At the end of August, Perth native Sam McDonagh was announced as country manager for the international travel accommodation site Arbnb. In the past year, the number of Australian-owned boarding listings offering lodging options to travelers has more than doubled on the site. Besides allowing travelers to not only search for short- and long-term vacation boarding options, Airbnb also posts listings for hostels, bed & breakfasts, caravan parks, and even enterprising homeowners with spare rooms.
While somewhat unusual, Airbnb’s business plan (and its international success) does offer a number of lessons for teaching small businesses to flourish in a world where online business is king and the markets we work in are becoming traditionally global.
Lesson One: Show off your specialized knowledge.
The first rule of entrepreneurship is to make sure your goods or services fulfill a need. Being able to fulfill that need means you have specialized knowledge. Restaurants fill the need of a warm meal, and have specialized knowledge of delicious recipes and culinary expertise. BuzzAGeek offers friendly and flexible IT service plans, and happily share our specialized knowledge with you by answering your questions and sharing our weekly blog articles. In Airbnb’s case, their specialized knowledge is knowledge of local sights, restaurants, and housing options.
To show your business’ value, consider creating a blog, weekly newsletter, podcast, or other regular publication that will showcase what makes your small business stand out from its competitors. For example, if you own an auto-garage, write an article letting your customers know the “Five Biggest Signs It’s Time for an Oil Change.” It shows current and potential customers you know what you’re doing—and is a great opportunity to advertise any oil change discounts you may be offering!
Lesson Two: Stay on top of your online reviews.
Part of what makes Airbnb so successful is that it provides its customers with access to reviews of each hostel and campground from previous visitors. Rather than taking the hostel’s self-description at face value, reviews allow users to let each other make a more educated guess at what their stay will be like before they even book a bed. The reviews on a business can make or break its relationship with future customers.
More and more, consumers are using internet search engines to find and review small businesses in their local area. This is why it’s important for your business to not only monitor but welcome customer feedback by signing up for local review sites like Yelp, Google Business, Yahoo Local, and more. Word-of-mouth and personal referrals are still some of the most successful types of marketing for small businesses, making local search engine reviews and results potentially one of your most powerful marketing options.
Lesson Three: Keep your customers social!
In this day and age, every business knows that social media is an important part of their customer service portfolio, but it’s not enough to have a Facebook page your business occasionally updates—you must make sure you’re engaging regularly with your customers, and encouraging them to engage with each other! Airbnb not only allows its users to trade reviews but also submit travel tips, participate in competitions on Twitter, and even message their potential hosts to make sure everything is prepared for their arrival.
Encouraging a social aspect in your business dealings might not be as hard as you think: open suggestion boxes, online public forums, or referral programs can all be ways of encouraging your customer community to interact.