|The cafe is the corner office for many small business owners.|
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I spend many hours each week in restaurants and coffeehouses around the country, between meetings, on my way through airports and when meeting clients. Like many others my "corner office" is often a table or a booth on the way to or from another meeting. A few weeks ago I stopped in a local coffeehouse in the Research Triangle Park/Durham, N.C. between meetings, looking for a quiet spot to write an article. One of the challenges of finding just the right spot to write is finding an atmosphere where you are welcome to "camp out" in the establishment. You want a friendly and yet professional atmosphere where your thoughts do not have to compete with music blasting from speakers or the conversations of other "campers" holding meetings, having a meal, or talking on their phones and overpowering your work.
On this particular day, I dropped by a location that in years past I had used quite frequently. I arrived to a new establishment in that location: Koinonia (which means "the community" in Greek) Coffeehouse (www.koinoniacoffeehouse.com) located in Durham, North Carolina is owned by Jim and Angel Clements. Jim and I met that afternoon. I was the sole occupant of the coffeehouse for an hour or so. The only traffic in the late afternoon that day came from two job hunters and a neighboring business owner who stopped by to talk about increasing traffic and sales in his own store. I'm not shy about starting a conversation with anyone. The discussion between Jim and the other business owner was irresistible to me. The topics ranged from the traffic patterns of the shopping center to social media efforts and other marketing/advertising options. Koinonia Coffeehouse is a combination of polished concrete floors and intimate booths and tables. Part industrial loft and cozy contentment, Koinonia has a warm atmosphere that invites you to sit down, get comfortable and focus on your purpose for being there. You can read a book in a cozy leather chair, hold a meeting in the back, or sit for hours in one of the booths getting your work done. On a return trip to talk with Jim in more detail about his business -- plans, challenges and successes -- Koinonia demonstrated what can take place in a short amount of time with a plan, the right tools, and the right products and services. In the month since I first visited, in-store traffic increased visibly from a few walk-ins to all the booths occupied and a quarter of the tables taken by both business and personal meetings.
In a tough economy with lots of options for buying a cup of coffee or finding a place to meet, how does a business stand out and bring in the customer? It gets down to having a product/service the customer wants, delivering it well, and most of all getting them to come in your door the first time. Jim attributes the increase in business to his use of social media tools to reach his customer base. He often spends 20 hours or more per week working with various social media sites and e-marketing tools including Facebook, Tumblr, Yelp, Google places/maps, and Foursquare. According to Jim, "Foursquare became one of my best tools. The ability to do free campaigns enables you to run your own promotions when you want. Foursquare gives you (the business owner) the control instead of paying for advertising." This point can't be overemphasized for start-ups and small businesses. Budget matters. All businesses have limited time and money, so whatever methods you choose to use to get customers aware, interested, and in your door, make sure you know what's working and what's not. Time is money! Finding the most effective tools, using them appropriately, and tracking the results will make or break your business. Customers want a "relationship" that works for them, with value, convenience and a product/company they can do business with on a consistent basis. And for coffee shops, most customers are daily. Customer reviews on social media sites drive even more business in the door. It's just common sense: customers want to hear that other people like them bought from and endorsed the business and its products. In addition, the power of smart phones can't be overemphasized for businesses who want to take advantage of social media options. The ability to be visible--especially when your business' location may not be shouting "I'm here!"--makes a difference in your ability to drive business. The bottom line for the local coffee shop just getting started, businesses struggling to be seen, and any business that needs more customers, take the time to research new tools and marketing methods, and then try one. Test them. Track them. See what results you get. Different tools work for different businesses. But one thing is for sure: waiting for the customer to "find" you by chance will not spell success for your business. -- Written by Lea Strickland. Lea Strickland, M.B.A., is the founder of Technovation Entrepreneur , a program that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Strickland is the author of "Out of the Cubicle and Into Business" and "One Great Idea!" She has more than 20 years of experience in operational leadership in Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies, including Ford, Solectron and Newell.