07/28/2011 11:27 EDT | Updated 09/27/2011 05:12 EDT

Read the Signs

As an advertising consultant I have always considered it my job to get customers or potential customers to consider your business. It the job of the business owner or manager to get them in the door and keep them coming back.

In a retail sense nothing is more damaging than an unclean or unmaintained entrance. Nothing. You only get one chance at a first impression. No half-off special is going to get me to enter a restaurant with dirty windows. Google "restaurant with dirty windows" and you'll find a few uninspired reviews of a restaurant.

The next most important factor is friendly, courteous, knowledgeable staff. The second impression are these people you pay to do your public relations, or you as a business owner yourself. If you let your bad day show, it will cost you customers. Be ready to serve!

I was inspired to write this as I sat in a pub watching my beloved Liverpool Football Club beat Chelsea two to nil. A "potential" customer parked outside the doors of the pub. It has a very small parking lot and anyone with any sense or respect for others would have parked elsewhere if not going into the pub. It was a Sunday and street parking is free.

This young couple parked right in front of the doors and large windows of the pub and blatantly walked across the street to another restaurant. The obvious reaction of the waitress was to call to them or get the parking authority to come and issue a ticket. In the same situation, I too would probably call the parking cops. But on second blush, what does that accomplish?

1. The parking authority collects the money for the fine, the business gets nothing.

2. Your staff person might have to show up in court if the person decides to fight the ticket.

3. You end up with an potential customer who will never darken your doors and will tell everyone they know.

4. The spot will still be taken up for other potential customers. All in all a lose lose situation. As well, these people may well have planned to park here and come back later for a drink? Unlikely at 10:30 AM, but possible?

So what is the best plan? Why not design a small ticket sized brochure that looks like a parking ticket and place it on the windshield of your illegal parker. Word it in a nice way reflecting that we noticed you parked in our business and didn't come in and offer a special or coupon to come in. Record the license make and model on the fake ticket, helping them further understand without threatening that you may have recorded their license for future violations. You have set up the potential of a much happier ending. Nothing short of thousands of dollars of therapy will change people who don't respect others, but this might go a long way in attracting a customer.

Remember the song "Sign sign everywhere a sign, Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind, Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"

In that simple message was a gem for business owners. How do you feel as a potential customer, when a business restricts where you can park? I see many of these in strip malls where there are numerous businesses. Business X parking only. Lets say Business X is your local pharmacy and you do business there regularly and you need to go to another store in the strip mall and their designated parking is full. Do you park in that spot? Most likely. Are you looking over your shoulder? Most likely. Is that a comfortable experience? Who made it uncomfortable? Business X. Next time you go out to a pharmacy you might think that Pharmacy Y is in a mall and doesn't restrict your parking, I think I'll go there!

This one is for may dad. One more sign that has the potential to upset potential customers "Washrooms are for customers only". As my dad puts it "have you ever really had to go?" Nothing will turn my father off a business more than this sign. Restricting potential customers is a sign that you don't need or want their business.

Another strategy may be similar to the above parking strategy. A business owner might be better off after a person comes in and asks, "Can I just use your washroom?" Sure... and here's a two-for-one coupon if you'd like to stay for a coffee or come back another time.

Put out a positive message from your business and you will gain positive customers back.