When it comes to marketing a local business, most small enterprises don’t have a very large budget. While a comprehensive marketing plan is key to success or failure, sadly there are often few resources available, either in time or money or both.
Fortunately, time and money are somewhat interchangeable when it comes to marketing. Business owners can tailor their marketing plan to rely more heavily on whichever resource they have in greater abundance, by hiring marketing professionals or spending more time on social media, blogs and networking. However you weigh them in importance to your particular strategy, here are some absolute must-haves for your local business marketing plan.
1. Company Website
While it’s possible to get by without one, there’s really no excuse anymore to skip this process. With today’s technology, it’s cheaper and easier than ever to build a basic website, whether you do it yourself or pay someone. Think of your website as your virtual lobby. It’s an online representation of your business, where your customers will end up after following your ad, business listing, social media post or other virtual breadcrumbs you toss.
Your website doesn’t need to be fancy, with a lot of whiz-bang animated gadgets. In fact, animation and music can make the page load slower — keep in mind that not everyone has access to high-speed internet. Simplicity and ease of navigation is key. Unless you’re selling online, your website doesn’t need to feature everything in your store. Use it to give customers a sample of what they will find when they visit your establishment. Be sure it’s optimized for phones and tablets, and that your contact information is prominently featured.
2. Business Listings
Even if you’re an established business, you still need to claim your listings in all the popular sites, including Yelp, Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing Local and all the various mapping applications people are using to find local businesses. Make sure the information is correct and complete, your hours are listed, and upload a photo of your business if possible, to make it more easily recognizable.
3. Email and/or SMS Text Marketing
By collecting your customers’ email addresses and/or phone numbers, you can cement the relationship with follow-up emails or texts, thanking them for their purchase and asking for feedback on their experience. You can also notify them of upcoming sales and events, and even offer last-minute specials that only they will be privy to. By making your customers feel as though they’re getting exclusive access to discounts and deals, you’ll foster customer loyalty and develop a strong following of repeat customers. Make sure your emails and texts are worth reading and don’t ever spam your customers.
4. Direct Mail
Direct mail is still a very effective marketing tool if done properly. Emails and text messages are read only once, but a postcard is often saved in a purse or a briefcase, or even on a refrigerator, especially when it’s a coupon for a discount or a freebie, an invitation to an event or an announcement of a grand opening with a map to your location. Direct mail can be geo-targeted to surrounding neighborhoods, and also mailed to your existing customer list.
5. Social Media Pages
A large segment of the population communicates regularly on social media sites, and relies upon recommendations of friends and relatives to inform product purchases. Social media has become a virtual “garden fence” when it comes to word-of-mouth advertising, and those who ignore this form of marketing do so at their peril. A quick survey of your existing customers is all you need to determine which media pages are favored by your target demographic, although Facebook and Twitter are a good place to start. Create and maintain pages for your business, invite customers to visit, and post useful, informative or entertaining bits of information to keep your followers interested.
As a local business you know that your customers are all largely from one community — your community. By participating in your local chamber of commerce, rotary club and other community events, you’ll have an opportunity to network with the local movers and shakers of the area. These relationships can be invaluable, as they may lead to co-sponsored charity events, sidewalk sales, joint promotions or even corporate patronage of your business.
Adding a blog to your website keeps it fresh and relevant — depending on how often you blog, which will give it a higher standing in search engine results. It also helps attract more customers to your website when they can find helpful information or advice, fresh ideas, recipes, directions, etc. Writing a blog presents you as a subject matter expert, so that customers will have more faith in your products and services. You don’t have to write all of the blogs yourself; in fact, it might be more interesting if you recruit knowledgeable customers to participate. Post guest blogs on similar sites and invite them to post on yours. All of this interaction will only help your search rankings, while bringing in customers who are interested in your particular niche of the market.
Once again, time and money are interchangeable when it comes to marketing. You can spend hours and hours developing a following on social media, or hire a professional to do it for you (or you may have an employee who’s proficient in that area). You can choose to rely more heavily on direct mail marketing or manage a busy SMS marketing program yourself. It all depends on your available resources and your customer demographic. An effective marketing plan, however, should utilize all of these tools to some extent.