Many negatives have come in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and society has had to come to terms with new changes to everyday life. However, along with these struggles, there have been a lot of positive outcomes and developments, especially when it comes to small businesses.
As quarantine measures kept many people in their homes and away from work with more time than normal on their hands, they began to realize new opportunities and make many passion projects come to fruition. Many businesses that people only dreamed of, became a reality in response to the pandemic.
On top of this, another positive development was the strengthening of relationships in towns and communities. Where previously many people would have been separated by travel, work, and other aspects of busy lifestyles, a worldwide slowdown meant more people were interacting with their neighbors and engaging with their surroundings than ever before. This has also helped contribute to the growth of small businesses, as these renewed connections helped foster a strong foundation for budding entrepreneurs to grow their small businesses within their communities.
But this opportunity has been much more intuitive for some than others, and there are still many people wondering how they can find their own business success and begin to grow with the help of their community. With how focused business has become on your online presence and reaching your audience via digital advertisements and social media, we can forget how vital it is to grow your local customer base offline.
To help new and even veteran entrepreneurs grow their local customer base, here are a few different things you can consider to expand your reach in your community.
As with any community-based project, you should grab as much information as you can to get a handle on your location and key demographics.
A few essential questions you should look to ask yourself:
● Who is my target audience? – You can think about what local stores and restaurants they frequent, what music they listen to, and other demographic questions
. ● How can I reach them – Think about how you can position your business to spark these customers’ interest.
An especially good way to consider your approach in your community is to look at any competitors. If you can determine where they have succeeded and failed, you can determine what you should avoid, and what you should emphasize more.
Also, while this discussion is about attracting new customers, market research is also useful for serving your existing customers. Getting to know your base better is never a bad idea, so this practice should help strengthen your existing relationships, and find new ones.
If you haven’t heard of the concept before, then you’ll want to make sure that you understand the purpose of a Sales Funnel. A Sales Funnel represents the path that a customer takes from becoming aware of your brand until they purchase a product/service. Building a successful sales funnel means that you effectively support the movement of customers down this path. So, after a customer follows you on Instagram, or visits your store, where do you go from there? How do you encourage them to further interact with your business?
While some customers may make a purchase after their first interaction, many will be less eager, and you’ll want to find ways to keep your business on their minds for consideration. A great way to do this is by obtaining their contact information, in order to send them updates on new products or events that your business will be holding.
Offering an upfront discount is another great way to incentivize people to buy your products early on. A first-time discount is an incredibly popular option because it reduces that barrier to entry for an initial sale/impression and offers some goodwill that they may extend back to you with further purchases later on.
Managing your presence and building your own outlets to reach customers is an important part of being able to grow your business and engage with a wider audience. However, at every possible opportunity, you should look to take advantage of other established brands, so that you can use their visibility for your own business. A great way to do this is by participating in local events.
Associating your business with other local successful businesses and events is a great way to start getting your brand noticed by other audiences. This will also help give you an air of legitimacy, as people will be interacting with your brand through association with a presence they already trust, versus relying on a first impression.
When considering local events to join, look for things like pop-up shop events, where you can host a booth or other area and mingle with a large audience excited to support their local business community. And if you still wanted to make some headway online as well, then interacting with local business Instagram or Facebook pages is another great place to look. You could join live streams with your favorite businesses to discuss upcoming events, joint offers, and other important announcements.
Networking through word of mouth is incredibly strong, and people will put a lot of stock into a personal recommendation. Placing your business next to local competitors may sound counterintuitive, but it offers a great opportunity for exponential growth.
If the idea of joining up with local businesses to do joint live streams and offers sounds intriguing, then maybe establishing more formal (and even informal) partnerships is another good initiative. You don’t necessarily have to see every nearby business as competition, and in fact, many businesses will even compliment your own, and customers will value a more explicit tie between the two of you. This will offer the opportunity for you to connect with new customers that you might not have been able to reach on your own, and even align growth together with your partner business.
For example, let’s say your business is a café. If you’re looking to form mutually beneficial partnerships, then you might want to consider a business that could substitute their generic coffee offers with your brand. A bookstore or bakery would be a great example of a partner business where both of you would benefit. They could feature your products in their shop and vice versa.
Another example could be if you run a boutique. You could offer to sell your jewelry in a clothing store (or even that coffee shop) and again, vice versa. The key here is to find businesses that have products that will not compete with yours, but complement them, and have customers that fit an overlapping audience.
One of the best ways to attract positive attention and engagement to your business is to practice corporate social responsibility and give back to your local community. When community members see the investment and care you provide for the community, they are much more willing to pay that back in kind, so there are a few different ways you should consider doing more with your brand.
Sustainability and caring for the environment are more important now than ever, and emphasizing this in your business operations can go a long way toward leaving a positive impression on your customers. The first thing you can do is let your customers know what steps you’re taking to be sustainable, whether that means using more recycled products or even making your business purchases from local businesses (Saving travel costs and resources and supporting the local economy). While customers feel better about supporting a business that they see is doing good, you can take this a step further and make them feel even more directly included in the process. You can make a note that purchasing a product goes directly towards certain environmental causes or offers opportunities for them to recycle or reuse their products.
Giving back is an important part of being in a community, and as a business that wants to appeal more to your local community, you should investigate how you can do a better job at doing so. We mentioned how important it is to join community events earlier, and oftentimes these events will offer proceeds towards local causes, on top of featuring local businesses. This is an opportunity you can take advantage of as well, and you can look toward hosting your own events.
Consider hosting themed events around holidays or other important causes and offer to donate a percentage of proceeds towards a local charity. This can be a big undertaking and smaller businesses might not have the ability to accomplish such things yet, but you could also consider donating your products to local businesses, and making your contributions known that way.
Support local workers and students
When looking to staff your business, you should always consider how you can do a better job at representing the local community. Now there may come a time when you need a certain level of expertise that you haven’t been able to find in your area, and in that case, you will have to look where you need to in order to fill the role, but for every other position where you can find a local candidate, it goes a long way toward supporting the economy of the community.
You can also look at giving local students an opportunity to intern with your business and gain hours towards scholarships/other programs, or even train them to fulfill a role that you’ll need in the business later on.
Many people might think of franchising as a move only available to the largest of mega-corporations, but every large franchise had to start with one location, and you should absolutely consider franchising as an option to expand your customer base along with growing your business.
It should also be noted that not all franchise businesses have to be national or even international. Plenty of franchised businesses exist to serve a larger section of their more localized region, and that is a good option for businesses who want to feel more connected to their local environment and not feel like they need to accommodate too wide of an audience.
If the first location of your business is thriving, then you are in a position to consider franchising. Opening a second location in the next town over, or even just adding a mobile business/food truck is an opportunity to accomplish this. These locations could be operated by one of your managers or partners and will offer the chance for your business to expand to a new range of customers while remaining in your community.
What we mentioned so far have been active strategies for expanding your reach, but one of the most important things you can do while looking to expand is actually more passive and reflective. Taking time to make note of your successful strategies and analyze your unsuccessful moves will go a long way toward avoiding future mistakes, and allow you to more easily reach new opportunities.
Here are a few things you can think about when devising your plan for expansion:
● Taking calculated risks – not every decision will be so straightforward and have such a simple outcome. Over time you’ll have to learn to consider what level of risk you are comfortable with taking, and which rewards are worth risking for.
● Creating new opportunities – There are a lot of resources out there for new businesses to piggyback on, and a lot of paths that older businesses have carved out. But the most successful businesses will always be looking to create new opportunities to thrive. A lot of this instinct will come with experience, so look to develop your business sense, and get better at identifying how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd.
While you can employ all the business strategies in the world, and toil away for hours working to find better opportunities, many things will come with time and experience. If you learn nothing else from this guide, then it is important to remember that patience is important in the business world.
You should be ready to respond and take advantage of opportunities at a moment’s notice, but in the meantime, you should remember the value of working diligently and maintaining the fundamentals that create a good business. By doing so, you can make sure that you are ready to attract new customers while retaining the values that make your current customers loyal to your brand.