To the world, yours may be a small business, but to you, it's the culmination of a very big dream. In today's competitive marketplace, your ability to attract and keep customers is just as important as the goods or services you provide. Want to get ahead? A little imagination and the key strategies below can help get you from small to not-so-small in no time.
Identify your customer base. Based on the type of business you have, determine who your primary customers are. What are their characteristics and buying habits? Where do they live, work and spend their leisure time? Once you determine who they are and where they go, you have identified prime locations to infiltrate with advertising or promotional items. Are you running an athletic shop? Consider donating water bottles with your logo on them to a 5k charity run. A book shop? Print up and distribute book marks with your information on them to a library or elementary school.
Enlist the troops. Positive word of mouth and good peer-to-peer reviews are the most powerful tools you have. The trick is to ask people to review you, as most won't think of doing it on their own. When it comes to word of mouth, never underestimate the power of the ask.
Be ubiquitous. When it comes to advertising, there is no magic bullet. Determine your monthly advertising budget and, keeping your primary customer in mind, fill it with multiple outreach sources. These can include everything from direct mail to email and text campaigns, website advertising and local-access cable TV.
Tout your expertise. If you're a seasoned pro, don't be shy about it. People gravitate toward businesses where they can get their questions answered. If you own a hardware store, start a nuts and bolts blog featuring a tip a week about home repair. Operate a kennel? Reach out to the local Pennysaver and ask to be their featured dog training columnist. Supply content to websites about your area of expertise, referencing your years in business, credentials and vast knowledge base.
Make social media your friend. It's not enough to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account and call it a day. You've also got to take time to create and maintain your online presence and participate as a member of that community. Most consumers gravitate toward multiple social media networks, so it makes sense to be found in as many as you can. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn continue to dominate the room, but Google+, Instagram and Tumblr have seen a surge in popularity during the past year. Many social media websites offer online tutorials that will help to savvy you up on how to use them effectively, but there are also online and in-person classes able to turn you into a social media maven overnight.
Be a good Samaritan. Whether your business is local or global, take the time to support good works that tie your name to a cause. Local stores can adopt a stretch of highway, community garden or trash receptacles. Consider sponsoring a Little League team or walk-a-thon for the animal shelter next door. Make sure your company name appears on paraphernalia that is given out at the events. This way people start to connect your business with the causes most important to them.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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