Your small business made it past year one – Now what? Part 2: Establishing your local/regional presence
Small business owners that have made it past year one are probably aware of the five Ps of marketing: product, place, promotion, price and profit. We can assume that the product or service has some measure of success since the business is still standing, and that you have a location, be it a virtual or physical domain, from which you makes sales. By now, hopefully the business also has a firm pricing model in place that makes sense with the local market.
Promotion and profit, however, may not have landed yet. Sometimes a local or regional population will automatically take to a recently established business like bees to honey. But more often than not, establishing a strong enough presence that a business sells itself takes time. More importantly, it demands a concerted effort toward becoming more deeply embedded in the culture of the community or region. Taking ads in the local paper, building a website and getting a company Facebook page are good places to start, but they’re not nearly enough.
Now that you’ve announced your presence, it’s time to establish it.
Build a strong online identity
Even a company with no stakes beyond its regional market needs a strong web presence to succeed. This is because it needs to be wherever its potential customers are, and chances are, that’s on the internet. This goes beyond having a well-designed website that gets the business’s mission across clearly, and makes it easy for customers to get in touch with the company for consultations, service requests, purchases, etc. It calls for targeted outreach to local web users in the following ways:
Social media engagement: According to Business2Community contributor Patrick Sitkins, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other forms of social media can serve as platforms for lead generation, advertising, customer feedback and better search-engine ranking at no expense to a small business. The more online social media platforms a business is actively maintaining, the better. For the sake of working with available time and resources, it may be best to pick the channels that your target demographic is most likely favor. A flower shop, for instance, would do well to post photos of its arrangements on Instagram. A local gym on the other hand, might be better off posting daily or weekly fitness tips on its Twitter page. Use the social media outlet that plays to your business’s strengths.
Search engine optimization: Small businesses can compete with big chains and corporations in regional markets by localizing web content, according to Entrepreneur contributor Jayson Demers. A local landscaper, for example, might create a weekly blog that posts its “Top 5 favorite gardens of the week,” featuring profiles of five local gardens that were particularly memorable to them. The company could even make a contest of it, encouraging residents to send in their garden photos. The goal here is to generate web traffic and connect with your prospective customers. It’s a chance to get creative, and maybe even have some fun in the process.
Partner with the community
One of the best ways for a business to engrain itself in the fabric of a community is to become a part of it. This means participating in local fundraisers, getting involved in charity events, sponsoring local sports teams and expressing support for the issues that matter to the customer base on social media.
Let’s consider the example of a local bike shop that’s trying to compete with a big-name outdoor sporting chain. From a marketing standpoint, it would make sense for the business owners to position themselves as being able to offer ongoing maintenance for the bikes that they sell. They could then prove it by hosting free monthly bike workshops that give customers a chance to work on their own bikes in the shop. This does three things: First, it positions the business as the bike experts in town; second, it gets customers in the store; and third, it connects with the people in a tangible, grass-roots manner by giving something back to the community.
Some markets change more quickly than others, but regardless of the pace of change, part of maintaining relevance in a local or regional business arena is to adapt. This mindset is implicit in some of the tips mentioned above, such as using modern media like Instagram and Twitter to have a conversation with customers.
Of course, making these changes costs money, and sometimes, the amount is more than you’re willing or able to part with. At the same time, being stagnant isn’t an option. Continued success demands evolution, and evolution demands business capital.
Taking out a small business loan for the right reasons will always lead to return on investment, especially when the motive is to establish your small business’s presence in a local or regional market.