Running a small business can be a challenge, but the best way to make an impact with your business is to first make an impact in the community you serve.
Find out how to make what you are trying to sell relevant to your community by becoming a critical part of what it is that they need most: people who are willing to connect with them on a real and meaningful level. Whether you’re selling vacuum cleaners or gourmet dinners, find a way to connect to the community in a way that they won’t forget.
To make your business vital to your town, try these seven ways of getting involved:
Serve on a Community Board
One of the best ways to get yourself known in the community is to serve on a community board. Try finding one that suits an interest of yours and suits what your business is all about. If you’re in the heart of the town, you may want to try something like the Downtown Business Council. If you’re passionate about art or sell artistic works, you may want to try the Council for the Arts.
If you’re interested in education or have services that would be helpful to educators, parents or students, try serving on the local school board. Often times, these types of boards are full of the people who are influential in those areas and who are, in turn, influential in your area as a whole. Connecting with them will be beneficial, as they will lead you to the people who you are ultimately aiming to serve as customers.
The power behind volunteering is a strong one. Volunteering shows that you are willing to give your time to be a part of something bigger than you or your business. It makes you a team player. Better than just volunteering by yourself would be to organize your employees to volunteer at an organization together. You could help out at the local soup kitchen, recreation center or library. The Kohl’s Corporation leads the large corporations in volunteering with their program Kohl’s Cares.
Kohl’s Cares is a great model for taking a community approach to business and bringing your employees and business into the community. If you follow their model, you’ll notice that they have chosen to focus their volunteering efforts on initiatives that affect their largest population of customers: women and children.
If you’re already serving on a community board or volunteering, building partnerships should be a cakewalk. You have made connections with the leading persons in your community. Utilize those relationships to work together on local initiatives. In addition to those initial connections, you want to be sure to make connections with other local businesses that sell products or ideas that are complementary to your own.
If, for example, your company sells fresh loaves of bread every day and the business next to you sells, for example, jams and jellies, use their jam and jelly while promoting your own product, because it all makes cents (pun intended).
Donating coincides with volunteering, as both can be assigned a monetary value (either in the hours spent working or in the amount of dollars donated). But donating doesn’t always have to be monetary. If you have a large space where people could meet, consider donating the use of the space to local groups. Word will get around that you are a supporter of other organizations in the area.
In this example from the Facebook page of 12 Keys Rehab (a small recovery center) a donation promotion campaign has been integrated into social media. In this case, the cause is helping military Veterans. When a small organization does not have the time and resources for offline community building, online offers a faster, cheaper and accessible alternative. They garner exposure for a notable cause while simultaneously improving their social proof. This was all done with a simple and honest Facebook post.
Aside from further marking your company as one that genuinely cares for the well-being of others, donating acts as a great way of marketing your organization. Often times, nonprofit businesses will offer incentives, such as space for your company’s advertisement in brochures and handouts, for donating to their cause.
Participate in Community Events
Most towns host festivals or parades of some sort throughout the year. Events of this sort are great opportunities for being out in the community and promoting your business. Set up a table, run special sales, make your organization and employees stick out so that the members of the community will want to know more about what you offer.
Bring sign-up sheets for email blasts with incentives for signing up. It will give you another way of getting in touch with the people you meet once the festivities are over. If you can keep in contact with them, you’ll be more likely to get them in your doors.
I’ve personally participated and managed dozens of events in a city. These are my biggest and most honest takeaways:
- First and foremost, people love free stuff.
- Secondly, LOTS of people will give you their visual attention for a brief moment. If you have anchor points, such as a spinning giveaway stand, an interactive contest, music and free food, etc. it’s almost guaranteed they will come on over.
- Most people are skeptical and hesitant to fill out any forms. Your goal should be realistic and unobtrusive. If brand image is the goal, don’t collect information. If list-building is a goal, then only collect emails.
- Generally, people have the “grab n’ go” mindset. Utilize this by branding your giveaways with at least one form of contact.
- QR codes are obstacles.
Plan and Host Events
Planning and hosting events builds on all of the above ways that you can get involved in your community but goes just one step further. By hosting some of the community events that, for example, the board that you are serving on would like to put together, you are giving one more reason for people to come in your doors.
Jennifer Gregory has great ideas on how to go about putting together a business event that will build your customer base and wow your community.
Promotions, Giveaways and Contests
Whether you are participating in community events or planning an event all your own, having an eye-catching promotion, giveaway or contest at those events will give your community an incentive for participating and attending. You want to get your targeted customer base excited about what you offer.
On the Facebook page of Vista College, they recently ran a voting contest for their new T-shirt design:
The contest attracted 56 comments and a dozen shares and likes. The nature of the post involves their Facebook fans and the end result directly benefits their students. This demonstrates community value to current students and prospects, along with a handful of positive PR elements.
You want to give communities reasons for becoming healthily competitive over something that only you are able to give them. You create demand by crafting the idea that your promotion, giveaway or contest is unique and uniquely available to them.
Following these seven tips will lead your business in the direction of being valuable and relevant to your community. And when you are able to demonstrates these values publicly (whether it’s offline or online), the benefits are clear.