Marketing for local businesses has come a long way. Just 20 years ago, "marketing" meant buying newspaper ads, Yellowpage ads or perhaps billboard or radio advertisements. Marketing was costly and often ineffective.
Today, the game has changed. There are literally dozens of tools available to the smart business owner for local online marketing. Many of these tools and techniques can drive hundreds of paying customers to your business, without costing you a single dime.
This local online marketing checklist will help you get the most out of all the tools, technologies and techniques available today.
Step 1: Get on Facebook Places
Facebook places allows users to find you through their friends' check-ins. People who like your business can "like" your page or comment on your page and their friends can see that on their walls.
It's a powerful way of spreading a great business virally. It uses the inter-connectivity of Facebook to a local business' advantage.
Make sure you claim your business so you have the ability to change its information, as well as merge the Facebook Place with the Facebook Page.
Step 2: Get on Google Places
There are many great reasons to get on Google Places.
First, your business will show up ahead of other non-local businesses in the search engines.
Second, people will be able to leave reviews for your physical business.
Third, people will be able to find your place on Google Maps. For example, a user with an iPhone might type in "chiropractor" into Google Maps to find all the chiropractors near them. If you're listed on Google Places, your restaurant will show up.
Step 3: Get on Yelp
Yelp is a user-driven review site with a very active community. People who visit local businesses use Yelp to leave reviews of their experience. Other people who are thinking of going there can use Yelp to see previous reviews.
Yelp is extremely popular in some cities, like San Francisco and New York, while virtually unnoticed in others.
If you're in a city with a strong Yelp user base, getting to the first 3 or 5 results in Yelp can bring you a huge influx of customers. Many small businesses are packed every day purely from Yelp traffic.
Step 4: Give Incentive to Review
You're much more likely to get a lot of reviews if you help the process along by providing a few incentives. That's especially true if your business is relatively new.
Keep in mind that you can't incentivize others to post a good or positive review. You can only incentivize them to post a review. What they say is up to them. They should get the reward either way.
Naturally, if you provide a great service, most reviews you get will be positive.
What are some examples of ways to incentivize reviews?
• First 10 Yelp reviews gets 50% off their next meal.
• First 10 Google reviews gets a free coffee.
• People who have posted a review for our service get 10% off all purchases.
Step 5: Host a Meetup
Meetup.com is designed to help bring people with similar interests together. It's an online site with an offline focus.
One great way to bring more people to your venue is to host an event. The event can be related to what you do, or it can be one or two steps removed. Here are a few examples:
• A co-working space – Monthly talks on marketing for small business.
• Classy café – Monthly philosophy discussion group.
• Dance studio – A free monthly "open floor" dance event.
• Rock climbing gym – Free "intro to rock climbing" event.
• Bookstore – Monthly book signings.
The list goes on and on. Talk to your customers and find out what they're interested in. Then create a meetup to cater to that interest.
Step 6: Open Your Space to Other Organizers
If you browse through Craigslist events, Meetup events or other events sites, you'll find that 5 to 10 event venues tend to be used over and over again in any given city.
You can bring in a lot of business by opening your space to other organizers.
For example, let's say a restaurant makes its back room available to a Toastmasters meeting (a public speaking group.) They use the back room free of charge, and most members end up ordering food and drink anyway.
The restaurant profits from the food and drink and gets the benefit of being exposed to a whole new audience. The back room probably wouldn't have been regularly booked out anyway, so there's no real cost to the restaurant.
Another example might be a shared co-working office. It allows its members to use the conference space for educational events free of charge, provided that all its members can also attend free of charge.
The organizer gets the benefit of having a professional space for free. The shared office space gets the benefit of having more to offer its members. Furthermore, every person who attends that event is a potential customer.
It's much more efficient to open your space up to many event organizers rather than try to organize many events yourself. Doing so can bring in a lot of new people to your business, as well as build general goodwill in your community.
Step 7: Market on Local Mailing Lists
In any moderate to large city, there will be dozens of mailing lists on a variety of different topics.
For example, in San Francisco, there are lists for hikers and runners to meetup, lists for announcements of art events, lists specifically for the yoga & meditation communities, lists specifically for the startup business community, and so on.
Make an effort to ask the people in your target audience what kind of email lists they subscribe to. Write these down and do some research.
Some lists will have "open announcement" policies, meaning anyone can post to the list. Others are curated lists, where events are sent to a single curator who posts approved events all to the lists.
Some lists will have very stringent requirements on what it's okay to post and what it's not. Others will be rather lax.
Try to find as many large, active lists in your community as you can. Market to the lists anytime you have something significant to announce. Avoid burning out the list by over-emailing; but use the power of pre-existing communities to your advantage whenever you're doing a special promotion or event.
Step 8: Get a Booth at Events
In-person events allow you to market your products directly to your ideal audience, while building connection and rapport through face-to-face interactions.
An "event" can be as sophisticated as a trade show, conference or seminar. Or it could be as simple as a college fair or farmer's market.
The specific events you choose depends on what market you're in. If you run a temp agency, you'll probably want a booth at college job fairs and at trade shows (to find employers.)
If you run a small, organic restaurant, you might want to get a booth at your local farmer's market and appear at all the "for fun" fairs around. (E.g. The local renaissance fair.)
Step 9: "Flyering" and Other Local Marketing
Leaving flyers at local businesses, putting flyers on walls, putting door hangers and perhaps even mailing postcards all still work. Just because a tactic is old doesn’t mean it's no longer effective.
When using these tactics, the most important thing is to make sure you're reaching the right people. If you're promoting a nightlife event, flyer outside nightlife venues. Don't leave your flyers in restaurants.
Step 10: Negotiate with Groupon or LivingSocial
Groupon, LivingSocial and other group-buying organizations can bring you a lot of business. In fact, it can bring you hundreds of orders in a 48 hour period.
Generally these sites will want to only work with established businesses. They need to know that you can handle the sudden volume that they'll send you.
They also need to know that you'll be able to give their users a significant discount, while still paying them a percentage.
Let's say you run a health and massage spa center. The standard price for a massage is $90, but for Groupon members you're offering it for $55. In addition, you need to pay Groupon $5 per sale.
If you're hiring your masseuses' for $60 an hour, you're essentially breaking even. If you're paying them $65 an hour, you're losing money. You need to know that even if you spend $5 to get someone through the door, you'll still make money in the long run.
In other words, Groupon is such a high volume business that it takes experience, knowledge of your customer behavior and strong financial muscle before you can work with them.
All that said though, if you can get your business to meet their standards and criteria, the amount of sales you can get from Groupon or LivingSocial is simply astounding.
These are some of the most powerful methods available for marketing an offline business today. Try to apply as many of these tactics as possible, identity the ones that work best for your business, then rinse and repeat.