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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

How to attract and retain important clients for your small business

Be available and project the right image

People fish on the banks of the Songhua River on a foggy day in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.
People fish on the banks of the Songhua River on a foggy day in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.

I have had a very fortunate career providing niche marketing and branding consultancy services in the UAE and Oman in markets where very few companies offer something similar.

In doing so, I have spent time with many of the world's big companies, often meeting their top management.

I am not writing this to brag, but because every time I am working with peers from those companies I feel grateful for being there and I am often asked: how l Iand such a client, and is it as easy as I make it seem?

I will tell you what I know about attracting big clients for your small business.

Be available for your clients. As an SME owner, I find it very hard sometimes to connect with small business owners. I stumble upon great social media accounts of companies that offer great products and services, but when I want to connect with them, they either have poor customer service or do not even answer their emails.

Have some clear contact information available. It is easy to set up a professional-looking website, and an email address, so do not only accept direct messages on Instagram because that does not make your business seem professional.

Be ready to serve your clients. If you own a bakery or a restaurant and would like to target big corporates to be your clients, make sure you are ready and equipped to serve them. Does your restaurant provide a catering service that can handle 100 or 200 guests at once? Could you deliver orders at short notice, like for instances baking 400 cupcakes and have them ready in a day or two for that big bank? Before you advertise that you are ready to cater to all, make sure that you really can deliver on your promise.

Become a thought leader. If you set up a successful business in a certain field, you could contribute to trade journals or magazines and submit an article sharing your knowledge with peers. Perhaps you have an interesting point of view regarding a subject matter in your field, write up an article and share it.

As a columnist for The National, writing about my field and sharing my experiences has introduced me to new clients and presented speaking opportunities at many events. Participate in panels and share your journey. There are many opportunities out there that allow you to do so. You could also set up a blog under your website where you share your thoughts and knowledge.

The key is to keep creating content. From my experience, sharing your thoughts and becoming a thought leader provides clients with more insight into you and your processes, and makes it easier when closing a deal with you.

Your image implies everything. Small companies can imply sophistication with the right image, relevant branding and website design. Branding and website designs evolve all the time. The trend now is a minimalist design, and you see many new businesses relying on text-based logos and clean designs. Keep an eye out for these things. If your website design is outdated, you may be giving the wrong impression of your business. Jump on the social media bandwagon and be where your customers expect you to be. The same thing goes for your employees – they are the face of your company and can either make or break your business. Everything from the way your team drafts an email, the way they speak on the phone, to the way they dress in the office could make or undermine your brand.

A good example I have seen is that of an abaya designer who participates in pop-up events in the UAE and who knew exactly the importance of that as she appealed to her high net-worth customers. Her salesgirls were dressed in the latest fashion, sported expensive watches and shoes, and were properly groomed.

Small businesses appeal to many big companies as they often provide originality and a different perspective, as some of my clients have told me. Good service plays a huge role in appealing to these bigger enterprises. Ensure that you incorporate those techniques.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer who manages a branding and marketing consultancy in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai.