One tremendous advantage small, local businesses have over chains and ecommerce sites is their distinctive individuality. There is nothing nameless or faceless about your local business – at least as long as you’re marketing smartly within your community.
Locally-focused businesses have more options than ever to reach out to people in friendly, personal ways using online, traditional and in-person promotional techniques. Which techniques work best depends to some extent on your business type and clientele, but the bottom line is that you’re marketing to your neighbors.
1. You have to spend something.
You must set some amount of money aside to promote your business. A passive presence that relies on walk-bys, drive-bys and random word of mouth will not grow your business. It’s simply not enough. That said, money is tight for the majority of small business owners, so whatever you set aside for marketing has to generate real results and wow-factor ROI. Read on for some specific ideas.
2. Free is the most affordable price.
- It’s critical for local businesses to be easily found online. That means you need to check out every pertinent online directory to be sure your business is listed and that the information is absolutely accurate.
- Claim/verify your listings on Google My Business, Yahoo! and Bing, and flesh out your profiles with plenty of useful information and photos.
The details must be 100% identical from one directory to the next, otherwise search engines are likely to think the listings are for multiple businesses, decimating your ability to display well in search results. We’re talking even seemingly silly details such as using “St.” in one listing and “Street” in another.
3. Tempt first-timers with a special offer.
Giving people an incentive to try out your business is often the little extra that pushes them to take action. One of the most effective ways to attract new business through special offers is using direct mail postcards. They’re affordable, targetable and a long-time favorite with local business owners who consider postcards their “secret weapon” for marketing.
4. Focus on existing customers.
It is so easy to think of “marketing” solely as a process for generating new business. But of course that’s only the beginning. You know that it’s much less expensive to keep customers than find new ones, so successful, cost-effective marketing should emphasize strengthening relationships with current patients or shoppers or diners or clients.
- If you don’t already have a formal rewards program in place, this should be a top priority. There’s no easier way to say “thanks,” and a well-designed program encourages additional sales.
- Create campaigns aimed at up-selling and cross-selling customers, encouraging them to buy more, or more often (or both!).
5. Accentuate the visual with photos.
- Google My Business now allows you to use photos in multiple ways to enhance your business online.
- Social media postings that include photos or a video link are shared far more often.
6. Accentuate the visual with video.
Produce your own videos educating customers about a new product or demonstrating how to do something (assemble, fix, trouble-shoot, accessorize). Post them on YouTube, link to them from your blog or show them on POP displays within your store or restaurant. Videos should be short to retain the viewer’s attention, so if you have a lot of information to impart, create a series of “chapter length” videos instead. This also gives you more content to share.
7. Share your wisdom.
You won’t be seen as a knowledgeable resource unless people can see what you know.
- Start a blog and write articles that explore industry trends or local issues or angles to larger issues that affect your business. Provide helpful information that supports customer buying decisions – how to choose the right service or service provider, etc.
- Look for opportunities to speak at local Rotary, chamber of commerce or other business gatherings. If you think people aren’t interested in knowing more about what you do or how you do it, you’re very wrong. And you never know where you’ll make another valuable connection through third-part referrals.
8. Be real.
Personal interactions help people put a face to your business, and that makes it easier for them to visualize doing business with you. Be likeable and approachable, and they’ll be even more motivated to do business with you. This goes for your employees, too.
9. Be social.
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and even LinkedIn are essential tools to help local businesses connect, share and engage with customers and colleagues. You can’t do justice to all the platforms out there, because you have to actively participate, so pick wisely.
10. Enlist your “nation” to market your business.
Those who love you love to tell others, so why not encourage them?
- Solicit referrals and reward frequent contributors through your customer loyalty program.
- Encourage customers to review you online, and liberally sprinkle quotes from great reviews wherever prospects may see them – your website, your reception area or lobby, your email signature, your direct mail postcards or print ads, etc. Use a quote as a “hook” for a blog article that talks about the importance of customer service.
- Promote social media sharing with timely, interesting posts.
- Create a truly cool T-shirt (hey, there’s a great contest idea!), then sell it at a reasonable price in your store, dental office, restaurant or salon.
Whatever you do or sell, customers today expect a great overall experience when they interact with businesses. And they’re looking for reasons to shop locally. Neighborly marketing is especially well-received by both prospective and existing customers, and it can easily fit any budget, no matter how petite.