Posted: Wed 3rd Jul 2019
For lots of small businesses, the market on their doorstep is the most important. They thrive by building relationships in their local community.
This post looks at opportunities to promote your business in the local community, from Facebook groups to getting your mission heard.
1. The benefits of Facebook groups
There are lots of local Facebook groups that share information around a particular topic or area. For example, there are groups for most of the postcode area in Bristol that are hyper local. Residents will ask for recommendations for everything from plumbers to play dates. Businesses can take advantage of these groups to talk about their services.
Posting helpful responses to people's questions can help get your name out there. It's even better if your customers do this for you, so it might be worth giving them a nudge. Make sure you have a well maintained Facebook page with reviews that people can check to find out more information and get in touch.
"Being part of online groups is really useful," said The Hackney Hive founder and Enterprise Nation member Denise Rawls. "The conversations on Facebook and Instagram are gentler. People will DM me and say 'you seem to know what you're talking about'. Then we arrange a chat. A couple of those may then come through as clients."
Private groups provide a free, easy to use way to build communities. Invite customers and nurture the discussion. It takes time to build momentum, but it can provide a captive channel to share announcements and get feedback on new products and services.
Facebook is putting more emphasis on groups too and posts tend to reach a higher share of members' feeds than posts on your company page.
2. Running workshops to show off your services
Running workshops is a great way to demonstrate the value of the service you offer. Rawls wants to empower businesses in the local community and runs workshops to create a positive impact and help find potential customers.
"I might do a free workshop to show people how to do a grant application or plan grant funding into a finance cycle. Often they come back for private consultations or they will refer me to other people I can help," she said.
Rawls keeps a record of businesses that need support and arranges an event when she has a suitable number. It has been helpful to keep the groups small, with about ten people at each session, and make sure they have an active problem they need solving.
3. Advertising opportunities to market your business
Community hubs, shops, pubs and publications all offer opportunities to advertise or display flyers. It's worth hitting the pavement and trying to find opportunities where your customers are based.
Offering a discount helps make sure you can track the impact of any paid advertising in your local community. Use a different code for each campaign you run and make sure they provide a positive return on investment.
There will be lots of teams in your area - from cyclists to crib players - that are crying out for financial support too, even if it's just paying for their uniform. The support will get your business seen in the right area and buy a lot of good will in the community.
4. A value first approach the networking
It can be difficult to take time out of the day-to-day running of your business to go to networking events, but the connections they create are invaluable. It's worth putting yourself out there as much as possible in the early stages of running a business and the approach can be refined over time.
Hackney Hive's Rawls has reduced the amount of networking she does to one event every couple of months, but she was keen to stress the value of taking part in this kind of activity in the local area.
"It's really, really important. Once I've had a chat and shared what I do, people do come back to me," she said. Rawls added that she's had the most success from paid events, which have a more targeted audience.
5. Tap into existing networks
Look for existing networks in your local area that can help you reach customers. It could be anything from a dog walking group or parent supporting NCT class to a tech hackathon. Ask your customers where they hang out and look for opportunities to get involved.
The people that run these networks will often be looking for expert speakers, be interested in doing some kind of marketing exchange or simply be happy to help. Explain the impact you want to make and think about the value you can offer to convince them to help you.
6. Create a referral programme
Customers are often the best marketing tool. Offering a referral discount should prompt people to share information about your business. It can simply be a discount for them to share with a friend, but it could provide them with money off when it's used too, further incentivising the process. Referral programmes can be given to your staff too.
7. Activate Google my Business
Google my Business allows small business owners to display a listing to people doing local searches for their business. This includes key information like opening hours and address, alongside user submitted photos and reviews. Ask people that love your business to leave reviews.
Other listing sites like Yelp can be useful too. Put yourself in your customers' shoes and think about what sites they might use to search for services like yours.
8. Build a community around your values
Having a strong mission helps get people to support your business. Think about how your values are reflected in the marketing you do in your local area - what can you support or run that increases the impact of your business?
Enterprise Nation member Nutriri helps people "accept, like and love their bodies, quit disordered eating and make nurturing self-care choices". The mission resonates with people and founder Helen James has built an 80-person-strong community that can help deliver workshops.
While people around the world are getting involved, the group's provided a great recruiting ground for the local area. This week James is running workshops at a school. The invite came from a member she bumped into a cafe and the four hosts are all based within a few hours drive.
"It's about gathering opinions and perspectives. We encourage others to come onboard, they might be business or individuals," she said. "That group organically grew, when people find out about us they ask to be involved. They want to replicate what we're doing. They believe in the values and the impact."
James launched the community with a combination of Facebook, email and Zoom. They've recently started using Podia, a platform that's designed for building communities and running online courses.
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