By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you think your small business has all the customers you need? I thought not. But did you ever stop to think you might be driving customers away without even realizing it?

To see how you could be turning customers off without meaning to, it’s crucial  to look at your business from a new point of view. Recently I had an eye-opening experience that thrust me into someone else’s point of view. Some family members and I went out to dinner with a group that included several seniors. The restaurant was one I’ve always considered family-friendly, but being with older people showed me that it wasn’t as “friendly” as we had thought.

The first clue was the entrance, which was dimly lit with black floors, walls and reflective surfaces everywhere. I saw older members of the group squinting to see and navigating carefully so they wouldn’t slip. Next, we had to wait more than an hour to be seated in the crowded, noisy entryway. Conversation was tough for a couple in our group who are hard of hearing. Finally, after waiting all that time, we were shown to a giant, circular booth—which would have been great except that it was a struggle for the seniors in the group to slide into the booth.

The evening got me thinking about the many ways a business can be turning off potential customers without realizing it. Are you unconsciously making choices that tell certain people they’re not welcome at your business?

Think about different age groups (kids, college students, middle-aged people, seniors) or different types of people (tech-savvy, handicapped, overweight, men, women, singles, couples). Here are some things you might want to consider:

  • Noise level. Can people hold a conversation in your eatery or bar? Is the music in your store so loud it drives anyone over 18 away?
  • Seating. Do you have different seating options to accommodate a wide range of ages and sizes? If you own a retail store, are there a few spots for shoppers’ friends to sit and wait for them?
  • Location. Is your store or office accessible, both in terms of parking and getting into the store or office?
  • Décor. Is it rugged, kid-friendly, frilly? Will it thrill one type of customer but turn off others?
  • Restrooms. If you have them, are they accessible to all and feature extras like baby changing tables?
  • Navigation. Is there space for strollers or walkers? Or is your store, office or restaurant so crowded people can barely get through?
  • Image. Is your business subconsciously conveying the message “Women only” or “No Kids Allowed”?

Of course, no small business can attract everyone under the sun. And you don’t want to make your store, shop or office so bland and generic that in your effort to please everyone, you please no one. But in today’s economy, you do need to think about a wider range of customers than you might be used to. To put it bluntly, these days, a small business can’t afford to turn anyone off.

Suppose you’re a male small business owner wondering why your restaurant doesn’t attract many female customers. Try looking at it through a woman’s eyes. Is your parking lot dimly lit or run down? Women may not feel safe coming there. Are your restrooms clean and well-stocked? Women do care about that. Do you accommodate kids with children’s menus or high chairs? Moms might love to meet up at your place for lunch if you make it easy for them.

Try looking at your business through others’ eyes, and you just might find a whole new market you never thought about before.