There are many things to do, based on your type of business, location, and buyer behaviours, but here are some basics that apply to all.
1. Never stop learning. There are lots of free and low cost educational programs across the nation to help small business owners to learn how to keep up with the changes in buyer behavior, trends, computers, networking, advertising, sales techniques, and more. Take advantage of them. Check out www.sba.org or www.asbdc.org
2. Use "Guerilla Marketing" techniques. There are several books out there that talk about low cost and free ways to advertise and get customers in and buying. Cross promotion with other similar but non competing businesses is just one, but it cuts your costs in half, and reaches more than double the paying customer base.
3. If you have a younger buyer, you simply cannot neglect social media networking and things like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the like. You should have a website, and reach out to these customers often. Warning though...be sure to track the amount of time spent on these things, and measure effectiveness. It can be an addiction, and not a profitable way to spend a day. Instead, have a couple of distinct goals....five new friends a day, two Twitters, etc. Then get back to the main business at hand.
4. Always remember your existing customers as your best source of new business. Treat them awesome, offer specials just to them, and give extra special service. We had a ladies clothing store for over 25 years, and it was the little things, like extra nice wrapping paper and bows for free, exclusive sales and offers, fashion shows, etc, and we reached out to them with direct mail at least once a month. When something I knew they would like came in, I would give them a call. Now, with digital cameras and email, I would go one further, do a little display of the outfit, photograph it, and send in an email with a total price including free shipping if they didn't have to stop in the store.
5. Keep your customers happy. Do surveys after a large purchase, and ask if there is anything that could have improved the transaction. Send Thank You notes, handwritten, from the salesperson. Make sure every employee has the ability to make a customer's transaction as smooth and troublefree as possible.
6. Never stop teaching employees. Motivate. REWARD. Have regular meetings that are positive, upbeat, and listen to employees ideas. Cross train the staff to do just about any job in the store or business if needed. Give performance based rewards to top performers, and to all employees in the form of profit sharing if you reach your goals. Treat your people right, and they will be loyal, and stay with you. This eliminates turnover, a very expensive cost, and creates better customer service.
7. Give all employees the tools they need to do their job well. Business cards, cellphones if they are on the road, reimburse auto expenses quickly, and put together a binder for each person to track their own sales, goals, professional development, customer notes,etc.
8. Keep your store clean, your merchandise fresh, and everything neat and tidy. Change displays and signage regularly. Keep the windows washed, the floors clean, and show a sense of pride and positivity to all who enter.
9. Smile, and hire people who smile. Say "Thank You". Hire people who really love the product you sell, more than someone who just has a good education. The former will have more passion, and be a cheerleader for you every day.
10. Make sure you are supplying what customers want or need. You may have to change your product mix to go with the current trends, the economic climate, or add different price points. That being said, a small store does not have to have as low a price as a WalMart, because people are coming to you for service, reliablity, and all the reasons listed above. If possible, do not carry things that are available at mass merchandisers in your area. Be unique, fill a need or want, and treat everyone with gratitude and respect.
Grew up in a small store, and own my own business now as a business consultant.