What’s the best way to promote a local business? There is an excellent marketing book that breaks marketing down into four key elements. Awareness, Affordability, Accessibility and Acceptability. If your potential customers are not aware your business exists and what it can offer you are not even out of the starting blocks. The first promotional step for any local business is to find a way to get themselves known.
Don’t Forget The Basics
All the hype about growing business seems to be around online marketing. It seems referrals have been forgotten and that is a big mistake. They are vital to the success of any small business.
Can you reasonably expect repeat business? Even if it is a year or more down the road. If the answer to that question is yes then you need the means to stay in touch with past customers. But remember you need to deliver something of value otherwise you will just be an annoyance.
What Can You Spend?
So let’s assume referrals and repeat business are not enough and you need more new business. The first thing to do is to estimate your customer lifetime value and lead conversion rates. You can then calculate what you can realistically pay to generate a lead. This analysis is essential as it will probably blow some potential marketing tactics completely out of the water.
The Options – Offline
Networking – It works well for some businesses. It all depends on what sort of person you are, your social skills and your attitude. If it’s not for you don’t push it, find something else to do.
Exhibitions -Works well for some but planning and follow up are key. It can be expensive.
Seminars/Workshops – The amount of work involved should not be underestimated. It is important to start well in advance of the event and event promotion is key.
Direct Mail – If it is possible to deliver a simple message then it can work well but mailer design and targeting are crucial. You may need to hit the targeted list at least twice before you see results.
Advertising – Could be in print, on the radio or on TV. Again the message (including tone of voice if TV or radio) and design are all important.
TV is expensive and tends to be most effective for branding but can work as a direct response medium for the right product. Radio can be effective for branding and for generating interest in events.
PR – To generate a single piece of coverage in the media is relatively easy but not particularly useful as a lead generation technique. Generating consistent coverage over the long term is best but much more difficult.
Cold Calling and Doorstepping – Don’t waste your time.
Combining techniques often works best. It is important to stay focused on the goal and think through the best techniques to achieve that goal
The Options – Online
As above combining techniques to achieve a goal is vitally important, perhaps even more so than the offline options. Whatever you do a website will be required. Your chosen promotional tactics should drive prospects to the website to learn more and (hopefully) convert.
Google My Business (and Bing places for business) – For a business with a local customer base this is essential (and it’s free)
Email and Nurture – If you can generate useful information that prospects will download in return for their email address you can stay in touch, build trust over time and hopefully convert. That’s the theory but in practice to make this work you need to build a large list (high hundreds minimum) and that takes time.
PPC (Adwords) – If you have a very specific offer then it can work well but it takes time to learn. You will make mistakes and you will need to accept that as a cost of entry.
PPC (Display) – Can work well for branding and generate leads if (again) you have a well-defined offer. If you can generate a relatively high amount of traffic to your website display advertising is a powerful retargeting tool.
Search Engine Optimisation – You will need an understanding of this to increase traffic to your website. SEO is a moving target it takes months (if not years) to learn and even then it takes time to generate results. To be effective you will need content (information useful to prospects)
Social Media (Organic) – A branding exercise at best.
Social Media (Paid) – There are lots of options and more alternatives are introduced all the time. It can generate results but the number of options can be bewildering and it can be difficult to keep up. It is best to focus on one platform and take the time to learn how it works.
What Should You Choose
Infuriatingly the answer is – It depends. You need to start with a local marketing strategy. What do you deliver, to whom and why? What makes you different? This should lead you to decide on your target customer and the best way to reach them. Please, please (we’ll say it again – please) do not decide on which promotional tactic is right for you until this is in place.
The next step is to understand what you can afford (see above). Then decide who is actually going to do the work. If, like most small business owners, you are the one then which technique are you comfortable taking on?
For example, some people love networking, it fits their personality and they can make a great success of it, for others it is their worst nightmare. If it doesn’t fit, we suggest don’t do it. You will end up hating it and it is unlikely to deliver any results. Don’t try to spread your efforts across multiple techniques – focus.
There may be techniques you need to learn. Most are a lot easier than it may first appear but they can suck a significant amount of time initially while you learn the key steps. Your time is limited so pick your tactics carefully.