The following is a guest post by Brad Zomick. His bio is at the end of the article.
Ever since the rise of Wal-Mart, small Mom and Pop stores and restaurants have been engaged in an uphill battle. Chain stores have sophisticated supply chains, large cash reserves, and economies of scale, allowing them to receive bulk discounts on goods and offer everyday low prices to their customers.
Despite challenges, local small businesses have persisted, providing hometown service with a smile, especially in the restaurant business where 7 out of 10 eateries are still single-unit businesses. In the Internet era, big businesses have used digital marketing and e-commerce to get another leg up on Mom and Pop, who are typically slow to adopt new technologies. With big budgets, corporations are quick to try out new technologies and can hire agencies to do most of the legwork.
In the past few years, social media has emerged as a leading trend in digital marketing, and the great news is that it is free to participate in it and easy to use. With the use of the following social tools Mom and Pop can now fight back at the big guys and further extend their local reach.
Since the dawn of time, small business has been all about building personal relationships. This includes relationships with fellow merchants and local officials, as well as customers.
Building relationships does require some social skills, but once you have that down pat you can extend this practice online using social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These networks can help Mom and Pop visualize and maintain relationships, as well as revive dormant relationships.
Better relationships will lead to better online reviews and potentially to co-promotional opportunities with other businesses in town. In short, this will help you get link love, making your business easier to find on Google search.
Something that is overlooked by many small businesses is content marketing, which has enormous potential to help build a loyal customer base. Content marketing is all about creating something that is helpful to your customers and sharing it with them.
For instance, a local fabric shop could publish a blog about how to make a quilt, or a local diner could share some of their favorite recipes with customers online. When you share with your customers it is a way of building trust and credibility.
People love content that they can see, and a great platform for delivering that type of content is Pinterest, where local businesses are profiting by sharing instructographics, which are essentially picture how-to guides.
There is an old saying that says, “There is strength in numbers.” This adage also applies to small businesses. If you can rally together a customer group that loves your store as well as your products and services and build a community around it, you will never go broke.
A classic example of this in action is a local bookstore hosting bi-weekly book club meetings. There are some very cool and creative ways to utilize this strategy. For instance, a craft beer store could sponsor monthly “fun runs,” where a group of runners meet at the store to run a 5K together and then after the run many stick around to drink discounted microbrews.
Groups like this are now easy to startup using Meetup.com. Alternatively, if the group is more business oriented (i.e. local chamber of commerce group), LinkedIn is a particularly good platform for maintaining ongoing dialogues.
There are a number of location based online services available that can help local merchants get found, interact with customers, and manage online reviews. Two such tools are Yelp and G+ Local, both of which are free to setup profiles (Yelp has some paid services).
There is also the Groupon concept, which has become immensely popular in the past few years. Groupon is the major player in this market, but there are many others in the space, including Living Social, Life Booker, and Yelp.
A Groupon is an online flash sale that has the potential to attract new customers that would not have normally come to your store, and allows a merchant to use pre-tax dollars, in the form of inventory, for marketing purposes. As opposed to print advertising, where merchants “pay and pray,” the groupon’s results are immediately measurable.
An example of Groupon success story, is a salon selling a $50 package for $25. The groupon was online for one day and sold 92 groupons (77 of which were redeemed, so the salon keeps the excess cash), 7 of which resulted in long-term customers that referred friends and family.
Moms and Pops everywhere can now stop complaining about the big box retailer or restaurant chain down the block. While these corporate operations have lower cost structures and big marketing budgets, Mom and Pop have something that chain stores will never be able to mimic, and that is their uniqueness and ability to foster relationships with the local community.
While challenges still exist in competing with big businesses, there have never been more opportunities for small businesses. These opportunities lie in the use of social media tools like building relationships, creating great sharable content, forming customer communities, and using online location based services, all of which can help the little guys out there extend there reach from Main Street to the expanses of the Internet.
Brad Zomick writes for SkilledUp.com, the leading source of reviews, ratings and deals on online courses, with over 50,000 courses from over 200 providers available in every subject. Find online courses at SkilledUp.com to get skills and get ahead, and visit us on Facebook and Twitter.