As a small business owner, you’re told to grow your business, which to most of us means, think outside of the local community. Who among us hasn’t heard the success stories of how Ray Croc grew McDonald’s from 9 stores to locations in more than 100 countries; Lily Pulitzer built her empire through selling her dresses on the side of a road in Florida; and how the hotel chain of Marriott’s was started as a root beer stand in DC—the small business owner expanding their business is inherent to the American dream?
What do these success stories have in common, other than the entrepreneurial spirit? They all started with a local scope. McDonald’s began as one standalone restaurant, Pulitzer’s dresses were sold because customers who came to her juice stand frequently asked to buy what she was wearing, and Marriott wanted to give Washington, D.C. residents a place to come in out of the muggy heat and cool off.
So what can be learned from these examples?
Focus on your local community, and build your business through perfecting your product. Whether you’re a neighborhood restaurant with the best pizza, a retail shop with the lowest prices, or a mechanic with the best service, it can be very tempting after you’ve achieved a level of success to want to rapidly expand your business to capitalize on it. Taking your time, and understanding the intricacies and nuances of your business, and how it relates to the community in which it operates can be vital. To take the example further, an established restaurant with a consistent customer base can play around with their menu and see what works and what doesn’t. The same does not hold true for a newly opened restaurant in a different neighborhood, as the old saying goes: you only get one shot to make a good first impression.
How do you build your local presence?
Accept Credit/Debit card payments. If you’re not doing this already, the easiest way for you to build your customer base is to make it easier for people to spend money with you. There are many merchant processors out there that easily and inexpensively allow your business to accept card payments.
Get listed. The internet is a large space, and there are many places you can list your business. A few of the directories we like are, Google Places and Yahoo! Small Business, which allows you to list your business on their site. The more places you list your business the easier people will find you and come in for a visit.
Make sure your local listings are accurate and up to date. Twenty years ago, all anyone had to worry about was whether their listing in the phone book was right. If it was, anyone and everyone could reach you. Now with the internet, the potential for outdated and wrong information is very real, and you could spend hours every week monitoring and updating your information on sites like Facebook, Google, and other online directories so that people can reach you. Yext is a company that offers free scans for businesses to check if their online listings are accurate. For a small fee, Yext will update all your listings to ensure they’re accurate—but again, you can spend some time scanning your own listings for free with no obligation to buy.
Others are already talking about your business, engage with them. If you run a business, it’s practically unavoidable that it will be listed, and talked about on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Tripadvisor, and Foursquare. Good or bad, whatever people have to say, it will be there. Rather than ignore criticisms or get defensive, you should engage with your customers in a meaningful way. You can turn a negative into a positive with plain old good customer service.
Have a promotion. Everyone likes to feel like they’re getting a good deal. If you’re having a slow day at work, consider posting a promotion on your social media account to get customers into the door. You might also want to consider formalizing an incentive program. Companies such as Belly offer customizable customer loyalty programs that will build, grow and sustain your customer base. Another option that provides their initial services for free is Yowza!, a mobile coupon app that connects business with customers. Get them in the door with a great deal, keep them coming back for a great product and service.
Remember, no matter how hard you work at building your local presence, a good product, and excellent customer service is always the best way to get people in the door and keep them there.