Stressing your “We’re Local” message helps attract and keep customers

shop-942398_640For the past month, announcements about this year’s Small Business Saturday have been everywhere. American Express started promoting the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a day to shop local and shop small back in 2010. By last year, an estimated $14.3 billion was spent at small independent business on Small Business Saturday. We can call that a big success, I think.

If your small business promotes and has benefitted from Small Business Saturday, good for you! But the question I want to ask today is whether you’re doing everything you can to keep local customers coming back throughout the year. With the advent of online selling, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of having customers around the country or even around the world buy your products or services. Being global just seems so glamorous, doesn’t it?

But the truth is that local customers are the bread and butter of most small businesses, and, thanks to Small Business Saturday and similar buy-local efforts across the nation, consumers are more focused than ever on finding locally owned businesses to serve their needs. All you have to do is make sure you’re providing them with the experience they’re looking for and they’ll keep coming back.

Here are ideas on how to gain the most benefit from being local throughout the year:

• Use social media to personalize your unique business story. We have a good example of how to do this with Maple View Farm, a large dairy in the neighboring town of Hillsborough, NC. I really enjoy their Facebook page, which often features pictures of Farmer Bob, the now-elderly founder of the business. I’ve never met the man and yet he feels like he’s an old friend! It’s clear from their posts that this business has deep roots in the community, as they highlight the fundraisers and special events they do for local charities throughout the year. Also, their pictures of the rolling pastures of Maple View Farm remind me each time I see them that this little bit of heaven is right next door to us. (Of course, it helps their business that their ice cream and various milk products are absolutely amazing. Their milk comes in old-fashioned glass bottles, a reminder of days gone by that I don’t even mind taking back to the store to collect the deposit.)

• Stress that local angle every chance you get. For example, we just signed up for a service, Papa Spud’s, that delivers North Carolina vegetables and other food products each week. We chose the option of having our products come from farms right here in the Triangle. Our first delivery came yesterday, and it included a newsletter with the stories behind some of the farms whose products were available this week. One farm had been in the family since the late 1600s! By telling us these stories, Papa Spud’s is doing all they can to help us build a relationship with their business and with the local farmers they support.

• Encourage online reviews. Yes, word-of-mouth from family and friends is still vital, but the reality is that most consumers these days have come to expect to be able to read online reviews about your business. I can’t remember the last time I tried a new restaurant without first checking its online reviews. So make reviews a part of your online presence. Here is an article with 10 tips on how to ask customers to write reviews.

• Optimize your website for mobile. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of mobile, especially when it comes to attracting younger customers. Having your website work well on mobile platforms will only get more important in the future. Make it easy for consumers to find you when they’re out and about or, for example, when they’re sitting at their desks considering where they want to stop to do errands on their way home from work.

For more insights into what consumers want from the local businesses they patronize, you can get a free report from Yodle, an online marketing company specializing in working with small business. They surveyed 6,000+ U.S. consumers to find out how good a job local businesses are doing to maximize their success with both existing and potential customers. You’ll find plenty of food for thought in this report.

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