By Sean Claes
I live in a County with no dedicated radio or television station. It has been a bedroom community that is situated in between two large markets, but itself has no major outlet for advertising. Yes, there's a weekly newspaper and the major cities within 30 minutes cover the county on their news when something tragic, ironic or newsworthy happens... but that's about it. People don't typically drive from the big town to the small town to shop, but folks who live in the small town regularly drive to the larger city.
Does this place sound familiar?
It's where many small mom & pop businesses set up shop. It's where they live, raise their families and want to make a living. It's the home of the American Dream for many.
If you own a small business in a setting like this, you've got your work cut out for you when it comes to promoting and advertising. How do you reach the people who live in your community in a way that is economically feasible and will reach the largest number of people?
How do you make a name for yourself and cause people to swing by your shop and spend money?
In this article I'm going to talk about a few outside the box ideas that might help you move your business forward. I'm going to talk about different vehicles you can use to get word out about your business. Now.. what I'm NOT talking about in this article is your message. Message is 80% of the equation. HOW you ask for business is the biggest key.. and I'll talk about that in a future article.
Today, I'll talk about a few creative promotional ideas that can help you reach customers without the aid of the big three (radio/television/print media).
1. Social Media
I could write a book on how to properly use Facebook for a small business... but while Facebook is a medium on social media, Facebook and not Social Media. Yelp, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram and Linked-In are additional resources where you should likely have a presence. All are effective tools if you use them right.
To promote your business on social media takes time and dedication... but the good thing is.. it's vastly free. You can update folks on your newest products, let them know why they should care about your products, what you can do for them, have a little fun and create an online atmosphere that represents what your store is like.
Every post is a relationship deepener. Every Instagram picture invites them into your shop. Every tweet pushes the reader closer or further from gracing the front door of your establishment. And... just like every engagement shows a little about your business... lack of engagement is about as telling as a closed sign on your front door. So if you get on social media... you're signing on for a long and slow buildup... it can't become stagnant. You must post at least 3 times a week. Every week.
I did a series of blogs a few years back to help indie bands promote themselves (link). One of the things I still believe strongly in is fliers and posters. Small towns have several areas (and businesses) that allow you to hang up fliers and/or posters.
The non-profit I helped form has a monthly concert series. We decided to print fliers to promote our shows. We got together with a pizza place in town and they agreed to stick our fliers on their pizza boxes. Every customer of theirs gets an invitation to the show. I've seen a local Dojo do the same.
If you're a member of a social group... make sure you bring a stack of fliers to meetings. If you go to an event in town, hand out fliers there. Every chance you get... try and introduce yourself to a new customer and have them walk away with knowledge and some incentive to come to your store.
Hanging up (and handing out) promotional fliers and/or posters in your own establishment with specials and/or events coming up is also highly recommended.
3. Small Business Sharing
This one, I think, is key. Small businesses in different areas should be working together to help each other out. In my town there is a gathering of small business owners that work together via a "secret" group on Facebook. This way they can, in their own time, be able to pitch ideas and work together to introduce their clients to other businesses. There are also numerous networking groups and small business support groups that get together to share best practices and ideas. If there isn't one in your area, start one. The key to success is to always work on promoting yourself and others who are your contemporaries.
If you have a storefront, inviting the world to your door is important. One way to do this is to host events. Kids birthday parties, book clubs, bible studies, fundraising for a local non-profit, music, something to support a local sports team, a backyard BBQ, anything that brings a group of people together at your store where they invite their friends and supporters to visit as well. Heck, be a drop-off point for a local toy or food drive.
Anything helps. Organizations are ALWAYS looking for a place to host their events. Be that place. If you don't feel comfortable organizing an event, just make your place of business available and let them come to you.
5. Get On The Street
The city where I live has a train that comes through about twice an hour. Cars are stopped...and because of the laws (that everyone obeys, right?) there is no using of cell phones in the car. So... they are just waiting for the train.
I'm helping promote a dessert place that is located about 1/2 block off the main street where the train passes. I suggested when the train stops... to go out and hand out samples and coupons to the cars waiting. This accomplishes a few things. You get to tell folks about your business... give them a sample of one of your products... point them to exactly where your store is.. invite them to swing by.. and give them a flier/coupon so they'll remember you.
There are many more ways to promote your small business. These are just a few of the free options. In life and business it is said that between Time, Money and Quality you can pick two. This article is about spending the time to make sure you have quality without spending a lot of money. And most small businesses don't have stacks of cash to throw around.
About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.
More advice can be found in Claes' 52 Week of DIY Music Advice - a series he wrote between 2010-2012 - link