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How to promote your business locally

It’s no secret that the internet has quite literally opened up a whole world of potential new customers for small and medium-sized businesses but many still operate on a local level. In this hot tip, discover how to go about finding new customers right on your doorstep.

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Online

I know, we just said that online was for finding customers elsewhere, but search engines and social media outlets have got wise to the power of local businesses.

According to Google, 97% of consumers search for local businesses online, so it's important to have a presence online even if you only sell in one location.

All the major search engines now allow you to list your business for free, so that your geographic location and contact details appear when someone searches for your business/type of business and town or city. Sign up for Google Places, Bing and Yahoo.

Paid for search results can also be tailored so that your ads appear to people just in your town or county, meaning you don't pay for irrelevant clicks.

If you have a website, make sure it's well-optimised for local searches by using the name of your town, city or region in the page description, page title and in the content of the page.

Smart local businesses are also using social media to build a loyal customer base and keep them up to date on special offers.

Facebook pages come with a built in map, so people can find the exact location of your business and visitors to your premises can check in there, letting their friends know that they're at your business.

Public relations

Getting your business mentioned in the local newspaper is not only free publicity for you, but also helps to build your profile within the local community.

If you've got a story that you think is worthy of a place in the paper, the best thing to do is get to know your local journalists. Read more about getting your business in the local newspaper »

PR can also be about being visible in the community, so get involved in local events and charities to support the local area and raise your profile.

Business directories

Yellow pages and Thomson Local directories are updated and distributed to millions of households every year, but they also have online equivalents and offer small businesses discounts for buying advertising in both.

There are also plenty of free and paid-for local directories, plus local and trade organisations and publications may have directories you can join.

Advertising

Advertising in local shop windows is the obvious choice for the business owner marketing on a shoestring, but for those with a budget you may want to consider advertising with local newspapers, magazines and radio stations to get the best reach.

Your adverts should be relevant to the title/station and preferably work with the content. Sponsoring a segment on radio or placing your ad next to a relevant feature will get the best return for your money.

Advertising also often works best when it is part of a campaign or series of adverts. Speak to the person selling the advertising to see what deal you can work out for multiple insertions.

Printed materials

It's important for your local business to be visible in the surrounding area and one way of doing this is by distributing printed materials like flyers, postcards and brochures at local information points such as libraries, pubs and cafes, hotels and tourist offices.

Outdoor promotion

Outdoor advertising like billboards are seen as prohibitively expensive for small businesses, but hiring out one strategically placed outdoor ad can cost about the same as an advert in a newspaper – and last a lot longer.

Outside promotion placed in close proximity to your business or where people might need to use your service work best. There are also a number of cost-effective ways of getting seen outdoors.

Posters can either be put up at local poster sights (for a fee), you can hang banners from or near your premises, or you could ask local non-rival businesses to display your posters in return for displaying theirs.

And rather than paying for an ‘ad van', you can turn your own vehicle into a temporary advert using vinyl stickers with the logo/name and contact details of your business.

Partner up

Collaborate with other small local businesses to offer a special deal to customers locally.

The aim is that each business involved will make an offer which benefits the other partner's customer and encourages them to take up both services. Between the businesses you can save money on promotional costs and get valuable referrals.

Events

One of the benefits of being local is that you get to meet your customers face-to-face. One way to do this is through events, either ones you attend or host yourself.

Offer free promotional products or demonstrations of your service and be sure to collect as many details of potential customers as possible.

Offers and competitions

Promotional offers and giveaways can be a great way of bringing in new customers. To engage existing customers, introduce a loyalty scheme like a stamp card to encourage repeat visits.

Word of mouth

92% of people trust the recommendation of friends and family*, and this can work to your advantage, particularly in a local community-based setting.

Go the extra mile for your customers and they're more likely to tell people about it. Also, make it easy for them to recommend you through referral and reward schemes.

* Nielsen, April 2012

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