Every small business dreams of the day when it becomes a regional or even global money-making machine. But before small business owners even start thinking about getting their foots into those doors, they need to find success in their own backyards. That’s why finding success locally is an absolute prerequisite for becoming a profitable and sustainable small business.
Regardless of the fact that e-commerce has enabled businesses to go global from the get-go, local marketing efforts should still be every budding small business’ primary focus. The Internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, your local business now has to not only compete with other local businesses, but companies that may be able to offer the same products or services from afar.
But on the other hand, thanks to the Internet, local businesses have the tools that they need to compete with out-of-town big businesses without necessarily needing to have the same type of budget at their disposals.
That’s why it’s important to take every advantage that modern technology gives you in order to get a leg up on the competition locally. According to a survey by Ask Your Target Market, 57 percent of consumers say that they would go out of their way to support a small business instead of a larger chain store. So the consumer base is there, which means that it’s up to you to get on their collective radar.
The best way to do that is to focus on your local marketing efforts above all else. Marketing your business successfully on a local level is both easier and harder than ever. While you might have more tools than ever before to get your name out, so does your competition.
It’s your responsibility to use every marketing tool you have to get to the top. That’s why the number one way to achieve local business success is to leave no stone unturned and no opportunity for local marketing unaccounted for.
Not sure where to start? The Internet, obviously.
Make Your Online Presence Known
Getting your entire online presence up to snuff is the best place to start for several reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t take much of a budget to achieve. Sure, you’ll probably have to hire someone to build a functional and well-designed website for you, but most of the other steps you need to take to achieve a strong presence online won’t cost you anything.
There is no point in launching a local marketing campaign before you’re absolute sure that you’ve established a presence online. You want to be sure that people will be able to find you easily before you start spending money to spread the word about your business.
Not sure what boxes you need to check to solidify your online presence? Here’s where to start.
In this day and age, having a great website is absolutely vital for your small business. If you don’t have the budget, you can always call in favors to friends who are web designers and developers to get the job done, but if you do have some room in your budget, be sure to hire experienced people to get the job done.
The fact that just about everyone these days uses the Internet as their main channel for finding information on just about anything that interests them means that having a website is just as important for local businesses as it is for multinational corporations.
Even if most of your customers are going to be local, there’s still a very strong chance that they are going to find out about you on the Internet. And even if they do find out about you through another channel, such as local advertising or word-of-mouth, they are still going to probably use the Internet to try and learn more about your business.
That’s why you need to have a quality website up and running that’s going to make it easy for people to find you via search engine and then easily learn about your services, how to get in contact with you and where to find you.
And while having a functioning and well-organized website is certainly a basic necessity, you should also plan on expanding it and developing it further as time goes by. For example, adding a blog to your small business website can not only help with your SEO strategy, it also provides an opportunity for you to provide valuable information to customers and to establish yourself as an expert in your line of work.
One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to online marketing is that Google+ is worthless and no one uses it as a social media network. But as far as local business are concerned, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Setting up a Google+ business page is going to provide a cornerstone from which you can start building your online presence. The reason for this is simple: Google is the world’s most popular search engine, and it’s not even close.
Google+ is intrinsically linked to the Google search engine and Google Maps through the Google My Business portal. Therefore, once your business is on GMB, it automatically appears on Google+, Google Maps and in the search engine. As soon as you verify and claim your business listing on GMB, a Google+ page is created for your business. Makes sense?
So what’s the benefit? Simply, if someone searches for a business locally (for example, New York City bagel shop) your business stands a better chance of being listed at the top of the search results if you have a Google-verified bagel shop in the New York City area. The businesses that are listed are ranked according to the distance from the searcher’s location and the number of reviews that each business has on its Google+ page.
So even though you are unlikely to see much action on your Google+ account, it’s still a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to your online presence. That’s why it can never hurt to link to your business’ Google+ page wherever possible to encourage reviews. And if you are already sharing content on other social media sites, you should be including those posts on your Google+ page as well.
Bottom line: as long as Google+ is tied to the search engine and Google Maps, you should be maintaining your presence there.
Other Search Engines and Directories
Google is without a doubt the king of search engines, but it’s not the only search engine out there. Namely, Bing and Yahoo! have local search platforms that you should be taking advantage of as well.
There are other directories where you can get your business listed as well; Web Local, Yellowpages.com, Merchant Circle, Local.com, Bizjournals.com and Insider Pages, among others. While you rarely hear people talking about these directories, they are far from barren wastelands of inactivity. Some of these web directories get millions of visitors each month.
And as a cherry on top, being present on as many of these directories as possible can also work towards improving the way your business ranks on Google locally.
Facebook is the most popular social network still and if you don’t have a business page on Facebook, you practically don’t exist these days. What’s great about Facebook is that it is very multi-dimensional.
Not only is it a place to share information about your business with potential customers and updates with current customers, but it’s also a very important venue for gathering reviews. Facebook has a review system installed where anyone can give ratings and leave comments about businesses for everyone to see.
Naturally, it’s also a great place to communicate with customers and answer their questions. Creating a Facebook page for your business isn’t enough, you need to monitor it regularly and respond in a timely manner to any and all inquiries that may be coming your way from clients.
While Twitter is not as multifaceted as Facebook, it’s might actually be an even better place to establish a positive rapport not only with customers, but with local businesses and even influencers and experts from your business niche both locally and globally.
Instagram is definitely another popular social network that is worth investigating, especially if you’re a restaurant or any other business in which the visual aspect of your offer is equally important as any other aspect.
Linkedin is another social network you should be looking into, especially if you’re interested in networking within your industry and using the Internet to find the right candidates when looking for new employees.
Books can be written about why social media is so important for small businesses today and how you can use social networks to your advantage. Today, social media acts as one of the most important customer-facing facets of your business, enabling you to not only advertise and market your products and services, but also engage your audience, increase your reach, establish better relationships, offer immediate and personal customer support and much more.
Get Reviewed Wherever You Can
We’ve already talked about online reviews, since they are an integral part of why establishing a quality presence on Google+ and Facebook is important. However, there is a plethora of other services and websites that you can use to get reviews for your business.
Having visible reviews of your business all over the Internet not only makes it easier for potential customers to find you and see what you’re all about, it also provides a perfect way for you to find out what your current customers want from your business – what they love about you and what they would like to see you change about the way you run your business.
Once you have covered the basics and have put together a Google+ and Facebook page for receiving reviews, here are some other popular websites and services that you could potentially turn your attention to in order to keep stacking reviews and getting your business onto the radar of as many potential customers as possible.
One of the most popular free review sites, Yelp works a lot like Facebook and Google do; any business can set up their own profile on Yelp for free and users can rate businesses on a five-star scale and also leave comments.
Another cool thing about Yelp is that you can respond to reviewers as a business owner. If you want to respond to bad reviews, no matter how vitriolic they are, you are better off taking the high road and being as polite as possible. The reason for this is that reviewers on Yelp are a tight-knit group that are very dedicated to the website and will jump on businesses that don’t show respect to their customers who are dissatisfied.
The good thing is that all of best reviews are at the top of the review feed no matter what, so as long as you have a lot of positive reviews coming in, there’s a good chance that people aren’t going to be trying to dig deep to find negative ones.
This is a paid review site, but the membership fee is worth it for people who like to read and leave high quality and very detailed reviews. Free websites like Yelp feature tons of rants, foul language and short reviews that don’t add much value. But on Angie’s List, most of the reviews tend to be very well thought out and balanced, even if they are negative.
If you’re a business, you can set up your Angie’s List page for free and then use social media to encourage your clients who subscribe to the service to leave reviews of your business.
If you’re in the hospitality business, this is probably going to be your most important review site. TripAdvisor is a very popular website for travelers who like to get an idea of the best hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and even airlines in any given destination that they might be visiting.
It’s the largest and most popular travel-related website in the world, so investing time in promoting your page at TripAdvisor is well worth the effort. According to the website, review quality, quantity and recency are the three things that your local ranking depends on most.
Foursquare started off as a “check-in” app that would allow users to share their locations with their friends, but that idea ended up falling through when Facebook added the same feature. Foursquare then split the app up into two – one called Swarm, which is still used for check-ins, and Foursquare ended up becoming a review app similar to Yelp.
It might not be the most popular, but there are still millions of people who are using Foursquare on mobile devices to check into businesses, leave reviews and discover new businesses. Foursquare allows business owners to create free pages, promote their businesses and interact with customers.
Being that it’s primarily a mobile application, Foursquare is used most commonly by people who are visiting towns and cities they are unfamiliar with in order to find restaurants, clubs, bars, hotels, or any other types of businesses that they are looking to visit locally.
Better Business Bureau
This review option might not be as “social” as the rest, but it’s still worth investigating. The BBB is a nonprofit that performs evaluations of business practices, particularly how businesses do and should treat their customers and the public in general.
At the BBB site, you don’t get recommendations for products or services, what you get is a detailed and subjective review of businesses according to the organization’s standards.
You’ll be able to see a list of complaints customers have made about the business and whether or not they were properly resolved, along with an A – F rating for each business.
Practice Local Networking
Not all of your local marketing can be done on your computer. You’re going to have to get out there and mingle with the people, face to face. Local marketing is all about getting to know your community and your community getting to know you.
That means that you’re going to have to put some effort into networking throughout your community and in a variety of ways if you’re interested in putting together a serious local marketing strategy.
For one, your business’ profile and visibility is going to receive a boost right away; both on and offline. Ever business that joins gets its own link, which helps with improving your online presence and makes it easier for people to find you. The chamber of commerce also looks after its members and offers all new comers some great tips about the local market and how to make the most of it.
You also get access to the local mailing list, which makes it really easy to start the process of business-to-business marketing (the benefits of which we’ll discuss later). And when it comes to referring businesses to others, the chamber of commerce always makes sure that member businesses are getting referrals before non-members.
Joining your local chamber of commerce also makes it easier for you to get involved in local business events that could help you market your services to the community. Trade shows, for example, are the types of local events that you should be aware and be taking advantage of when they arise.
According to a report from the Trade Show News Network, four out of give people attending any given show are potential customers and 99 percent of marketers who were surveyed said that trade shows offer a unique value and experience that can’t be found through any other marketing mediums.
Trades shows are fantastic because your target audience is right in front of you. If your are exhibiting locally, you’re going to be able to network with local businesses within your industry and also present your brand and services to people who not only live and work locally, but also have a special interest in your industry.
Trade shows almost never feature visitors who are coming to the shows because they have nothing better to do. Just about everyone you encounter at a trade show has a real and genuine interest in what you do.
That’s what makes it the perfect venue for not only networking with other businesses and attracting new clients, but for solidifying your brand and meeting people face to face in order to bring yourself and your company closer to the public – especially on a local level.
Nurture Local Loyalty
While it never hurts to attract visitors and tourists to your place of business, your local customers are always going to be your bread and butter. That’s why treating them well is imperative.
You need to start thinking about good customer loyalty programs that you will be able to implement in order to retain your local faithful. Local customers are not only important because they have the potential of becoming regulars. They are also important because they become your best marketers as well. People love to recommend their favorite businesses to others and word of mouth is still one of the absolute best forms of marketing.
Research has shown that consumers are more ready to take the word of their family and friends than anyone else when it comes to recommendations. Research conducted by Neilsen shows that 84 percent of consumers trust recommendations most when coming from family, colleagues, and friends.
That’s why motivating your most frequent and loyal customers is the best way to get the word out about your business locally. Putting together some type of loyalty program that rewards them for being frequent customers is a good start when it comes to nurturing those relationships.
Loyalty cards and coupons always work. Why? Because everyone loves being treated as if they are special. Also, everyone loves discounts and free stuff, right? The options for putting together quality loyalty programs are only limited by your creativity these days. The only option that is unacceptable is avoiding providing your local supporters something to keep them coming back and recommending you to their friends and family.
And while discounts and freebies are always appreciated, nothing works better than establishing strong personal relationships with locals. Make sure that everyone in your business knows them by name and gives them some added attention whenever they make a visit to your business.
The better job you do of nurturing relationships with your most loyal customers, the more likely they will be to keep doing business with you and keep recommending your business to all their friends and acquaintances.
Consider Paid Local Advertising
Once you’ve taken all the free paths to improving your local marketing strategy, it’s time to start considering where to allocate some money to get the word out about your businesses. Naturally, the best thing to do is to start locally.
Here are some tried and true avenues that should be able to help your local marketing efforts without having to pour tons of cash into them.
Newspapers and Radio – Do a bit of research first to see which local newspapers and radio stations are most popular for your business’ demographic and then buy some ad space. It’s usually pretty easy to develop good relationships with local newspaper and radio people, so you should be able to get discounts for advertising in the long run. Also, it’s never a bad idea to engage local reporters and give them tips on local stories or invite them to check out your business. It’s all about networking and creating meaningful relationships locally, even when you’re paying for advertising.
Billboards – While getting billboard space is a bit pricey, no doubt, it’s worth it if commuters are your main demographic. Putting your billboard up in the right place for the right people to see on an everyday basis can really bring a serious spike to your local business.
Direct Mail – Put together some nifty looking postcards or pamphlets and send them out to a bunch of addresses locally. One of the best ways to get people to check out your business instead of just chucking your ad in the garbage is by including a coupon. If you’re going to spend the time and money to send out these direct mail offers, make sure you make the coupon enticing and the content exciting and interesting enough to act upon.
Team Up with Other Local Businesses
As we mentioned earlier, the best thing you can do when it comes to local marketing is to make friends with locals. Not only should you get friendly with local customers, but it’s also a great idea to create relationships with other business people, whether they are from your industry or not.
Cross-promotions are always a good idea, especially in local marketing. Look for other local business that offer products or services that are complementary to your business’ and try to strike up a cross-promotional deal with them.
Here’s an example: Say you’re running a local billiards place that wants to encourage people to come in over the weekend by presenting a BYOB offer. It’s a perfect way to get people to choose your pool hall over the local bar, right?
Why not make the deal even sweeter by getting another local business involved? For example, you can join forces with a local liquor store and give your customers an added five percent off their bill if they show a receipt to prove that they bought the beer they are drinking in your establishment at your partner liquor. This will then lead to the liquor store promoting your pool hall and directing people from their business to yours. You, the liquor store and the people who are going out to drink some beers, play some pool and save some money – everyone is happy.
Local cross-promotion is yet another mode of marketing and advertising in which you are only limited by your creativity and your ability to form meaningful business relationships within your community.
Get Involved in the Community
What do local consumers appreciate even more than freebies and discounts? Seeing that a local business truly cares about its community and gives back to the community whenever it can. Small businesses have always been very important parts of of the local community. Local businesses provide the infrastructure – the backbone – of every local community. They offer jobs to the neighborhood along with all of the necessary goods and services that a community needs to prosper.
According to another Nielsen report, a majority of consumers want to spend their money with businesses who show social responsibility. That’s why becoming a positive social force in your local community is a hugely effective way to market your business to your community and gain tons of positive PR from your most important consumer base.
Giving back to the community goes a long way when trying to shape the image of your business into a positive one. Sponorships are great if you might not have the money right now to actually donate to a cause. By being a sponsor, you are offering support to an event, activity or organization in the way you see fit. It’s a great way to promote your business and while the feeling of doing something positive is the biggest benefit, it’s also free advertising for your business, which is a great incentive.
For example, if you are a restaurant, you could offer your establishment as a place where a fundraiser or charity event can be held free of charge. It won’t cost your business a lot of money, but it will do wonders for your image.
Supporting a good cause is a great way to get into the news as well and get some free advertising for yourself. Everyone loves to cover a good, heart-warming story – especially local reporters. By dedicating your time – or anything else your business is able to provide – to a good cause, you’re crafting a positive image of your business that your local consumers and fellow businesses are definitely going to notice.
If your business is making a healthy profit already, then donating to a local charity is another exceptional way to promote your business as a socially aware and positive force in your community.
Find the charity that’s right for you and donate to them. Giving money is not the only way you can donate to a charity. You can donate your services or goods to a charity that could use whatever it is that your business sells. You can also donate your time and the time of your employees by volunteering at your local charity of choice.
Giving back to the community is the least you can do, especially if that community has shown its support to you over the years by spending its hard-earned money at your place of business. The fact that showing your community you care about it can win you some serious brownie points locally is just the cherry on top.