The most important person in your small business is not you. It is not one of your employees, nor is it one of your vendors. Of course, the most important person in your business is your customer.
Your customer is the only person paying for your overhead. Your customer is paying your mortgage and feeding your kids. Without your customer - your business dies. You and your employees need to keep this in mind in every single interaction with your customers. This is the beginning of an attitude that will make your business grow. Unfortunately, many businesses need a serious attitude adjustment.
My wife and I had some business in New Hampshire yesterday. We decided to have lunch at a Bertucci's Italian restaurant - a chain we generally like. When we walked in at around 2:00, the restaurant was moderately busy but there was nobody waiting to be seated. The hostess was mid-conversation with the manager when we came in. Rather than stop the conversation, or say "excuse me I'll be right with you," she physically turned her back to ignore us to continue her conversation.
Do you enjoy it when you try to speak to someone and they literally give you their back? I found it to be incredibly rude. The three minutes that it took her to finish the discussion about her schedule with the manager seemed like 1/2 hour to me. How important do I feel to this restaurant? What are the chances that I go back to this same restaurant? Zilch.
Do you want a very inexpensive way to differentiate your business? Give service to your customers that is so good it blows them away. Treat them like gold, take a genuine interest in helping them, and always make them feel valued and important.
When I get outstanding service, I can't wait to go back to a business. I also recommend the business unreservedly. When a business makes me feel important I like that and I want to feel like that again. It's very basic human psychology.
Look at some of the marketing messages around you. How many small businesses advertise how great they are, how many years they have been in service, what awards they have won? I always have to laugh when businesses claim that they are dedicated to good service. That doesn't make you special, that describes the bare minimum effort you need to be in business.
Your marketing - everything you say or do that touches the customer - must be about them. You can talk about how great you are, but it must be in a context that describes what you're going to do for them.
This extends into strategy when you are looking at your budget. Spending money on "customer facing" things is a good idea. You might forgo getting the ping-pong table for the break-room and spend the money on fixing up your waiting area. Having a professionally designed web site, business cards, and stationary is very important. Having a clean, comfortable, and uncluttered storefront is important.
If you have employees, you must train them and set expectations for excellent customer service. You must also lead by example when you deal with customers. You may need to spend a few extra dollars to hire the right people who can and will take customer service seriously.
Look at where you can improve customer contact. Remember that, on average, every customer has a network of 50-200 people that they influence. How you deal with each customer may multiply your business or cripple it. Put your ego aside, and remember who pays your bills.