In this part, we are going to examine the journey a person takes to become a customer. Do you measure this journey? If not, you should. How else can you gauge your customer experience?

If you don’t have as many customers as you’d like, the reason could be that your potential customers are having a bad experience along the way to becoming your customer.

There are a variety of ways to track your customer journey: a sales and marketing funnel, experience mapping and examining your buying process. These three methods all have the same goal, yet they all go about it achieving it in different ways. Read on to find out about each of these methods.

You’re living the dream. You set out with a goal to start your own business in the food and beverage industry and you succeeded. When they come in, people absolutely rave about your fresh, light smashed avos and your flat whites; your flavour-packed pork rolls, your ambitious Mod Oz pork-belly confit — or maybe your simple, tasty Vegemite on toast.

Whatever it is you’re known for, it’s being done to perfection, leaving customers happy and full. However, it’s no easy task to keep those customers flowing through the door on a regular basis and it’s even harder to bring in new ones — after all, word of mouth can only go so far.

You have the cooking and business side of things down but now, it’s time to focus on building your brand, which is all well and good but as a small business owner, you don’t have unlimited funds for marketing.

The good news is, marketing a business in this day and age is made simple with just a few basic tools and you don’t have to break the bank to achieve the success you deserve.

In this post, I’ve included a few simple steps you can take to ingrain your business in the minds of your community and start building a steady customer base.

KNOW YOURSELF AND YOUR AUDIENCE

First, you must know yourself and be honest about what you’re offering. This is crucial for choosing the path you’re going to take when marketing your business. The modern consumer has a discerning eye for marketing and will gravitate towards businesses that are genuine.

Are you a little mom-and-pop shop with a focus on simple, inexpensive food and drink? Then market yourself as such. You’ll only be hurting your business if you attempt to appear to be something you’re not.

Knowing yourself — questions you must be able to answer:

  • What do you want to get out of owning a restaurant?
  • Do you have a five-year plan?
  • Does your menu reflect you?
  • How do you want the community to perceive you?
  • Most importantly, who is your audience?

Whatever you do, don’t say that your audience is “everyone”. As the saying goes, “If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no-one.” The easiest way to think about your intended audience is to sit down and write a list of the types of people you think are most likely to be attracted to your business.

If you’ve been open a while, think about your most consistent customers — their age, socioeconomic status, relationship status, if they have children, where they reside, etc. It can be as simple as these examples:

  • Our chic, modern menu is perfect for young business professionals with disposable income.
  • Our café is the perfect spot for students looking for a quiet and cosy place to get some work done while enjoying locally-roasted coffee.  
  • Our locally-sourced, farm-to-table concept will excite millennials who are environment-conscious and love to dine with friends.
  • Our Southeast Asian noodle bar is perfect for gastronomes and adventurous palates.
  • Our standard diner fare is great for families looking for budget options and meals to suit even the pickiest of eaters.

Any one of these might describe your business and it is within these descriptions that you will find your audience. Having a clear picture of your core audience makes each step of the marketing and branding process a breeze.

RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION

No matter what your restaurant, cafe, bar, etc. is serving, or how original you might think it is, it’s near certain that there are others out there doing something similar. There’s also going to be a generous amount of them who are doing it successfully. Here are some easy ways to get ideas from similar businesses.

  • Visit them.
    • While you’re there, pay attention to their customer demographics — they’re your audience too.
    • If they’re not in your area, check out their website, social media and any articles you can find about them.
    • Pay attention to what you like and what you don’t like — use that info to make changes at your own place.
  • Reach out and connect.
    • It’s never bad to have a few friendly competitors in your area. Culinary scenes that raise each other up typically thrive. Wonderful events and partnerships can come out of restaurateurs, chefs and bartenders talking and collaborating.
  • Don’t steal.
    • This may seem obvious, but while it’s important to pay attention to successful competitors, don’t blatantly steal their ideas.
    • As we said earlier, stay true to yourself — don’t try to be somebody else.

TELL YOUR STORY

This ties in pretty closely with the first two steps. It must be said that you have to share who you are with your customers. It is through you telling this story that your customers will come to view your business as more than just another place to eat.

Here are some of the easiest ways you can share your story.

  • Utilise social media.

If you own a business and you don’t have a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you are missing out on a world of free marketing. It can be time-consuming, but social media is one of the most useful tools you have at your disposal. Here are a few hints on effective social media use.

    • Choose your voice and stick with it.
      • You’ve done step one — you know yourself, so let it shine.
      • If you want to be lighthearted or goofy, go for it. If you view yourself as more serious, take that route, but consistency is the key.
    • Respond.
      • Someone gave you a glowing Facebook review? Thank them — you’ll be one step closer to another regular customer.
      • If you get a critical review or comment, say you’re sorry and offer to fix it.
        • Arguing won’t get you anywhere. Even if they don’t accept your offer or apology, others will see you taking the high road and will think more highly of you because of it.
      • The importance of simple kindness and courtesy, even in the online realm, cannot be overstated. Remember, this is the hospitality industry.
    • Only post good photos. I repeat — only post good photos.
      • Your food images will be one of the major factors that bring people through your door, so make sure they are of a high quality.
        • Nothing is worse than making great food or drink and then posting a blurry, jaundiced image of it on social media to put all your followers off the idea of consuming it… ever.
        • Take an hour to learn the basics of photography and photo editing via an online course.
      • You don’t need a high-end camera.
        • Modern phones have quality cameras. Go online and read up on the best practice for taking images with whatever phone you have.
        • Use your phone’s free editing software to make sure the colour is as close to natural as possible.
        • If you don’t have a smartphone, there are numerous, inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras like the Canon PowerShot series.
    • Promote… but not too much.
      • Whether it’s half-price bottles of wine on Tuesdays, your weekly special or your one-year celebration, post about it.
      • Don’t overdo it though. Overpromotion can be annoying and turn people away, so here are some basic rules for how many posts you should release each day. Keep these numbers in mind.
        • Facebook: 1 post a day.
        • Twitter: 15 tweets a day.
        • Instagram: 1–2 posts a day (one in the morning and one in the afternoon).
          • These numbers are best practice but if you don’t send 15 tweets a day, that’s fine. Just don’t do any more than that.
      • Also, don’t use too much text. People react to images more than words. Keep descriptions brief and simple, and use those newfound photo skills.
    • Use a social media management tool.
      • Social media can be daunting, especially with everything else you have going on, but there are free scheduling tools that can make your social media activities a little easier.
        • There are tons of options but Hootsuite has a free plan and is easy to get the hang of.  
        • If Hootsuite doesn’t suit you, simply Google “social media management tools”. Find the one that works best for you.
  • Get a website.

A website is the quickest way for a customer to figure out if they want to come to your restaurant. It puts your business and all that it offers right at their fingertips. If you want to grow, you must have a quality website. The good news is there are so many offerings out there that make building a website easier than you could ever imagine.

    • Keep it simple.
      • All you need to display is the necessary information.
        • About: Tell people about the place. What style of food and drink does it offer? What led you to open it? What’s the chef’s name and their experience?
        • Menus: Type them up in great detail and share them with your potential customers. Even if they rotate regularly, still type them up. Don’t use images of menus — they can be difficult for people to read.
        • Don’t forget to include your address and opening hours.
      • The design should be simple too.
        • Don’t overdo it with text and moving images.
        • Use a few basic, attractive images.
        • Have your brand name prominent at the top of the page in an easy-to-read font.
        • Have widgets that link to each of your social media platforms.
      • Keep the domain name simple.
        • Search the name of your business and see if others are using the same name.
        • Once you know how original it is, choose a domain name and go to Name.com to see if it’s in use.
        • Here is an example domain name:
          • An Italian seafood restaurant located in Sydney is named Gamberi. Gamberi.com is already taken, so the domain name becomes either GamberiSydney.com or GamberiSeafood.com.
    • Keep it easy and cheap.
      • If you know WordPress, use it.
      • If you don’t know WordPress, don’t worry.
        • Websites like Squarespace, Wix and Shopify make it easy to build beautiful websites without any prior knowledge or experience.
        • These do come at a cost, but if you pay the annual fee, it usually breaks down to between $10 and $25 per month.

HAVE OTHERS SHARE YOUR STORY

While you can utilise many tools to share your story yourself, word-of-mouth is still a very powerful kind of advertising. Even though you will mostly rely on customers for word-of-mouth marketing, it’s important to ensure the right people are sharing your story.

  • Reach out to local magazines and news outlets.
    • The easiest way to get your name out into the public consciousness is if someone in the public eye shares it for you.
    • If you haven’t opened yet, email local food and drink reporters and invite them to come to your grand opening.
    • If you have opened, invite them in for a meal and prepare your most popular item for them.
    • Ask morning news outlets if they have a section where they highlight local businesses and see if you can get your restaurant on TV.
    • Remember, their job is to tell people what’s happening in the community. When you reach out, you are doing them a favour by taking some of the research off their hands — and getting exposure at the same time.
  • Research and reach out to local food bloggers and influencers.
    • These people have spent time building a loyal following.
    • If you invite them in and cook them a meal, make them a drink and share your story with them, they will bring that loyal following to your business.
      • Don’t charge them — consider it an investment.
      • Don’t overdo it. You don’t have to give them a load of free stuff. Pick a few solid offerings and create a dialogue with them. Spending the time to talk to them will do much more for your place than a smorgasbord of food.
      • Listen to their feedback. Customers care about their opinions, which means you should too.
      • Post their write-up on your social media pages and possibly create a media section on your website to share these stories.
  • Engage with your community.
    • This is one of the most important aspects of marketing your business and feeding positivity into it — and your community at the same time.
    • Look into local events you can take part in.
      • Local food and drink festivals.
      • Charities and fundraisers for local nonprofits.
      • Donate some of your time to work at local food shelters.
      • Look into volunteering in programs that teach people how to cook or grow their own food.
    • Get the name of your business out into the public consciousness as a place that gives back and is a part of the local community.
      • If you can pull this off, people will choose your product over competitors, not only because the name is familiar, but also because they know you and trust you.

All in all, there are many inexpensive and highly effective ways to promote your business within your local community. Even though it may seem daunting at first, especially when you add it to all the other tasks you’re juggling day-to-day, by taking action on these steps, you can increase the success of your business.

Once you start implementing these into your routine, you will undoubtedly see results in the form of new, happy and regular customers which, in turn, leads to profit. If you feel like it’s all too much, just start small and keep on growing.

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