For businesses with a limited marketing budget the key question is always how to spend your money to get the best return. For many small businesses a local strategy can pay the biggest dividends
. This is about starting a conversation with the local business community through regular and varied communications, using a range of effective channels and media.
We spoke to Creative Director Garry West at Imagefix, which leads the way in advocating local web design in Bedford and the wider area:
"Local networks can build your customer base fast, through recommendations and word-of-mouth marketing. It's all about building your local identity and supporting each other as you grow.Local networks are now one of the most powerful marketing tools for any small business and it all
starts by having a great web design as your shop window and effective SEO so you can be found."
Here are our top ten suggestions for ways you can grow your local identity, get your product talked about, and increase your sales:
- Contact your Local Chamber of Commerce - this is how you identify your local business network. The Chamber of Commerce exists to facilitate productive communication between businesses and they provide a great range of resources for doing so. Knowing you're a member will signal to your customers that you're "plumbed in" to the local community.
- Get Yourself a Professional Website - think of it like a shop window; the way your customers will get to know you. It needs to look professional, with high quality copy and imagery and it needs to be easy to find. Make sure that it's SEO enabled, so when customers search locally, your product appears in the first 2 or 3 search engine results.
- Social Media Business Profiles - research which platforms your customers use to find products like yours, and then make it easy them to find you there. Make sure you're linked with local businesses on Facebook, and LinkedIn so their customers get to know you. In all your online interactions the aim is to start a conversation and share news - not sell directly.
- Create Ways For People to Engage - once your social media site is set up, use it to let people know why your product or service is of value to them. People may want to watch a video, attend a webinar, read a weekly blog or listen to a podcast. Give your customers a range of ways to find out more about your expertise, or passion, and get talking to you.
- Work With Networking Groups - there'll be plenty to choose from and you should try them all. Don't think of them as the gateway to instant sales; they're a way of getting to meet other businesses, and develop a relationship - which could lead to sales further down the line. Businesses may not need your services, but they might know someone else who does.
- Create Good-Looking Business Cards - they remain the most efficient way to ensure people you meet in networking groups have your correct details. A good-looking or novel business card is also a conversation starter. Look out for people willing to keep a stash in their reception area, or hold on to a few in case the opportunity arises to recommend you.
- How Do People in Your Area Talk to Each Other? - local community building is big right now, so check out local forums, newspapers and Facebook pages. Think about how your business could add value to the local community - things like sponsoring a local youth football team, or running a marathon. Help local people to get to know your business.
- Use Local Business Listings - it's easy to find these via Google or Bing. Local listings are really worth doing because they increase the chance that locals find you, and they create powerful back-links to your website. You'll find this strengthens your profile with major search engines like Google and improves your visibility in online searches.
- Make Sure all Your Communications Look Professional - so much of local marketing is introducing your brand to other businesses. They won't start recommending you unless they trust that you will add professional value to their customer network. Make sure that your logo, stationery, social media banners, profile pictures are consistently high quality.
- Set Up Google Analytics - marketing locally isn't something you set up and leave. It requires constant attention to what works, what can be improved, and where new areas can be opened up. Google Analytics is a free resource that can help by showing numbers of visitors to your website, and how they found you. So you know what's working, and what isn't.
Local marketing is a lot like thriving local markets. You need to set up your stall (your website) but that's just the start. Customers get to know your product, and if they like it they tell their friends. Over time you get to know the other traders, they evaluate your product and recommend it to their customers. Gradually you become part of a trusted community that grows together.