Beginner’s Guide to Local Business Marketing
For many small businesses, targeting potential customers in your immediate geographic area is crucial. While certain types of businesses can work virtually with customers almost anywhere, it’s unlikely that someone thousands of miles away is going to make a special trip to your children's clothes shop or hire you to clean their gutters.
If your business relies on attracting a steady stream of local customers, then consider these marketing resources that can help you reach people nearby.
Chamber of Commerce
Many businesses join their local Chamber of Commerce so they can rub elbows with other businesses in the area. Keep in mind that Chamber meetings are likely to attract other business owners, so unless you’re in the business-to-business space, these are likely not your end customers.
Still, getting involved in your Chamber can be helpful for building strategic partnerships and relationships. If you’re a party planner, you might partner with a cupcake baker and a photographer to provide each other with referrals. Or if you run an interior decorating company, you might find it useful to connect with an estate agent or the owner of a furniture store.
Another reason to get involved with your Chamber of Commerce is that members get access to additional business services. Whether you want to learn more about the business landscape or receive special discounts from insurance partners, it can be found through their website.
Events can be an effective way to bring exposure and foot traffic to your business. There are two ways you can go about them:
- Create and host your own event, specifically around your business.
- Participate in an established event to leverage a built-in audience
Hosting a grand opening in the first few weeks or months of business operation is a perfect way to introduce your company to the community and increase your visibility in the area. Down the line, you can also host other events on important occasions such as your company anniversary or around themes like customer appreciation. Don’t forget to advertise your events for the greatest attendance. You can alert your local newspaper or ask that your event be promoted in the upcoming events section of your town website.
Many cities and towns also host other annual events that might make sense for your business. Find out from the town hall or Chamber of Commerce about holiday events or craft fairs, for instance. You may be able to serve as a sponsor or register for a stand to showcase your products or services. In addition to the onsite exposure, many of these local events also include vendors in their advertising or on their dedicated website. Having your business name, address and phone number listed on a high-quality, locally relevant site will increase trust by association. Similarly, if local trade shows make sense for your audience, look into the registration fees to see if you can showcase your business with a dedicated stand.
You can also increase traffic and goodwill through fundraising. Find a cause that you are personally passionate about or that aligns well with your business values, and partner with a charitable organisation. You can donate a portion of sales on the day of the fundraiser, or you can participate in existing fundraising efforts such as a gala, charitable walk or 5K race by sponsoring the event or donating a raffle item.
With more than one billion users and the ability to leverage group pages that directly reach your target audience, Facebook is one social media platform you should definitely include in your business’ marketing efforts. Here are some ways you can leverage Facebook:
- Start by following other businesses to understand their customer bases and posting strategy.
- Be sure to join any town-specific Facebook groups and ask for permission from the site administrator to post and then introduce yourself and your business.
- Facebook ads can be a powerful way to build a business page’s Facebook following so that you’ll have a place to promote events, special promotions or new products.
When potential customers search for your business online, positive reviews encourage them to buy, while negative (or absence of) reviews encourage them to look elsewhere.
There are a few online review sites that every local business should be aware of:
- Google Places and Google+
First, check to see if your business is listed and if the information is correct. Google My Business is a powerful tool, but you should also claim and optimise your profile on all relevant review sites such as Yelp or Houzz. Search engines can penalise businesses with inconsistent information (different hours, addresses or phone numbers on different websites), so make sure that the information within those profiles is as consistent as possible.
Then, find out what customers are saying about your business and take the feedback seriously. Reviews may validate what you already knew about your business or bring some areas for improvement to light. And if you’re finding a lack of positive or any reviews at all, don’t be afraid to actively solicit. As you encounter happy customers, politely ask them to post a review about your business. Start with Google and expand into other sites from there.
Tap into the local resources at your disposal to capitalise on marketing prospects in your area. You may find that a group of local wellness professionals publishes a directory of service providers or that your city promotes small businesses on its website. This list is just a start, so be sure to search for other marketing opportunities that might be specific to your region or industry. Getting involved in your local community is a great way to promote yourself and discover other ways for your marketing efforts to materialise.
About the Author
Susan Johnston Taylor writes about business and personal finance for The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Learnvest, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. You can find her on Twitter @UrbanMuseWriter.
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