When I was 19, I bought a failing business, and, to turn it around, I relied on what I do best: talking to people.
In 2005, I noticed that a local tanning salon that was failing under its current management. After working for the previous 2 years for a promotion company and representing nightclubs in the area, I saw potential to bring new life to the tired storefront. I soon bought the business on the cheap and got to work.
I started marketing my new business by building my online presence, starting with the hippest, most popular social networking site I could find…MySpace. (It was 2005, remember?) Although I put a lot of time and effort into creating my business’s online brand, I knew that wasn’t enough to bring in new customers. I also had to build my presence offline.
“Social media is one more marketing tool in the arsenal … but at the end of the day, people do business with people, not with websites.” –Al Lautenslager, marketing consultant and co-author of Guerilla Marketing in Thirty Days
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a digital marketing evangelist. In fact, if you don’t yet have a website (or a Facebook page at least) for your small business, stop reading this article right now because that’s your first step.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that you still need boots on the ground to market your small business.
When I worked as a promoter, talking to people came naturally, so I used this skill to my advantage. I built my marketing strategy around my ability to engage with people, to become a part of the community through my outreach.
By implementing this strategy, I grew my customer base, and I was able to sell that once-failing business for 6-figures after 1 year. Admittedly, social media and digital marketing have advanced a lot since I built my tanning salon’s MySpace page. (I dare you to find a phrase more representative of the early 2000’s than those last 4 words.) However, I still firmly believe in the need for brick-and-mortar stores to focus not only on likes and follows, but also on face-to-face interaction.
As such, I’ve broken my strategy into 3 steps that will help you promote to your local business in the real world:
The 3 Keys to Offline Marketing
1. Get People to Know Your Face
Never assume that just because you start a business, people will know who you are. It’s not enough to drape a “Grand Opening” banner across the doorway.
Before you even open your doors, your future customers should know your face. Check out local networking events in your area. Talk to your vendors and ask them to recommend you to their friends or family. Offer to be a speaker for events in your area. Public libraries, volunteer organizations, and business groups often hold events for the community and provide a great opportunity to promote your business.
Don’t try to outsource personal engagement. If you own a business, your customers should know you. Yes, you will be busy, but you cannot run a business from the back room.
2. Talk to Everyone (And I Mean Everyone)
If the thought of public speaking sends you into a panic, you’ll need to start practicing. As a small business owner, there’s no way to avoid it.
When I was promoting my tanning salon, I talked to people everywhere I went. If I visited another company as part of my promotion job, I talked to everyone — from the CEO to the administrative assistant. You never know where you’ll find a great connection.
Obviously, there is such a thing as being too pushy, but don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. Standing in line at the supermarket, joining your neighbors for a block party, playing for your community’s baseball team: these are all opportunities to introduce yourself and find new customers.
Although posting to your business’s Twitter account may get you a few likes, there’s nothing that will boost your positive reputation with your customers more than simply taking the time to get to know the people in your community.
3. Network with Your Fellow Business Owners
Look for local business groups to join. I suggest starting with your local Chamber of Commerce, a group of business leaders who organize to advocate for the needs of the business community.
A 2012 study from the Schapiro Group shows that customers view small businesses that are members of their local Chamber of Commerce up to 44% more favorably, and are 63% more likely to purchase goods or services from them. Additionally, joining this group can boost your visibility within the community, give you access to exclusive events, and give you the opportunity to help make important decisions regarding local government policy.
Those are all great benefits that you’ll receive simply by joining your local Chamber of Commerce, but let’s take it a step further.
One strategy I’ve used is simply calling members of my community, introducing myself as a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, and (this is the important part!) asking them about themselves — their business, their concerns, their needs. At this point, it wasn’t about selling my product. It was about building connections and establishing myself as someone who genuinely cares about the local community and someone who my customers would want to support.