I started my first online business back in 2010.

I didn’t have much time or money to invest. I was working full time at my corporate marketing job and about to get married. We were also hunting for a house to buy, so it was definitely not the time for me to suddenly drop my steady job and go down to one income!

But I went ahead anyway, hoping to find enough success that I could quit my job and move back to the coast, live the life I wanted to live.

So I worked on the business in my spare time, which wasn’t much at all after my son was born and I went back to work, and even less when I decided to have baby number 2!

(Where is this balance of family time and work that people seemed to get? I constantly felt guilty for not devoting enough time to either.)

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(Here’s me and the fam, just after the birth of my daughter early 2017.)

Anyway, back to my story. Since I had lots of experience in building brands online, I chose to do an online business for luxury goods that would be low volume (good for me not having much time to put into the business) but high value.

The competitors did not have customer focused business models so there was a good opportunity to enter the market and win business through a better customer experience.

My goal was to be a brand known for quality, affordability and most importantly, an amazing experience.

With such limited time to spend on the business I had to choose what to focus on for marketing, and chose my website, Facebook page and Google as my primary channels.

Then I designed all my business processes from the customer’s point of view, so they were flexible, convenient and simple.

To do that I mapped out the end to end customer journey and identified ways I could go the extra mile to give value over and above my core service. For example, in my after sale process I sent each customer a personalised doc with tips on how to care for their product.

After a couple of years of plodding along, I had tried adding some extra income streams but the business wasn’t growing as fast as I expected, and certainly wasn’t making enough that I could quit my job. Damn! This really wasn’t how I had planned it working out.

I was at the point of just folding it down and getting rid of the extra stress when I made myself sit back and review what was working and what wasn’t.

That’s when I realised what my customers really wanted.

Initially I had designed my business and website to be an ecommerce style purchase. So I had focused a lot of my messaging and marketing activities to drive that type of buyer and sale.

But I realised that almost all of my sales were done via email, after having built a personal relationship and trust with my customers.

And I had started to get some referral business from happy customers referring me to their friends and family.

It was my customer experience that was winning me business. Although my customers wanted to buy ‘online’, they also wanted a real person to deal with.  

I quickly made some changes. I stopped focussing on the side income streams and put all my energy into my core service. I also redesigned the website to reflect the way my target market wanted to purchase and turned it into a relationship based service rather than a purchase.

Sales started increasing almost immediately.

I got more and more amazing ‘thank you’ notes from happy customers. And more referral business.

Profits started to grow faster because my cost base hadn’t changed, but I was giving my customers what they wanted.

Now I had a good business to scale because any money invested in advertising would convert more leads and the value of my happy customers referring new business to me would have a direct benefit on my bottom line.

The ultimate benefit of an outstanding customer experience is the value of free word of mouth referrals through happy customers.

Any money you invested to get that original customer on board is paid back many times over when they refer new customers to you.  

Building a brand known for delivering outstanding customer experience is not a quick win as the strategy needs to be applied throughout your entire business, but the results are definitely magical.

Small businesses need to leverage customer experience to compete without big marketing budgets.

I’ve worked in marketing and communications for about 20 years and have proven the effects of a customer-centred brand strategy many times over.

However it was much more obvious what the impact can be in my own small business, because I didn’t have a marketing budget to spend on continually getting new customers so word of mouth was my most powerful marketing tool.