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 kids’ clothing boutique 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, Jim Kukral, author of What Is Internet Marketing? – Learn from The Web’s Top Entrepreneurs & Small Business Owners, says 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 maker and a photographer to provide each other with referrals. Or if you run an interior decorating company, you might find it useful to cozy up to a real estate agent or the owner of a furniture store.

Another reason to get involved with your Chamber of Commerce: Phil Singleton, a web designer and co-author with John Jantsch of SEO for Growth, says members have the chance to get free online promotion. “Most people don’t realize that their local Chamber of Commerce would publish news on their behalf for free,” he says. “All you’ve got to do is ask and you’ll get a nice news release that includes a powerful link, because it’s coming from a website of authority and trust.”

Local associations

If there’s a local association in your business niche, joining could help you amplify your marketing efforts. Getting involved in a local industry association paid off for Ellen Bagley, the owner of Autumn Hills Campground in Weare, New Hampshire. “The New Hampshire Campground Association promotes local campgrounds on their website as well as in a printed directory, and they also actively advertise which increases the referral traffic to our website,” she says.

While it would be too expensive for an individual business like Autumn Hills to attend trade shows, NHCA attends trade shows and promotes area campgrounds on their behalf. Another key benefit: sharing best practices with others in the same industry, which Bagley says was especially important during Autumn Hills’ first few years in business.

Canvassing

Many businesses overlook the simple method of canvassing; perhaps because of the misconception that canvassing is door-to-door solicitation. Unlike solicitation, which is more directly tied to active selling, canvassing is a means to provide information about a product or service.

Think about which other local businesses cater to similar customers or complement your offerings, and ask to leave a stack of brochures with them. For instance, if you’re a local health food store or restaurant, your local yoga studio or gym might let you share brochures or post a flyer on their bulletin board so you can capitalize on their health-conscious clientele. Autumn Hills has benefited from leaving brochures with local restaurants and RV sales businesses.

Local Events

Events can be an effective way to bring exposure and foot traffic to your business. There are two ways you can go about them:

  1. Create and host your own event, specifically around your business.
  2. 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 booth 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 booth.

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 organization. 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.

Social Media

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.

“The ability to laser-target Facebook ads down to zip code and miles within a zip code is one of the best ways to market your business,” Kukral says. Kukral discusses a new restaurant that ran Facebook ads specifically targeted to locals. “We were able to grow the Facebook page from zero likes to 3,000 likes, all targeted to customers that lived within five miles of the location,” he says. “Running specifically targeted Facebook ads is an extremely effective way to reach people within your region.”

Review Websites

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+
  • Yelp
  • Yahoo Local Listings
  • Facebook
  • Angie’s List

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 optimize your profile on all relevant review sites such as Yelp or Houzz. Search engines can penalize 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 capitalize 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 materialize.

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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