Kalin Kassabov is a founder and CEO of ProTexting.com.

One of the best ways to grow your small business is to create or join a larger community. There are many tactics that businesses can use to connect with their cities and regions. Building an online community is also helpful for attracting positive attention. Let's look at some of the best ways that business owners can leverage the art of community building.

Create a Loyalty Program

A loyalty or rewards program is a simple way to entice customers to return regularly. Many types of businesses can set up this kind of program, including salons, coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. Nowadays, you can go beyond the traditional method of punching a card when someone makes a purchase and use mobile apps to track customer loyalty.

Set up your program to cover both online and offline purchases. The typical loyalty program for a retail business is something along the lines of: "Buy 10 cups of coffee and get one free." You can also think of more creative rewards. You might offer special rewards for customers who accumulate a high number of purchases. Post the names and statistics of customers in your business and/or your website (with their permission, of course) to turn it into a friendly competition.

Partner With Other Businesses

Very often, local businesses can strengthen their position and build community by partnering with others. This includes businesses that are complementary to your own and even competitors. For example, if you own a fitness center, complementary businesses might include those that sell athletic wear or who provide massages. If you own a restaurant, you might get together with other restaurant and food-related businesses and put together a food-tasting event.

Publish a guidebook for customers on a certain theme, such as healthcare professionals, eateries, beauty-related or home improvement services, etc. When you partner with other business owners, everyone can benefit.

Raise Money for Charity

Participate in or even organize events for charity such as concerts, 5K races or fundraising auctions. This is a good way to do good in your community, meet people in the area and get publicity. If you're organizing an event yourself, remember to notify the local press including newspapers, radio stations and local television channels. You can also donate a portion of your profits to a charity during a certain time period, such as the holidays.

Make sure you publicize this at your storefront and on your website. Sponsor a Little League, soccer or other sports team. Contributing to worthy causes and groups in your community helps everyone, including you.

Build Your Authority by Speaking and Teaching

No matter what type of business you own, you probably have customers and potential customers who would like to learn more about the topic. You can build your authority and get better known in the community in a variety of ways. Consider speaking at local business events. Talk to your local library or community college.

Depending on your field and level of expertise, you might even design a non-credit course. Create a video or online course on a platform such as Udemy or Coursera. Although this provides you with online content, you can promote it offline. Post links to your videos/courses in your ads.

Build an Online Community

Bigger-name brands are often adept at creating online communities with membership sites, forums and social media pages. You can borrow such tactics and apply them to your own business, even if it's on a smaller scale. Creating a blog, YouTube channel or social media account helps you connect with both local and distant audiences and build community. The key here is to create content that's engaging rather than simply advertising. Encourage your readers and followers to submit their own content, such as comments and photos. Conduct polls to learn more about your customers. Answer comments and questions on your social media pages to encourage engagement.

These are some ways that your business can get more active in your community. Today, the online and offline worlds are increasing merging so it's important to focus your efforts in both realms (however your own business operates). When you start thinking about the benefits of building community, you'll start to come up with ideas of your own. Think of your business not simply as products and services that you're selling but as an integral part of your community.

Kalin Kassabov is a founder and CEO of ProTexting.com, a fast-growing enterprise level text message suite of services.

Published on: Dec 8, 2017