Two of the biggest challenges facing every small business are: how to get customers and, once you have them, how to make sure they keep coming back. One answer to both of these is to get your customers involved in your business. Make them ambassadors for your firm by teaching them how you do it.

Now, that strategy would seem to go against all commercial logic. Why, as a small business struggling to establish itself, should I teach my customers to do it for themselves, when what I really want is for me to do it for them?

But, in a great example of the “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” spirit, bakers and cakemakers have welcomed the new fashion for homebaking, which has been inspired by TV programmes, and run courses on how to bake your own bread and cakes.

In the same vein, a number of breweries are recognising the surge in micro and home brewing by encouraging drinkers to make their own beer, selling kits to help them do it and even holding competitions to judge the best homebrewed pints.

These artisans are enthusiastically getting involved in this new DIY culture because they can see the bigger picture. The trend to make your own bread or beer is driven by dissatisfaction with the quality of the mass-produced goods that are currently available. That’s a great marketing opportunity for small producers that are trying to carve out a niche while competing with the big boys.

The opportunity is that these people already want an alternative. So, by showing people how to do it for themselves, a savvy small business can build a client base that truly understands the value of what it’s offering.

By teaching them what you do, these customers will come to know the quality of ingredients you use, as well as the time and skills required to blend them to make your product. That might inspire them to go off and do it for themselves, but it will also create an appreciation of what you do. So, in future, if they don’t have the time to make it themselves, they’ll be much more likely to come to you for their products than drive to their nearest supermarket.

This strategy is just as relevant to professional consultants. So, for example, a marketing consultancy could run a free course on SEO and social media, an accounting firm could hold a seminar on the latest tax changes or a law practice could give a presentation on the implications of a new piece of legislation.

These provide professionals with the chance to show off their knowledge and expertise, as well as get one step ahead of their rivals by showing their firm is a leader, rather than a follower.

These courses are also a great way of building a personal bond with your customers. Putting a face to your name, getting a chance to look behind the shopfront and to get to know your passion for your business will stick in their minds much longer than any marketing flyer you send out.