesses to thrive.

If there are any local programs you are interested in, support them in ways you can. Help their fundraising efforts.

By giving back to the local community that makes your business survival possible, you will be rewarded with more and loyal customers.

If you can put these common sense advices into practice, I think your business will do better than many others and also do well in the long run.

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