Small businesses make a big impact. But sometimes, before you can have a national effect, you need to start local. Savvy small businesses are building their brand and driving traffic to their stores. In addition, many honor their hometown roots and show gratitude for community support by finding creative ways to give back and partner with other local businesses and organizations.
These five tips will help you "lean into local" and drive growth for your business.
1. Emphasize the experience.
Brick-and-mortar locations need to create experiences that are valuable enough to compete with corporate giants and digital everything. Emily Woodward Tracy had that in mind when she purposefully cultivated a comfortable environment at her Windsor, Connecticut-based bakery, Get Baked. People come for the "good, scratch-made stuff." They stay for the homey feel. Tracy even has a cheat sheet for how regulars take their coffee.
2. Band together.
Bobbi Baehne, president of Think Big Go Local, a digital marketing agency, encourages her small business clients to form community partnerships. Baehne is chairwoman of the Economic Development Commission (EDC) for the City of McHenry, Illinois, a Chicago suburb undergoing a downtown redevelopment program--a new Riverwalk along the Fox River. The community hosts regular events to encourage people to get out and shop, including holiday-themed celebrations.
To help other businesses succeed, Baehne opened a community training center which provides affordable online marketing classes for small business owners. She later partnered with a local community college and a small business development center to provide additional courses. In addition to helping local businesses thrive, "this program has served as an amazing lead generator for our business," she says.
Try forging your own strategic alliances by partnering with non-competing but complementary businesses on cross-promotions and events. For example, a clothing boutique could offer its customers coupons from a local salon--and vice versa--in an effort to drive traffic for both locations.
3. Share your space. Create a community space.
Get Baked doesn't use all the space in its building, so Tracy uses the extra square footage to host regular pop-up markets where local artisans sell their goods and services. She started in 2013 with a few small events a year, to help fellow entrepreneurs. They were so popular, she increased the frequency and size of the markets. Now she hosts events almost monthly, sometimes with as many as 40 vendors.
To create memorable experiences of your own, consider out-of-the-box ways to cater to the unique needs of different customer groups. For example, Get Baked has a dedicated play area--a big draw for parents. Tracy also invites political groups on both sides of the aisle to hold meetings there. These myriad events drive additional traffic--and sales--while providing value to the groups they serve.
Your business might not have room to host large events, but there are other ways to support local vendors. Consider inviting local artists to hang their work at your store and host a viewing party. This could drive the artist's network--new prospective customers--to your store, while supporting the artist. If you are not sure where to start, try reaching out to your local Chamber of Commerce or downtown association for ideas.
4. Give back.
Baehne believes in the power of community giving. She is inspired by her fellow community members, like Tim Willie, who runs a food pantry from his record store, Vinyl Frontier Records. The initiative allows him to support community members in need. Plus, when people come by to drop off donations, they sometimes buy records.
Tracy deeply values philanthropy and donates the bakery's tips to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. So far, she has given more than $30,000. This year, Tracy's community spirit came back around, when The Hartford hosted a HartMob at the bakery. HartMobs are The Hartford's take on cash mobs, in which a group of employees get together to shop at one of the company’s small business customers. Get Baked gets their small business insurance through The Hartford. The events are a way for the company to give back to its more than 1 million small business customers and invigorate the community.
"It was complete insanity--in a good way," recounts Tracy. More than 100 employees of The Hartford attended, infusing a welcome burst of cash into the bakery. The event also led to repeat business and positive press.
If you are looking for ways to give back, consider hosting a fundraising event for a local school or organization. You can also do something as simple as collecting donations from your customers to give to charity.
5. Use social media.
Whether you are hosting an event, forging a new partnership, or collecting donations for a charitable cause, it is important to get the word out. Social media is an incredible tool for doing just that. Tracy sees social media as an extension of her community and uses it to connect with customers. She stresses the importance of responding to every post, sharing photos and videos of your business, and highlighting your community outreach efforts.
By creating memorable experiences, forging community partnerships, and giving back to your community, you can drive growth for your small business. And when small businesses give back to their communities, everybody wins--especially the businesses themselves.