In 2017, I left my corporate job and invested my life savings into starting my business, Rizos Curls. To this day, my business is entirely self-funded. At first, I saw this as a negative—I saw us as this little company up against hair care giants. But I realized that being a small business is an advantage. It allows you to implement changes quickly, stay on trend, and focus on your niche demographic. Companies with bureaucracy can struggle to keep up, while you can meet your customers where they are. Being small allows you to build community by connecting and interacting with your customers. That smaller, more personal approach is your advantage. Your customers are full of insights and power—they should be the ones calling the shots. As a small business, you will find that making your customers a part of your business strategy can hold the key to your success!
Here’s how bringing your customers into your business strategy will fuel your circle of success:
1. Identify your customer.
Identify what type of person you want to reach and cater all your decisions to serve that customer. You can’t be everything to everyone, so focus your efforts on your smaller, more attainable niche. Don’t be afraid to get specific on the type of customer you want to reach. Being focused can be more effective and economical, since the bigger your target demographic is, the more expensive they will be to attract.
You should understand your customer as if they were your best friend. An exercise that helps me understand my target demographic is to create a character profile for them as if they are a real person I know. Then, I draw them and list out as much information as I can about them.
What’s their name, gender, age? Where do they live? What’s their favorite color? What motivates them? Where do they shop? What pages do they follow on social media? What do they do for a living? How much money do they make? What do they do for fun? Filling out your character profile is an ongoing practice that can change over time. The more you understand who you are serving, the better your effort to reach them.
2. Reach your customer.
Now that you have identified your customer, it’s time to reach them. Where is your customer, and how do you get the most out of your marketing efforts on a budget?
At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I normalized the “traditional” way of marketing and wanted to emulate strategies from companies that were out of my league. I would see these big beauty conglomerates overspending on marketing in the name of market share or brand awareness, sometimes to the point of not being profitable. I quickly learned that not every opportunity was a good idea and that saying NO was sometimes more important than saying YES. For example, I would get asked to give free samples for fancy celebrity events. I remember feeling like this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss. The reality was that as a small, self-funded business with a limited budget, I probably wouldn’t see a return on providing free samples of my precious inventory. Also, would any of my target customers even be at this VIP event? If the answer is no, then it’s a luxury my small business can’t afford.
Instead of these types of events, I decided to use my inventory on marketing efforts that would better reach my customer and incentivize user-generated content. This is why in 2017–2018, I implemented a Review Program, and I would send anyone a Rizos Curls travel kit in exchange for a posted review. This was a low-cost way to get content reposted on my social media pages while showcasing real results from followers that could turn into loyal customers. Creating content is time-consuming and expensive. Incentivizing user-generated content would help customers feel seen and incorporated in my content and make my job easier.
3. Consult your customer.
Why guess what your customers want? Just ask them. Your marketing strategy doesn’t have to be so complicated. You can keep it simple and just listen to your customers.
Let your customers call the shots by making them your business partner. Using your audience for market research can make them a part of your product development process. You can do this in a variety of ways: social media surveys, email marketing, and incentivized surveys after purchase. You can ask them to identify the types of events they want, describe new products they are interested in, provide feedback on their current purchase, etc. Your customers are full of insight and are usually ready to share it. Listen to what your customers need and innovate for them.
Here’s how I did it: When I launched in 2017, my only styling product was a curl cream that my customers LOVED, and I had so many unique ideas for what product to launch next. Meanwhile, so many of my customers were using my current curl cream and making their own detangling spray by mixing my curl cream with water in a spray bottle. I kept overcomplicating my product development process by thinking I could tell my customers what they needed instead of giving them what they already wanted. The answer to my next product was kicking me in the face, and I was too distracted to see it. I managed all my own social media during that time, so I asked customers what they wanted me to create. Sure enough, they wanted a detangling spray that resembled my curl cream.
I listened to my customers and launched my Rizos Curls Refresh & Detangle Spray in 2018. It’s been four years, and this spray is still one of my best-selling products. It continues to win every beauty award it’s nominated for, including a 2021 Glamour Beauty Award for Best Detangler. I would not have thought to create this product on my own, since it was so simple and similar to my existing product. But, there was clearly a need for it that I was made aware of once I decided to innovate for my customers and not for myself.
Putting your customers first is the simplest way to create a winning strategy for a small business. Why overcomplicate something that should be easy? Creating a customer-led business strategy is what small businesses can do best—don’t be afraid to focus on what makes you different! I’m so grateful to have my customers as my most trusted business advisors. They call the shots, and I execute. That has been my winning strategy to drive growth, and I hope to continue growing alongside my customers.
Listening to customer feedback requires a willingness to try new things and change what’s not working. Big companies struggle with this. Your biggest advantage as a small business is being flexible, agile, and able to implement change quickly. Have fun, listen to your customers, and enjoy the process. You never know where it can take you!